Close
L

TOUR DE FRANCE 2020
OPENING WEEKEND

On Saturday the Tour de France began in typical fashion, albeit in a time when things are anything but typical. The first weekend of the race delivered, as it always does, a spectacular and chaotic few days as a nervy peloton competed for 2020’s first clutch of yellow, green and polka dot jerseys.

The départ this year was held in Nice, with its glittering blue seas and the imposing backdrop of the south-west Alps. The riviera’s largest city certainly put on a show, delivering apocalyptic weather, scintillating racing and a few climbs added to the bucket lists of spectators watching at home, no doubt.

Stage 1 was marred by crashes caused by the extreme rains, technical descents and first day jitters. Big names had their Tours ended before they had even begun, with Bahrain McLaren losing Rafael Valls and Lotto Soudal losing two of their box office names, Philippe Gilbert and John Degenkolb. While none withdrew, Thibaut Pinot’s Groupama team were badly affected by a crash that took down the man himself, plus Willam Bonnet, David Gaudu and Velentin Madouas.

 The arduous buildup created the perfect conditions for a tough, powerful sprinter to come to the fore – and Alexander Kristoff emerged from the rain to take victory, and the first yellow jersey of his long professional career.

The transformation in the weather on stage 2 was remarkable, with most of the race conducted under sunny blue skies. The gargantuan Col de Turini separated the climbing wheat from the chaff while a pair of smaller climbs set up the finale.

A rampaging deluxe breakaway including green jersey favourite Peter Sagan made it up the road, only for it to be finally caught and brought back with around 40km left in the day. From there, Julian Alaphilippe’s attack on the Col des Quatre Chemins felt inevitable.

 Only Adam Yates and Marc Hirschi could go with the Frenchman’s acceleration, but in the end neither was his equal as they sprinted it out for the podium places. The trio played cat and mouse for as long as they dared, allowing the charging pack behind to come within two seconds of catching them on the line.

 Mikel Landa, ably protected by lieutenants Damiano Caruso and Pello Bilbao, rolled it in safely with the group of favourites – avoiding the lost time that put dents in the general classification ambitions of others like Dani Martinez (EF Pro Cycling) and Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates).

Stage 3 saw a return of the stormy skies, but nothing approaching the same level of carnage on the roads. That being said, after doing enough to take the lead in the polka dot jersey classification, Cofidis’ Anthony Perez collided with a car and was forced to abandon the race – just one of many heartbreaking stories of dashed dreams that the Tour produces every year.

 The breakaway began as a quartet, dropped quickly to a trio, and before halfway was reduced again to one single rider. Jerome Cousin spent 165km off the front, the majority of it alone, before getting caught with around 14km remaining. From there, a classic sprint train drag race seemed destined, but a fast pace and frenetic run-in left most of the sprinters without a full leadout.

Instead, it was Caleb Ewan’s ability to improvise – not the muscle he had at his command – that allowed him to find a path to victory. He pingponged from the centre to the right to left of the road, deftly navigating around his rivals, to cross the line first and throw his arms aloft. A disconsolate Sam Bennett had dropped his head in disappointment before even crossing the line.

 With no sprinter in the race, the Bahrain McLaren team were free to focus solely on protecting Landa and once again the safe hands of Caruso and Bilbao delivered him home with no time lost.

 The first weekend of the Tour is frequently the most tumultuous, and to navigate it with such aplomb is a good omen for the month of racing still to come on the way to Paris.

 

Thanks go to Russ Ellis and Chris Auld for capturing the race. See more of their work by following them on Instagram, at @cyclingimages & @cauldphoto.