Froome flies off road into a ditch in open­ing stage

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Sports - BY AN­DREW DAMPF As­so­ci­ated Press

Down in a ditch, Chris Froome had to hoist him­self and his bike back up to the road.

It was a star­tling scene when the Team Sky rider tum­bled into a grassy field in the open­ing stage of the Tour de France on Satur­day, im­me­di­ately putting his pur­suit of a record-ty­ing fifth ti­tle in peril.

Froome, though, is get­ting used to these sort of mishaps and chal­lenges – whether that means re­cov­er­ing from crashes or clear­ing his name of dop­ing.

“I saw a lot of crashes out there to­day. It’s just one of those things. We al­ways knew the first few days were go­ing to be tricky and go­ing to be sketchy. It’s part of the game un­for­tu­nately,” said Froome, who went down with about 5 kilo­me­ters to go as the sprint­ers’ teams jock­eyed for po­si­tion.

With grass stains on his right shoul­der and blood trick­ling down his right arm from a gash on his el­bow, Froome got back up and crossed 51 sec­onds be­hind Fer­nando Gaviria, the Colom­bian who claimed the race’s first yel­low jer­sey with a com­mand­ing sprint vic­tory.

“I’m just grate­ful I’m not in­jured in any way and there’s a lot of road to cover be­fore Paris ob­vi­ously,” Froome said.

When fans at the fin­ish were in­formed of Froome’s crash, many cheered. Froome, who was cleared of dop­ing in an asthma drug case on Mon­day, was also jeered at Thurs­day’s team pre­sen­ta­tions.

Froome was for­tu­nate he didn’t do more da­m­age by avoid­ing a post near where he fell while rid­ing at more than 50 kph.

The Kenyan-born British rider also crashed on the open­ing day of the Giro d’Italia in May, while warm­ing up for the Stage 1 time trial. But Froome even­tu­ally climbed back up the stand­ings to win the Giro – his third straight Grand Tour ti­tle.

Froome is now aim­ing to join Jac­ques An­quetil, Eddy Mer­ckx, Bernard Hin­ault and Miguel In­durain as the only rid­ers to win the Tour five times.

Fel­low over­all con­tenders Richie Porte and Adam Yates were also caught be­hind in the Froome group. And in what was ex­pected to be a calm day for the fa­vorites, two-time run­ner-up Nairo Quin­tana lost 1:10 when both of his tires were punc­tured.

The pre-race fa­vorites who fin­ished safely with the main pack in­cluded 2014 cham­pion Vin­cenzo Nibali, Tom Du­moulin, Geraint Thomas, Mikel Landa, Ale­jan­dro Valverde and Dan Martin.

“It is a tricky fin­ish and just the typ­i­cal fight be­tween sprint­ers and GC guys. Ev­ery­one wants to be on the front, es­pe­cially ahead of the 3K marker,” Sky sport di­rec­tor Ni­co­las Por­tal said. “It’s the nor­mal ten­sion which is slightly higher than the other Grand Tours.”

When over­all or gen­eral clas­si­fi­ca­tion (GC) con­tenders reach the 3K mark, they can re­lax be­cause from there on in the re­sults are neu­tral­ized in the case of crashes.

Gaviria, the Quick-Step rider mak­ing his Tour de­but, eas­ily beat world cham­pion Pe­ter Sa­gan and Mar­cel Kit­tel to the line.

“The yel­low jer­sey is one that ev­ery­one dreams of wear­ing and to get it on the first day is amaz­ing,” Gaviria said.

Gaviria re­quired

4 hours, 23 min­utes to com­plete the mostly flat 125-mile stage from the is­land of Noir­moutier-enl’Ile on the At­lantic coast to Fon­te­nay-le-Comte.

The 23-year-old Gaviria won four stages in last year’s Giro d’Italia and is liv­ing up to his billing as the next big thing in sprint­ing.

Ac­count­ing for time bonuses in the over­all stand­ings, Froome trails Gaviria by 1:01 in 91st po­si­tion.

Fans came out in large num­bers for the 105th edi­tion of cy­cling’s big­gest race, stand­ing along nearly every stretch of the route and wav­ing the red and white flags of the Vendee re­gion.

For much of the stage, the route hugged the coast­line along­side sparkling wa­ters, pris­tine beaches and an abun­dance of salt marshes.

Three French rid­ers – Kevin Ledanois (Team For­tu­neo-Sam­sic), Jerome Cousin (Di­rect En­ergie) and Yoann Of­fredo (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) – at­tacked at the start flag and quickly es­tab­lished an ad­van­tage of more than a minute.

The three-week Tour ends July 29 in Paris.

JEFF PACHOUD AP

Bri­tain’s Chris Froome, right, and Bel­gium’s Jasper De Buyst get back on the road af­ter crash­ing dur­ing the first stage of the Tour de France on Satur­day.

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