BRUSSELS — Apart from the celebrations of Eddy Merckx’s first victory at the Tour de France half a century ago, nothing went according to plans on opening day for the race.
In cycling-mad Belgium, defending champion Geraint Thomas was caught in a crash Saturday and toppled over his handlebars in the finale of the first stage. The race leader’s yellow jersey ended on the shoulders of a relatively unknown rider who switched from zealous teammate to ace sprinter.
After the pile-up tore the peloton apart and played havoc with sprinters’ teams, Mike Teunissen posted the biggest win of his career with an unexpected yet remarkable stage win at the expense of former world champion Peter Sagan, the king of sprints in recent years at the Tour.
Teunissen, the first Dutch rider to wear the yellow jersey since Erik Breukink 30 years ago, showed solid nerves after the second spill left Jumbo-Visma teammate Dylan Groenewegen, the squad’s best sprinter, out of contention .
Caleb Ewan, an up-and-coming sprinter, was third to the finish line in Brussels.
Photo: Jeff Pachoud / AFP / Getty Images
The first days of the Tour typically are tense and marred by race incidents, and this year’s race, with 176 competitors, is not going to be any different.
“The finale was not dangerous,” Teunissen said after a burst of power in the final meters allowed him to edge Sagan. “It’s only because the riders were nervous that it was dangerous.”
The stage could have turned into another nightmare for Thomas’ Ineos team, which already is without four-time champion Chris Froome. The British rider was ruled out of the Tour last month after suffering career-threatening injuries at a warm-up race.
But Thomas escaped unscathed. The former track specialist was riding at the front of the race when the spill occurred and he bumped into barriers.
“I’m fine. It was pretty slow by the time I hit them,” he said. “I gave myself enough space and avoided the actual crash but with the barriers there was nowhere to go. The main thing is that it didn’t do any damage. This first week is all about just getting through.”
Thomas’s teammate Egan Bernal, another top contender, did not fall but was also held up by the crash. The pair did not lose time as per race regulations because the accident occurred within the final three kilometers.
Jakob Fuglsang, another favorite, also hit the tarmac about 12 miles from the finish in a separate crash. The Astana team leader remounted his bike with blood on his face and right knee, and tears on his jersey. He needed stitches for a cut above his right eye.