BORA-hansgrohe Tour de France campaign starts with a bang in Brussels
The biggest race of the year had finally arrived, and in honour of Belgium hosting Le Grand Départ, there was a Classics feel to the race’s opener, with cobblestones and short steep climbs on the parcours. The first road stage of the 106th Tour de France would follow a circuit out of the Belgian capital and back again, following an anti-clockwise 194.5km route that covered two categorized climbs early on, before heading over rolling hills to the finish for the predicted bunch sprint. The first day of La Grande Boucle is always a frenetic and tense affair, with the racing full-on from the very start, and the entire peloton wanted the bragging rights that being first into the breakaway would bring, and four riders made their move straight away. Quickly building up a lead, this quartet hit 3:20 at their peak. With some Belgian representation in the break, the escapees tackled the Mur de Grammont with ease, in spite of its 13% maximum gradient, but it was once the climbs were out of the way that the peloton ramped up the pace, with BORA-hansgrohe taking to the front and reducing the advantage, knowing that there would be some valuable points available at the intermediate sprint. Closing the gap to less than two minutes before making the catch with 71km – just before the sprint point. Outpacing everyone, Peter Sagan took the sprint and the points in his quest for his seventh Maillot Vert. There was still a long way to go before the finish though and a second break was quick to take advantage of this distance, a solo attack going ahead with 55km to go, but the sprint teams weren’t going to be denied the glory on stage 1, slowly reducing this lead as the kilometers ticked by, but this didn’t stop them trying their hardest to stay out in front. As the race dipped below 10km to go for the first time, the peloton was just metres behind, with it all back together shortly after. From here it was all business for the sprinters, with huge crowds lining the winding streets of Brussels to see who would wear the first Maillot Jaune of 2019. The German powerhouse, Marcus Burghardt, ramped up the pace for Peter Sagan who, in third wheel in the uphill drag to the finish, kicked late, holding his rivals at bay to the last centimeters. The Slovak rider was cruelly denied the win by a tire’s width, but even second position showed that he was in good form for the coming three weeks of racing.
Photo © BORA – hansgrohe / Bettiniphoto