In a chaotic and bloody finish to stage one of the 2021 Tour de France, Julian Alaphilippe of France won in Landernau and took the yellow jersey, while the four-times champion Chris Froome struggled to the finish after being caught up in a high-speed crash shortly before the final climb to the Côte de la Fosse aux Loups.
Alaphilippe’s searing acceleration shredded a select front group, including the defending champion Tadej Pogacar and the Ineos Grenadiers leader, Geraint Thomas, that was still recovering from the aftermath of two high-speed crashes earlier in the stage. Despite being among the fallers in the first crash, the world road champion opened a significant gap on his rivals and held on to his advantage to seal both the stage win and the overall lead.
Earlier the stage almost ground to a dramatic halt 44km from the finish. A fan on the roadside blocked the path of Jumbo-Visma’s Tony Martin with a large placard she was holding and took down most of the peloton in a mass crash.
As Martin was sent flying, so, riding in his wake, was most of the peloton, including his team leader, Primoz Roglic. Only a dozen or so riders avoided being caught up in the carnage. With the race effectively neutralised, the peloton came back together and resumed racing, with a bloodied and battered Martin eventually catching up.
However the German rider Jasha Sütterlin of Team DSM was forced to abandon the Tour after less than 200km of racing. “Spectators, please let us ride safely,” pleaded his team. Almost every team took a hit in the mass pile-up and the aftermath of the crash’s impact will be felt by some riders for several days.
Although involving fewer riders, the second crash appeared even worse, with Froome and former teammate Richie Porte, third overall in last year’s Tour, and a key rider for the Ineos Grenadiers team, among those to come down heavily.
There may be further roadside disruptions as French protestors were mobilising on social media against Chris Froome’s sponsor, Israel Start-Up Nation, stating that “by welcoming this team to the start of the Tour de France, the organisers are complicit in a vast operation promoting colonialism, racism and apartheid.”
But, after a brutal reintroduction to the Tour, that will have been the least of Froome’s worries as he rode slowly to the finish line, clearly in pain and struggling to pedal. It is unclear whether he will be able to recover sufficiently to continue in the race.