The Commercial Appeal

German captures first stage of Tour de France

Crash, bus mishap cause race mayhem

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Alberto Contador of Spain (center with number 91) sits on the road after a group of riders crashed during the first stage of the Tour de France, which was won by German Marcel Kittel.

PORTO VECCHIO, Corsica — The first stage of the 100th Tour de France ended with a bus stuck under an archway at the finish line until minutes before the first riders arrived.

Shortly after the bus was dislodged, German rider Marcel Kittel was first to arrive, after dodging all sorts of mayhem to win Saturday’s stage on Corsica.

Kittel beat Russian sprinter Alexander Kristoff in a dash to the line after a major crash wiped out some other competitor­s. Organizers considered moving the finish line up to avoid the bus, then changed their minds at the last moment after the bus was freed.

About 20 riders fell close to the end, among them two-time former champion Alberto Contador and sprinter Peter Sagan. They got back up, with Contador’s shoulder cut and bruised.

British sprinter Mark Cavendish did not crash but was stuck behind those who fell and could not challenge for his 24th stage win. He was hoping to wear the prestigiou­s yellow jersey for the first time in his career.

“I saw the crash happen to my right,” said Kittel, who also finished the day with the best sprinter’s green jersey. “I knew it was serious. I knew that Mark and Andre (Greipel) were no longer in contention and it was a good chance for us.”

But Cavendish and Sagan were nowhere to be seen as the main bunch turned for home, and Kittel held off Kristoff as they dipped for the line.

“I’m lucky I didn’t come down,” Cavendish said. “What caused the problems was changing the finish. Like, we heard on the radio with literally 5K to go that the sprint was in 2K and then a K later, they were like ‘No, it’s at the finish.’ It’s just carnage.”

Francaise Des Jeux team manager Marc Madiot was furious.

“The president of the (race jury) didn’t do his job,” he said. “When we make a mistake we get a fine. Well, Kittel celebrates winning ahead of third-place finisher Danny van Poppel of The Netherland­s (right side behind Kittel). he should get a huge fine.”

Race events director Jean-Francois Pescheux says circumstan­ces forced a quick decision.

“We would’ve preferred a nice finish like the one we’d planned. But in exceptiona­l situations, you have to take exceptiona­l decisions,” Pescheux said by telephone. “We’re not going to stop the riders, and ask (them) what decision we should take.”

Organizers considered shortening the stage by two miles after the bus from the Orica Greenedge team got wedged under the structure at the finish, but the bus got moved just in time.

“When a bus arrives near the finish line the driver must ask the permission to cross it,” finish line manager Jean-Louis Pages said. “This bus was late. We deflated the tires so we could move it away as the peloton was fast approachin­g.”

Kittel did not even know about the bus, and was lucky enough to avoid the crash to win the flat, 132-mile trek from Porto Vecchio to Bastia in just under 5 hours. Kristoff and thirdplace Danny van Poppel clocked the same time.

“It feels like I have gold on my shoulders,” Kittel said about wear- ing the famed yellow jersey. “I didn’t know about the bus. I’m glad they were able to move it.”

Cavendish’s Omega PharmaQuic­k Step teammate Tony Martin was caught in the fall and later taken to a hospital after losing consciousn­ess. Contador had a bad day, too. Returning from a doping ban after testing positive on the 2010 Tour — a title he has been stripped of — the Spaniard grimaced in pain as he crossed the line with his clothing torn and his left shoulder grazed.

“I am fine, I’m OK,” Contador said through a translator. “Someone didn’t brake in front of me and then there was a crash. I will have to rest now.”

As the stage drew to an end, former champion Andy Schleck’s RadioShack team pushed to the front as a side wind made it harder for riders, then Contador’s Saxo-Tinkoff team pushed up as the sinewy roads started to thin out.

Johnny Hoogerland, who was sent flying off his bike and sustained cuts to his legs on the 2011 Tour after being hit by a Tour car, was sent tumbling after hitting a crash barrier near the end. He was helped back onto his bike and able to continue.

Last year’s Giro d’Italia winner, Ryder Hesjedal, was caught in another crash moments later but continued.

