Kittel, Kristoff and Van Poppel - Did any one else call that podium on their fantasy cycling team? I guess I'm the only one....right. This podium is one that few could have foreseen, and is a great testament to the irrepressible nature of Le Tour de France. That Marcel Kittel was standing at the top step and not Dish, Greipel or Sagan shows that anything can and will happen in this centenary edition of the tour just as it always has.
Now to be fair, Kittel is no joke as a sprinter, and has the chops to compete with nearly anyone on any given day, but I think it's safe to say that he was fourth or fifth on the list of riders we all thought possible to be wearing the Maillot Jaune at the end of the first stage. A number of the days events however, had different ideas about how things would play out. It was one of the most chaotic stages I have ever witnessed and one that folks will be talking about for years to come... though sadly for Kittel, he is probably not going to be the reason why.
Read after the jump for the good stuff:
To be completely honest, the star of the day wasn't Kittel, or Greipel, or the break that stayed away for all but 25 or so kilometers. No, the star of the day was the Orica Greenedge bus. In an event so surreal, so ridiculous that it is almost unbelievable. The Aussie team bus made a place for itself in tour history by ramming a too low hung finish sign, wedging itself exactly as it crossed over the start finish line. Shown above in lovely GIF form, the driver had no idea what was about to happen, and drove directly into it, tearing open the top of the bus and shooting what I assumed was freon into the air. The driver was beyond shocked, and in some shots seemed almost grief stricken; as race management scurried around in an attempt to identify what direction they would go with the finish of the race which was now less than 15 minutes away.
Meanwhile, further back on the route, the racing was playing out in a skittish fashion that has become all too familiar in week one during recent tours. The intermediate sprints were animated and exciting, with Greipel, Sagan and Cavendish asserting themselves and only serving to further solidify the thought that one of them would we wearing yellow to start day two. As they swallowed up an early break, Cavendish's Omega Pharma Quikstep teammates were doing the lions share of the work - at one point taking on 84% of the load at the front for a 10 minute period of time - obviously feeling confident in the Manxmans form.
With the Peloton now within 15k of the finish and the Greenedge bus still firmly planted over the finish line, the decision was made to move the end of the race back to the 3k to go point. Word was making it's way back to some of the teams and riders, but many of them still had no clue of the events unfolding up ahead. With under 10k to go, things were really heating up in the pack, and the first of a few crashes happened. Moreno Moser was caught up with others and Sagan was left without one of his key lieutenants for the sprint. It would matter not for him though, as just a few K further up a high speed and violent multi rider crash would literally tear the race apart.
It started when Andre Greipel tried to force the issue and clipped Tony Martin sending him sprawling which then led to a major pileup that took out a large group of riders including Cavendish and Sagan. Also hindered (but not hurt) were Contador and Hesjedal. Greipel would soon find himself on the side of the road with a mangled rear derailleur. Poetic justice some might say as he was no doubt at fault for the carnage. He struck quite a striking pose on the side of the road as he waited for his team car however - his stoic German presence on display for all to see.
After that the rest, as they say, was history. With Kittel by far the strongest sprinter left in the race it was a gift of epic proportions and though he would be challenged gamely by the Russian Kristoff, there was really no doubt that he would wind up in yellow at the end of the day. Luckily for Contador and the others, the race directors ruled that since they had at one point decided to shorten the race there would be no penalty fot the time lost even though the race had been extended back to the original finishing point.
Oh, and what of the bus? Well, with under 3k to go they finally got the beast started and apparently there was little concern for the stability of the sign. It was left where it stood as the bus was pushed backwards until it was free, when the obviously panicked driver threw it into reverse and precariously backed up until he was able to make his way off the route...only about a minute before what was left of the peloton came rumbling through with Kittel at the front. If it sounds too crazy (too good?) to be true, it's not.
It was a memorably chaotic start to the 100th tour to say the least, one that will be remembered perhaps forever; and though the racing may have been overshadowed by the other events of the day, it was a great start to the 2013 version of Le Grand Boucle.