Saturday, 2 July 2011

Gilbert victorious in the Vendée as crash leaves major contenders playing catch-up

Storming to victory on Mont des Alouettes, the Belgium national champion and Omega-Pharma Lotto rider, Philippe Gilbert, grabbed the yellow jersey at the end of a dramatic first day of racing.

Following a stunning season of racing that has seen him win at every race he has entered in the last 86 days, a fantastic achievement by anyone's standards, the young rider proved many pundits right as he sped away from rival Swiss Champion Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek)to clinch first place ahead of Australian Cadel Evans (BMC) who took second place. Norwegian legend Thor Hushovd finished the day in third place 6 seconds down on Gilbert. However a crash within the last 3km that held up Tony Martin may see riders given this same time under race rules.

The dramatic finish came after 191.5km of equally dramatic racing as the peloton headed out along the Passage du Gois to Mont des Alouettes. With crashes causing chaos as riders hit the deck, the worst of these coming just 10km back from the finish, it is clear that this years Tour will take the race one step closer to becoming "Sport Spectacular".

The shake-up to the Green Jersey competition is set to add to this as riders now vie for larger points on just one intermediate sprint. As the peloton chased down its breakaway in today's stage, the intermediate sprint provided exactly what the race organisers had hoped for: a mini bunch-sprint. However riders seemed a little unsure of how to play this out on the opening stage. With Manx rider and self proclaimed "fastest sprinter in the world" Mark Cavendish appearing to mis-judge this sprint, Tyler Farrar out gunned and out paced his HTC-Highroad rival to grab the intermediate points. However with the points system at the finish also changing, race winner Gilbert currently dominates the Green Jersey competition with Cadel Evans starting tomorrows Team Time Trial in the Maillot Vert.

Also changing is the King of the Mountains points system and with just 1 point available on the inaugural stage, Gilbert leads this competition too, allowing Thor Hushovd to start tomorrow in the Climbers Jersey.

Former British Champion Geraint Thomas is Britains highest placed rider. Currently defending the Young Riders White Jersey, he remains at the top of this competition thanks to a 6th place finish.

With no withdrawals despite the crashes and no controversies clouding the start, all 198 riders are set to start tomorrows stage, a 23km Team Time Trial of Les Essarts where Team Sky are set to dominate under the leadership of current British Champion Bradley Wiggins.

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