With the finish line in sight, and as the nerves jangled, riders were sent flying from their bikes, throwing the stage into chaos.

“It was just a complete disaster,” Greipel said.

It proved to be an eventful day from the outset. Before the stage started, French Sports Minister Valerie Fourneyron met with a delegation of riders unhappy about prerace media reports that they thought focused too heavily on doping stories.

The day before, Lance Armstrong hogged headlines when he told Le Monde he couldn’t have won his seven Tours without doping.

Once the race began, tour favorite Chris Froome stopped to get a new rear wheel early on and stopped for a second time to get a new bike.

Sunday’s second stage is shorter but features four climbs along the 97-mile ride from Bastia to Ajaccio.

That’s the number beside the names of Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic, who turned in nearly perfect performanc­es back-to-back Saturday on Centre Court to cap nearly perfect runs to the fourth round at the All England Club, while chaos reigned all around them.

In the final match of the fortnight’s first half, played with the roof closed and lights glowing to make sure it would get done as darkness approached, defending champion Williams used eight aces and 11 return winners to power past 42-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan 6-2, 6- 0 in 61 minutes.

“She didn’t lose energy, and her game, I think, is getting better, day after day. Not better in general, but adapting to the surface. Everything is getting better,” said French coach Patrick Mouratoglo­u, who has been working with Williams over the past year, when she is 773. “So now let’s enter into the most important part of the tournament. ... Now the matches are going to get tougher and tougher.”

Might not necessaril­y have been a fair fight, considerin­g that Date-Krumm is ranked 84th and was the oldest woman to reach the third round at Wimbledon in the 45-year Open era. Never better than a semifinali­st at a Grand Slam tournament, she played Williams evenly for about three games, before the 16time major champion took over.

“She has so much power, speed,” Date-Krumm said. “She has everything.”

Williams’ easy win followed the 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 victory over 28th-seeded Jeremy Chardy of France turned in by 2011 champion Djokovic, who compiled a remarkable ratio of 38 winners to three unforced errors. The Serb’s initial miscue of his own doing did not come until the third set’s sixth game, when he double-faulted while ahead 4-1, 40-love.

“Everything went my way,” Djokovic said. “I did everything I wanted to do.”

Both he and Williams could say that about the way they handled matters throughout Week 1.

Williams has won all six sets she’s played, allowing her opponents a total of 11 games. Djokovic has won all of his nine sets, dropping 29 games.

“You don’t want to play your best tennis in the first Novak Djokovic serves to Jeremy Chardy on Saturday. Djokovic has been nearly flawless at Wimbledon. round and continue to go down. I feel like I try to play better as each match goes on,” said Williams, whose 34-match winning streak is the longest for a woman since older sister Venus had a run of 35 in 2000. “I try to find out something I can improve on from each match so I can do it better in the next round.”

In other words: Look out, Sabine Lisicki, the 23rd-seeded German who will meet Williams on Monday for a quarterfin­al berth.

Up next for Djokovic after the middle Sunday’s traditiona­l day of rest is another German, 13thseeded Tommy Haas, the 35-year-old who is enjoying a career renaissanc­e and eliminated Feliciano Lopez of Spain 4- 6, 6-2, 7-5, 6- 4.

Take a glance around, and a high seeding has mattered very little, with the notable exception of No. 2 Andy Murray, Djokovic’s potential foe in the final.

Indeed, in many cases, any seeding at all has guaranteed nothing whatsoever. The men’s Nos. 3, 5, 6, 9 and 10 are all gone, including Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, with their 29 combined Grand Slam titles. The women’s Nos. 2, 3, 5, 7, 9 and 10 are out, too, including four-time major champion Maria Sharapova and two-time Australian Open winner Victoria Azarenka.

Even during a pair of victories Saturday, both No. 4-seeded players, David Ferrer and Agnieszka Rawdwanska, looked shaky. Ferrer, the French Open runner-up this month, was treated for blisters on his right foot while coming back to beat No. 26 Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine 6-7 (6), 7- 6 (2), 2- 6, 6-1, 6-2.

Radwanska, who lost to Williams in last year’s Wimbledon f inal, was pushed to three sets by 18-year- old American Madison Keys before winning 7-5, 4- 6, 6-3.

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