In the end, riders took matters into their own hands, calling a temporary truce on the descent off the Côte de Rimiez with around 58km of the stage remaining. Big Tony Martin [Jumbo-Visma] spread his long arms out on the front, warning the peloton not to pass him. Astana ignored the warning and Omar Fraile took things up on the front of the bunch.
This led to general classification contender Miguel Angel Lopez losing control on a corner and locking up under braking, slamming into what looked like a lamp post. Incredibly, the Colombian managed to remain upright throughout. Moments after the incident, pre-race favourite Primoz Roglic [Jumbo-Visma] approached Fraile and clearly told him to “calm down”.
Even descending gingerly, though, it was treacherous going. George Bennett [Lotto-Jumbo], one of Roglic’s key mountain helpers, hit the deck hard and had to chase back on.
The biggest scare came right under the 3km to go banner – the checkpoint after which all riders are given the same time once they cross the finish line. A big crash caught out Pinot among others and the race held its breath to see whether the darling of the French cycling fraternity would get back up. He did, looking battered and bruised. At least he was given the same time as his GC rivals. Had they docked him, there would have been mutiny on the streets of Nice.
As it was, the peloton just about came through in one piece, the first yellow jersey of the race, rather aptly, going to Kristoff, a former Milan-San Remo winner who specialises in sprints at the end of long, draining days. Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo), the reigning world champion, was second, with Dutchman Cees Bol third. Pre-stage favourite Sam Bennett [Deceuninck-QuickStep] and Peter Sagan [Bora-Hansgrohe] finished fourth and fifth respectively.
Guillaume Martin [Cofidis] said it had been like riding “on an ice rink” in places, the rain having brought up lots of oil from the tar. “I think the problem was the fact that it literally hadn’t rained her for two or three months,” said Ineos Grenadiers’ road captain Luke Rowe, who along with Martin was instrumental in neutralising the race. “And then you have one day where it rains and the roads were literally like ice. I think most teams had at least half their team touch down.”
Rowe added that Astana were “made to look pretty stupid” for ignoring the call to slow down.
“We’ve got this riders’ organisation. There’s a couple of guys from each team in there. We spoke about it last night in terms of how we would approach the Tour de France in general and look after each other and do the right thing when needed,” Rowe said. “I have to say chapeau to the whole peloton really, minus Astana. They made themselves look pretty stupid.”
There will be no rest for the peloton today. The road rears up with what is an unusually brutal second stage featuring the Col de Turini and the Col d’Eze, both above 1500m, before ending once again in Nice.
By then there should be some clarity as to the threat of Covid-19. The strangest grand depart in years had taken place after overnight news that the French government had intervened on the “compromise” agreed by teams and organisers over the “two strikes and you’re out” Covid protocols.
Teams thought they had assurances this would only apply to two riders testing positive, but Tour director Christian Prudhomme said yesterday it meant two positives involving any of a team’s 30-strong staff over seven days.
The Daily Telegraph