Mark Cavendish closed in on the all-time stage wins record by clinching a bunch sprint on the opening stage of the 2016 Tour de France at Utah Beach on Saturday.
Cavendish timed his run perfectly to dart out from behind world champion Peter Sagan with 100 metres to go at the end of the 188km run from Mont Saint-Michel.
It was the 31-year-old Briton’s 27th stage win since 2008, putting him just one win behind second-placed Bernard Hinault in the all-time list, where Belgian legend Eddy Merckx remains out in front on 34 victories.
German Marcel Kittel took second with Sagan third on a stage that finished at the site of the one of the World War II D-Day landings 70 years ago.
It means ‘Manx Missile’ Cavendish will start Sunday’s second stage from Saint-Lo to Cherbourg-en-Cotentin wearing the race leader’s yellow jersey for the first time in his career.
The first stage was not free of drama as two-time former winner Alberto Contador hurt his shoulder in a crash around halfway through the race.
The 33-year-old Spaniard came down on a tight right-hand corner when the pace was high in the peloton.
He was quickly back on his feet and riding Croatian team-mate Robert Kiserlovski’s bike, but his jersey was shredded around his right shoulder.
Contador even had to change his right shoe while riding his bike due to damaged caused in his crash and he received attention from the medical car as the race continued.
There was also a crash in the sprint finish as a Katusha’s Michael Morkov hit the safety barriers, going down hard and taking several other riders with him.
But reigning champion Chris Froome of Britain and fellow favourites Contador and Colombia’s Nairo Quintana finished safely in the bunch.
– Five man breakaway –
Right from the off there was a determined breakaway involving three riders, including two from German team Bora-Argon 18, with two chasers not far behind.
The leading trio built up a three minute lead over the ambling peloton inside 5.5km.
German Paul Voss struck out on his own ahead of the day’s two categorised climbs, cresting the summit of both alone to ensure he would finish the day wearing the polkadot king of the mountains jersey.
No sooner had he secured the necessary points, he sat up and a front group of five — Voss, Czech Jan Barta, Australian Leigh Howard, American Alex Howes and Anthony Delaplace of France — formed but their lead of 4min 30sec quickly started being trimmed by the sprinters’ teams.
With not only a stage win but the first yellow jersey on offer at the finish line, the sprinters’ teams were never going to take any chances and the lead was down to just over 2min by the halfway mark of the race.
Voss, by this time, had been dropped leaving just four riders in the breakaway, although Barta and Howard also sat up around 60km from home as Delaplace attacked and only Howes could follow.
Heading into the final 30km they still had a 30sec lead but even once the peloton had them in its sights, it showed no sign of hurry.
But the escapees were finally gobbled up 4.5km from the line, setting up the hectic bunch sprint. – Agence France-Presse