The Tour de France has a new star.  Mike Teunissen of Jumbo-Visma has the first leader’s jersey of the Tour de France after taking a surprise victory in stage 1 in Brussels ahead of Peter Sagan of BORA-Hansgrohe and Caleb Ewan of Lotto Soudal.

Van Avermaet hunts KOM points

Under the watchful eyes of the great Eddy Merckx, and sent on their way by dignitaries including the King of Belgium, the 2019 Tour de France got underway to perfect conditions in the Belgian capital of Brussels.  Stage 1 took the field on a 194.5km journey that featured three climbs including the mythical Muur van Geraardsbergen as well as the Bosberg.  At the drop of the flag the attacks began immediately with Belgium’s Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet of CCC Team getting into the breakaway alongside Natnael Berhane of Cofidis, Xandro Meurisse of Wanty-Groupe Gobert and Katusha Alpecin’s Mads Würtz Schmidt.

Somewhat surprisingly the quartet were quickly given the blessing of the peloton to build a reasonably substantial early lead that went out to 3.20mins inside the first 16km before topping out at 3.27mins.  Unwilling to give the break any more room, the teams of Ineos, Jumbo-Visma, Deceunick-Quick Step and Lotto Soudal all showed themselves at the front of the peloton.

The climb of the Muur came with 151km to go and it was here that allegiances in the break briefly ceased in pursuit of the polka dot jersey.  Berhane made the first move in a bid for the jersey, but Greg Van Avermaet pegged him back successfully, and from there he simply wound up the tempo to keep himself at the front of the group.  Schmidt was his strongest early challenger but he faded, leaving Meurisse to try but ultimately fail to get the better of him.  No matter what the result would be on the Bosberg Van Avermaet would wear the polka dot jersey at the end of the jersey.

Patrick Bevin was the first of the Kiwis home in 25th place, photo Sirotti

Sagan takes early advantage in pursuit of green

BORA-Hansgrohe and Team Ineos led the peloton over the summit with a much reduced time gap of 2.30mins.  The Bosberg shortly afterwards saw Meurisse level the standings in the KOM classification, but the jersey would go to Van Avermaet as his 2 points came on the superior climb.  Knowing that the polka dot jersey was his, Van Avermaet sat up and sailed back into the peloton as three riders – Meuriss, Schmidt and Berhane continued on; their lead down to just under 2 minutes with 138km to go.

A shared effort from the big sprint teams saw the break’s advantage hold at around 1.30-1.45mins for much of stage from there; edging up to 2 minutes by the time the stage reached 100km to go.  The next challenge for the breakaway came with 75km to go where a 1.9km cobbled sector of Chaussée de Fleurus saw BORA-Hansgrohe motor to the front en masse and obliterate the advantage of the breakaway.  Stretching the peloton out, BORA-Hansgrohe sped along at 55kph on the cobbles as Elia Viviani came to a halt with a mechanical problem.

By the time the race reached the tarmac once again the break’s lead had been all but mopped up as a number of small groups formed with Alexander Kristoff also suffering problems and ending up joining Viviani in pursuit of the peloton again.  The big splits had caught a number of riders out and the pace was being kept high as the intermediate sprint neared.  The break were caught with 70km to go, but with a number of sprinters caught in the trailing groups a win at the first intermediate sprint provided Peter Sagan with an early opportunity to gain an early advantage.

Sagan duly took the maximum 20 points with Sonny Colbrelli second and Greg Van Avermaet third with Michael Matthews and Matteo Trentin completing the top five.  From here the intensity relented enough to allow the peloton to regroup; but in the fight for the green jersey it was first blood the Slovakian who was also fancied to do well at the finish line.

Eddy Merckx presents a surprise first maillot jaune to the lieutenant who stepped up when it mattered, photo Sirotti

Rossetto goes solo, Bennett leads peloton

The next attack saw Stéphane Rossetto of Cofidis go up the road in a solo move.  The Frenchman quickly built a lead in excess of 1.25mins while back in the peloton Jumbo-Visma moved forwards, with George Bennett close to the front of the action.  With 40km to go Rossetto’s lead was sitting at 1.45mins but it was only a matter of time before he would be brought back, but it was interesting that George Bennett himself was leading the peloton on a sprinter’s stage.  The Kiwi was showing that not only was he there to work for Steven Kruijswijk in the mountains, but also Dylan Groenewegen on the flatter stages.

Bennett’s presence at the front of the peloton continued on through 20km to go where the lead for Rossetto was cut to just over 1 minute.  Shortly afterwards the first significant crash brought down a handful of riders including Jakob Fuglsang of Astana who was quickly aided in a chase back by Magnus Cort; but he was bleeding from just above his eye as well as sustaining cuts and scratches to his shoulder.

Eventually Bennett’s time at the front of the peloton ceased, his work done for the day, and the peloton began to shuffle around with the sprint teams marshalling their troops at the head of the race.  With just under 10km to go Rossetto was caught as Team Sunweb took over on the front of the peloton, motoring along with Fuglsang back in the bunch.  

George Bennett was stopped by the late crash but crucially not harmed, photo Sirotti

Crash floors Groenewegen, lieutenant steps up

The pace was kept high by BORA-Hansgrohe and Team Ineos, who were looking very strong with 4km to go.  Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal were mixing it with the likes of Peter Sagan, as Alex Dowsett took over for Katusha-Alpecin on the front of the race.  Steadily Jumbo-Visma worked their way towards the front of the peloton, but they were still a little out of position as Lotto Soudal took over, with Caleb Ewan very much fancied to do well.  Meanwhile Deceuninck-Quick Step took their cue to hit the front with 2.3km to go.

At this point it was interesting to note that the Jumbo-Visma team were about 15-20 riders back, and a crash brought their favourite Dylan Groenewegen to the ground.  George Bennett was also halted, but he appeared unharmed; more concerned about his fallen teammate.  As they gathered themselves Deceuninck-Quick Step drilled the front but Elia Viviani was out of position for the sprint.  In the end Michael Matthews was forced to lead out the sprint with 300m to go.  Sonny Colbrelli and Peter Sagan came through but in a surprise turn of pace Mike Teunissen stepped up in his teammate Groenewegen’s stead.  With Sagan looking set for the stage, Teunissen made the perfect bike throw to take the stage win and the first maillot jaune of the Tour de France.

The lead out man had upset the sprinters and taken stage honours.  Peter Sagan took second place with Caleb Ewan third.

Patrick Bevin of CCC Team was the first rider home with Tom Scully in the peloton.  Bennett, though held up by the crash, crossed the line with the same time as the leaders.

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