UAE Team Emirates produced an impressive team performance on the opening stage of the Tour de France, with reigning European champion and sprint specialist Alexander Kristoff battling with fellow sprinters to finish an impressive fourth.
The Norwegian held his nerve in the final kilometres to take home the top-five finish, and will be hoping for similar results over the coming weeks as he contends to be one of the top sprinters on the tour.
The opening stage was won by Colombian Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors), who will take the coveted yellow jersey into tomorrow’s Stage 2.
Kristoff said: “It was quite chaotic but I got good help from my team mates and had a good position.
“I couldn’t manage to pass (Peter) Sagan or Gaviria but I managed to get fourth – I was hoping for a podium and I was close, but Gaviria, Sagan and (Marcel) Kittel were better than me today. I will try again in the next stages and hopefully can improve on my fourth place.”
Meanwhile, Dan Martin managed to avoid a late crash and finish with the main group who are contending for the General Classification (GC).
The Irishman, who leads UAE Team Emirates’ GC charge, said: “Today was a chaotic final were everybody was fresh and wanted to stay in front.
“I avoided the crash and that was really important. As I said in the past few days, I have a lot of confidence in the team, and in stages like today teammates are really important.”
Sunday’s Stage 2 will see the peloton tackle another relatively flat course, with the only climb of the day being the category four cote de Pouzauges, coming at 28km – which could be the ideal opportunity for a breakaway to form.
The finale to the stage will come as the group prepare for another bunched sprint finish into the regions capital, La Roche-sur-Yon.
Chris Froome found himself almost a minute down just one day into the Tour de France after the Team Sky rider crashed in a chaotic finish to stage one.
The defending champion was squeezed out on a bend a little over five kilometres from the end of the 201km stage to Fontenay-le-Comte, which was won by Tour debutant Fernando Gaviria in a reduced sprint.
Colombian Gaviria held off world champion Peter Sagan to become the first man to win his debut stage of a Tour since Fabian Cancellara in 2004, but it was another 51 seconds before Froome crossed the line.
The four-time Tour winner came home in a group that included fellow general classification hopefuls Adam Yates of Mitchelton-Scott and Richie Porte of BMC, who were also caught up in the chaos.
There was worse luck for Movistar’s Nairo Quintana, who suffered a mechanical a little over three kilometres from the finish and lost 75 seconds after waiting for help.
That leaves them already facing a yawning gap to those GC hopefuls who managed to avoid trouble, with Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates), Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors), Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First-Drapac), Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) among those in the front group.
Geraint Thomas was also in the front group, the only Team Sky rider not to lose time on the day.
For 190km, it had been a fairly sedate stage from Noirmoutier-en-l’Ile with the threatened crosswinds failing to materialise, but everything changed in the final 10 kilometres.
First French sprinter Arnaud Demare saw his hopes of a stage win ended in a tumble, then Team Sky’s Egan Bernal, the youngest rider in the race at 21, slid off the side of the road in another incident.
Froome was the next to go, sent hurtling into a field as the road turned to the left. He was quickly back on his bike but could not get back on the main group as the sprint trains put down the power at the front.
They could not avoid trouble themselves, with Mark Cavendish unable to contest the sprint after his Dimension Data team-mates got caught out of position amid the carnage.
Team Sky’s Froome got a hostile reception at the official team presentation in La Roche-sur-Yon but on Friday Quintana expressed only so much sympathy.
“It’s not pleasant, it is not good for our sport,” he said. “We hope that people will avoid doing it. But sometimes you reap what you sow.”
On Monday, Froome was cleared of wrongdoing in the salbutamol case which has hung over him since his victory in the Vuelta a Espana last September, becoming public by means of a leak in December.
However, the minds of many fans had long been made up about the four-time Tour winner, who goes into this year’s race holding all three Grand Tour jerseys and seeking to become the first man to do the Giro-Tour double since Marco Pantani in 1998.
Movistar’s Quintana, who finished second to Froome in the 2013 and 2015 Tours and was third in 2016, is chief among those trying to stop that happening.
However, he said it was good for the race that Froome will be taking part – with organiser ASO dropping its attempt to block him from starting once the UCI announced its decision on Monday.
“For us it is neither better nor worse,” he said. “We always do our race and preparation, and there will always be a rival to fight with. It’s better he is here and his situation has been resolved. Now we all move forward.”
Quintana is part of a three-pronged attack from Movistar, who also have Alejandro Valverde and Mikel Landa eyeing the General Classification title.
Landa was part of the Sky team that helped Froome win the title here 12 months ago before leaving in search of his own opportunities.
Asked about the booing of Froome, Landa said: “It’s sad, I would not like to be whistled. There is more and more rivalry and these extremes are reached. In this age of social networks people love you more and some people hate you more.”