July 06, 2019
Geraint Thomas survived an early scare at the Tour de France, crashing inside the final 2km of the opening stage in Brussels among a group of other fallers before remounting and finishing the stage, an experience he described as “typical”.
“I’m fine,” the defending champion said. “I was moving pretty slow by the time I hit them, so just toppled over. It’s all good.” Team Ineos team leader Egan Bernal was also held up in the mêlée but made it safely to the finish.
Mike Teunissen pips Peter Sagan to line in Tour de France stage one photo finish
Thomas has only just recovered from a heavy fall in last month’s Tour of Switzerland which forced him to abandon the race. “I gave myself enough space and avoided the actual crash. I was just at the barriers. There was nowhere to go, so it was just one of those things. The main thing is it didn’t do any damage. The bike took the hit and I just toppled over.”
But one rider’s misfortune was another’s joy as Mike Teunissen of the Netherlands took over the role of lead sprinter from his fallen Jumbo-Visma teammate, Dylan Groenewegen, to become the first Dutchman to wear the yellow jersey in 30 years.
“Our plan was ruined when Groenewegen crashed,” Teunissen said. “I couldn’t clearly see if he went down but when I realised he did, I was still able to sprint. It’s a really strange day because our goal vanished in a second. I hope Dylan smiles as I replaced him for the win.”
Thomas maintained that his crash would not hamper his performance in Sunday’s key team time trial. “It’s a big day, so hopefully we can all rest up tonight and go tomorrow. Obviously we’ll go 100% and try and win the stage. There’s a lot of other good teams but we’ll see what we can do.”
Of the opening stage the Welshman said: “It was just good to get back in the groove with the boys. We’re riding really well together at the front, communication was good and we’ve started on the front foot. We will try and just continue that. This first week is always just about getting through.”
But as Thomas maintained his equilibrium, Mark Cavendish’s Dimension Data team seemed on the brink of collapse after his team’s management, and his wife, Peta Todd, became embroiled in a bitter public row over the sprinter’s non-selection. While Todd railed against the decision to omit her husband on Twitter, calling team boss, Doug Ryder, a “coward”, the Dimension Data team’s sports director, Rolf Aldag, Cavendish’s long-time confidant, was believed to be so angered that he was considering walking out.
Ryder, who surprisingly failed to appear at the South African team’s pre-race press conference, finally spoke to the media in the start area for stage one.
“Mark is a legend of the race and it is hard that he’s not here,” he said, “but we had selected a team based on the course and the route. There was a difference of opinion but it was a team decision and our whole high performance team was involved in that. The race this year is so hard, so the team that we have in this race is representative of that and of our strategy.”
Ryder’s words led to some fierce trolling on social media from Todd who described it first as containing a “fair amount of fiction” and then added for good measure, “cowards can’t hide for ever”.
Mike Teunissen pips Peter Sagan to line in Tour de France stage one photo finish
Aldag, who first worked with Cavendish over a decade ago, seemed certain that the rider was in form.
“I had physically seen him so I was probably one of the very few that had physically seen him,” he said. “I followed him for quite a while, when I was in [the Tour of] Slovenia, and I saw a Mark Cavendish that was about 300% better than he was in 2016 when he dropped out on stage two and fell asleep in my car after 20km because he was so tired.
“I saw him there and that was why I thought he was definitely in a good way and it was worth taking him. It’s not about the media, it’s not about just giving him another Tour de France, I thought for the stages that we have in this race, that he was a good choice.”
Cavendish has been stuck very firmly on 30 stage wins in the Tour since 2016, and his chances of winning again in the biggest event in his sport and of equalling or surpassing Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 stage wins now look slim.
“If he’s not racing against the best, where he can sprint,” Aldag said, “then it will be difficult for him to prove that he will be good again.”
Saturday’s opening stage looping around Brussels, marking the 50th anniversary of Merckx’s first overall victory, had a processional feel, until the frenzied final kilometres reminded all involved that this was the Tour de France. Thomas may have played down Saturday’s tumble but his old habit of crashing at the wrong moment will almost certainly already have his team management living on their nerves.
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