Jul. 2nd, 2016

ysobelle: (Kayli)
Mont-Saint-Michel / Utah Beach Sainte-Marie-du-Mont
188 km

FIRST DAY OF THE 2016 TOUR DE FRANCE!

I’m a bit late, Long night. Sorry. But here we are. We have two riders out front now, as we have for quite some distance: Antony Delaplace of Fortuneo and Alex Howes of Cannondale, the remainders of a five-man breakaway from the start in Mont St. Michel this morning. There’s a fine, wide road to the end, and there will be a sprint finish for the ages.

It’s 10k to the end. The two leaders are 22 seconds ahead, and the multicolored smear of speed on the road behind them is looming. Five miles left, and the peloton doesn’t really care about them. They’re getting themselves in order for the launch of their sprinters. There’s a strong headwind, but they’re all together, the main contenders in long, orderly lines at the front. Sky, Cofidis, Movistar. I don’t know about you, but my heart is picking up. Oh, I’ve waited so long for this.

18 seconds to the leaders. 6km out. They’re talking about Mark Cavendish, though I don’t know where he is right now. His Tour last year was utterly tragic— crashed on the finish of Stage One, in Harrowgate— streets upon which he grew up— in front of his own mum in her hometown. In front of the Duke and Duchess of Cambrige! Snapped collarbone. I’m rooting for him to do great things this year.

There’s one corner, one town, and ugh— a crash has taken out a couple of riders on the narrow streets. Augh. They’re up, but they look severely annoyed.

Out in the fields and the sunshine. The leaders haven’t yet been caught, amazingly. But they’re not GC men, so they’re not a huge concern to the pack.

Almost to the 1km banner, it’s absolutely down to business and and the peloton has stretched out. Antony Delaplace and Alex Howes are swallowed up without the slightest fanfare, after all that work they did for so long. Such is the Tour.

And there it is— the 1km banner! Under the arch! Here we go! Kittel is well-placed, but— CRASH! Oh, Christ! More of them— riders on both sides. A rider has clipped the heavy metal barrier, and become a bloody human domino, precipitating more crashes. Not many riders, thank G-d, but they’re ricocheting across the tarmac, back and forth at high speeds— hard falls— Peter Sagan is near the front, but Cav is there, too, ripping out from behind Sagan, and— IT’S CAV! MARK CAVENDISH HAS TAKEN YELLOW!

Kittel, Sagan, Greipel have come in behind him in that order, but Mark Cavendish, in taking this stage— the very first!— has taken Yellow. His final turbo boost to the line was the burst of glory we’ve seen from him so many times before— this is his TWENTY-SEVENTH stage win, but his VERY FIRST YELLOW. My G-d, I’m so happy for him. So, so very happy.

He’s being interviewed after the stage, and he pulls his little girl, Delilah, up onto his lap, and my G-d, she’s huge. It’s like seeing your friends’ kids during the summer hols, after a year away. Gosh, I remember when she was just a baby! Now— aw, he takes her up to the podium for the first presentation, and she gets the huge bouquet of flowers for the Stage Win. Then comes the presentation for the Yellow Jersey, and I’m guessing if you look out the window to the east, you might see the glow of his smile. Then comes yet another win: the Green Jersey of the Points winner, and that’s the one for which Peter Sagan is going to battle him this year. Paul Voss of Bora gets the King of the Mountain. Best Young Rider is Edward Theuns. He will be, by definition, one to watch this year. French breakaway rider Anthony Delaplace, unsurprisingly, gets Most Aggressive. As Bob Roll says, he will never buy his own drinks in France again.

Post-race, the analysis is on the barriers at the end of the stage. It becomes clear that the Katusha rider who fell hit one of the feet of the barriers. That’s inexcusable: they shouldn’t be using ones with feet that project into the road. Not there. They’re going 45 miles an hour, and at that speed, becoming a human pinball can be deadly.

Speaking of which, Alberto Contador had a crash much earlier today. Either his or someone else’s moment of inattention at the edge of a traffic island mere inches high completely shredded the right side of his body. His team, Tinkoff, came back for him, and shepherded him back to the back, at times holding him up from both sides while he had to change what seems to be a broken shoe. He spent a good amount of time hanging, one-handed, off the doctor’s car, getting bandaged. He finished the stage, but the key is going to be how stiff those road burns are after a night sleeping on them.

So here we are: a completely typical, incredibly exciting first day of the Tour. It’s going to be a glorious ride— it always is— and I’m hoping for a year with fewer broken bones, fewer crashes, and more glorious victories. Vive la Tour!


Mark Cavendish crosses the line to take stage one. Photograph: Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters, via The Guardian

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