Tour de France 2020

Tour de France stage 1 roundtable: Sprints and spills in dramatic opening day

Crashes, mid-race neutralizations and a dark-horse winner are the talking points in our Tour stage 1 roundtable. Let's get some takes!

The Tour de France got underway Saturday with a day of thrills and spills in and around Nice.

Heavy rain led to dozens of crashes as several big names hit the deck on a course littered with technical descents and cluttered city center stress. More tumbles looked inevitable until Tony Martin and Jumbo-Visma led calls to neutralize the racing through the final descent of the day, allowing the peloton to safely navigate its way through the rain-sodden roads.

The stage came down to a sprint finish after a huge pileup in the final three kilometers reduced the peloton, and Alexander Kristoff surprised the thoroughbred sprinters to snatch his fourth ever Tour stage.

Why was Kristoff so overlooked before the stage? Was it right that the racing was neutralized? And how will those that crashed take their tumbles?

Let’s roundtable!

Few were touting Kristoff as a winner for today. Is his victory a mark that sometimes, experience pays off after a tough, dangerous day?

Kristoff kicked to his fourth Tour stage victory. Photo: Christophe Petit-Tesson – Pool/Getty Images

Fred Dreier (@freddreier): Never count out Alexander Kristoff. The harder the sprint stage, the better chance he has to win. When the rain came down, Kristoff jumped up a few notches in my book. While he may lack the fast kick of a Caleb Ewan or Sam Bennett, he’s versatile and robust. So, the more awful the conditions, the better he is. If it snows or hails, or if there is a tornado on course, put your money on Kristoff.

Jim Cotton (@jim_c_1985): Winning the most attritional stages is what Kristoff does. It’s telling that fellow “gruesome weather specialist” Pedersen took second, suggesting a day of rain must have taken its toll on riders throughout the bunch. Plus Kristoff is known for his huge training volume – he’s probably ridden his bike twice as much as everyone else through lockdown.

Ben Delaney: Experience counts, sure, especially in fighting for position and staying calm and out of the wind. So too does dumb luck in a sprint where there wasn’t one full-strength team completely controlling it at the end. As riders surge over the top of each other, ending up in the perfect spot at the end isn’t just about who is the absolute fastest. We shouldn’t take anything away from Kristoff, though; the guy clearly had the power at the end to win by a healthy margin. Takes more than luck to do that!

Should Jumbo-Visma have neutralized the final descent? Is that a sign of the heightened nervousness around the race with COVID and all the Dauphiné crashes earlier this month?

Tony Martin led the calls to neutralize the final descent of the day. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images.
Tony Martin led the calls to neutralize the final descent of the day. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images.

Ben: Teams neutralizing the race on the fly is such a hard call. They have limited information, especially in poor weather. No one wants to see the general classification affected on the very first stage by crashes. So I won’t argue that teams shouldn’t temporarily neutralize the racing, especially when it won’t affect the stage result for the sprinters. I don’t think it has anything to do with general nervousness this year, though; the Tour is always a bundle of nerves for the riders in the first few stages.

Fred: Yes, I think they were wise to slow things down. I also saw riders from NTT Pro Cycling and Ineos Grenadiers waving their arms in the well-known ‘slow it down, boys’ gesture. There’s already a cloud of danger and uncertainty around this race, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the topsy-turvy return to racing following the shutdown. So, when the rain doused the roads and led to the constant crashes, it really felt as if the universe was trying to cancel the Tour outright. Thus, slowing things down undoubtedly gave every rider in the peloton a psychological boost, as a way to say ‘hey guys, let’s live to race another day.’

Jim: It was definitely the right call. After all that the pro cycling world has been through with sponsor struggles and concerns over future racing, the last thing riders want it to see their team leaders crashing out on the very first stage of the biggest race of the year. It would have been a disaster for them and a real shame for the race.

Thibaut Pinot, Pavel Sivakov and George Bennett were among the key riders to crash. Even if they come away injury-free, how will this impact them this early in the race?

Bad start for Pinot, who fell in a large pile-up with three kilometers to go. Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat - Pool/Getty Images)
Bad start for Pinot, who fell in a large pile-up with three kilometers to go. Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat – Pool/Getty Images)

Jim: While all the big names that crashed rode to the line, for a GC guy like Pinot, it’s not a great start. He didn’t lose time, but to be nursing even a slight bruise or bit of road rash this early on isn’t ideal. Pinot is the kind of guy who runs off emotions so hopefully this doesn’t knock the wind out of his sails too hard.

Ben: None of those guys looked very happy once they were back on their bikes! Even if they aren’t injured, which isn’t a given, it’s obviously a frustrating way to start the Tour. I don’t think it will affect their confidence overall — but it could absolutely make them be more cautious on the next wet descent or wet, fast corner in the race.

Fred: Crashes are part of cycling, so these guys are no doubt accustomed to the disappointment and frustration that comes from hitting the deck. Let’s hope that all of them escaped without major injuries. Pinot appeared extremely upset after his crash, so the question will be whether he suffered any painful abrasions or bruises that might hamper him in the mountains. Bennett and Sivakov are of less concern, since they are not battling for yellow. Still, I think we’re all hoping for the best for these guys.