After weeks of corona-delay, and with a Grand Depart under the shadow of a French spike in confirmed cases, the Tour de France of 2020 was underway.
And then, with fifty-five of Stage 1’s one hundred and fifty-six kilometres remaining, a truce was called.
The German pragmatism of Jumbo Visma’s Tony Martin to the fore, he sat high at the front of the peloton and gave it the full ‘settle down lads’ with his arms. For those romantics among us, who revel in the sheer humanity of bike racing, it was a lovely moment.
A steady stream of crashes, mishaps, and accidents on the rain sodden Nice roads had caused the penny of caution to drop. Racing at anything close to full pelt was not panning out well. In any other sport a safety-related rule or regulation would have kicked it but in cycling it’s left up to an elder statesman like Martin to call the shots.
Astana Pro Team, your classic pantomime villains, were having none of it.
Omar Freile hit the front and slowly cranked up the speed towards race pace on yet another glassy descent. I tried, said Big Tony, shrugging. Within moments, third wheel Miguel Angel Lopez had slipped, skidded across the Tarmac, and head-butted a road sign.
Sheepish, the Astana rebels soaked back into a pedestrian peloton to shrugs, finger wags, and a general told you so vibe from their professional colleagues. Without wishing a crash on anyone, it was the very definition of comeuppance.
The Stage 1 of our imagination, looping in and around the sunshine city of Nice, had been one of sun-baked Mediterranean roads and a high-stakes if slightly predictable day of racing: the promise of a Tour de France Yellow Jersey for the winner offering the biggest of all the pro cycling carrots.
The big loser was Pavel Sivakov, of Ineos. Crashing to his left, and then to his right, he suffered a lonely and character building sixty-kilometre survival situation miles behind the business end.
Welcome to le Tour, Pav.
Following the Martin-led truce the peace held for thirty kilometres. The trail of the day’s crash victims (Sivakov excepted) reconnecting with the peloton for a final twenty K sprint finish drag race.
Teams lined up, colour co-ordinated.
But we knew, after a day of chaos, the finish would not be incident free.
Barelling along, passing beneath the three-kilometre banner, our final crash of the day. Riders strewn across the road, commentators peering for crumpled contenders. And there was Thibaut Pinot. Everyone’s favourite French challenger sprawled and gashed, face like thunder, all emotion and Gallic gesture.
No time lost as per the three K crash rule, but not ideal.
The sprinters, by now, off in the distance and hunting that Yellow Jersey.Embed from Getty Images
Ewan, Sagan, Bennett and Bol punched and counter punched only for Norwegian heavyweight Alexander Kristoff, with one huge effort, like a hod-carrier paid by the brick, to surge clear and win.
The thirty-three-year-old from Oslo with a third career Tour Stage win and a Yellow Jersey (size XL) across his massive back.
(Top Image: Jan Willemsen via Flickr CC)