Valverde Wins Stage 1 of the Tour
Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) has served notice that he is a man to watch in this year's Tour de France. Valverde powered into the lead in the last 100 meters and took Stage 1, a rolling, 197.5-km ride from Brest to Plumelec, in 4:36:07. Philippe Gilbert (Francaise des Jeux) outsprinted Jerome Pineau (Bouygues Telecom) for second at 0:01.
The first few kilometers of the stage were neutralized. Some of the new national champions went to the front to display their championship jerseys, and Cadel Evans (Silence), who was assigned the bib number 1 for the race, appeared at the head of the field. When Christian Prudhomme, head of the Amaury Sports Organization (ASO), dropped the flag for the "real" start, eight riders sortied. They were Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom), Ruben Perez (Euskaltel), Jose Luis Arrieta (Ag2r), Geoffroy Lequatre (Agritubel), Bjorn Schroeder (Milram), Lilian Jegou (Francaise des Jeux), David De La Fuente (Saunier Duval), and Stephane Auge (Cofidis). The break led the bunch by six minutes at 25 kilometers.
At the summit of the day's first climb, the Category 4 Ty-Jopic, the octet led the field by eight minutes. Credit Agricole went to the front and pegged the lead. Caisse d'Epargne kept an eye on the situation as well.
Gradually, the escapees' lead dropped. By 62 kilometers, 5:35 separated bunch and break. At 85.5 kilometers, the fugitives led the field by about 4:30, and the gap had fallen to below 4:00 at about 120 kilometers.
At the feed zone (96.5 kilometers), misfortune struck Herve Duclos-Lassalle (Cofidis). The son of two-time Paris-Roubaix winner Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle crashed and suffered a broken wrist. He became the first rider to abandon the 2008 Tour de France.
With 52 kilometers left, another crash occurred. This one took down Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner), Frank Schleck (CSC), Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), Yaroslav Popovych (Silence), and Jimmy Casper (Agritubel), but all got up and returned to the bunch.
At 157 kilometers, the break led the bunch by 3:00. When the octet's advantage dropped to 2:00, De La Fuente attacked and took Jegou with him. With 26 kilometers remaining, the peloton absorbed the rest of the break. At this point, the two remaining escapees led the field by 1:30.
With 20 kilometers left, a crash took down Stephane Goubert (Ag2r) and Xavier Florencio (Bouygues Telecom). Five kilometers later, the bunch led the break by 1:00. Three kilometers further on, the escapees were only 0:12 ahead of the bunch. Mauricio Soler (Barloworld), the 2007 King of the Mountains, crashed with nine kilometers remaining and chased to get back on.
With seven kilometers left, the peloton reeled in Jegou and De La Fuente. The uphill run to the finish ruled out a sprinter taking the win. Romain Feillu (Agritubel) attacked first, but Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner) countered. With 500 m left, Kim Kirchen (Columbia) went for the win, but Valverde overtook him in the last 100 meters.
Valverde was elated but kept his victory in perspective. "It's beyond belief to win the stage and wear the maillot jaune in the first stage," he said. "For me, I am going to just enjoy this moment right now...it's not an obsession right now to keep the jersey. The objective is to arrive in Paris in yellow."
In the overall, Valverde leads Gilbert and Pineau, respectively, by 0:01. Given Valverde's focus on the overall, he might surrender the lead in Stage 2. The rolling, 164.5-km run from Auray to Saint-Brieuc ends with an uphill run to the finish and gives riders such as Schumacher and Kirchen another chance to win. On the other hand, a sprinter could win the day. Which will it be? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!