German Marcel Kittel emerges from chaotic start to the Tour

Double champion Alberto Contador takes spectacular tumble in Corsica


Double champion Alberto Contador took a spectacular tumble as the Tour de France got off to a chaotic start with German Marcel Kittel winning the opening stage on Saturday.

The Orica GreenEdge team bus got stuck under the overhead banner of the finish line as a speeding peloton was approaching and was moved away minutes before Kittel outsprinted a decimated bunch to claim the yellow jersey.

Spaniard Contador, one of the pre-race favourites, was among the riders caught up in a crash, and he crossed the line with the left side of his jersey torn up and his face a mask of pain.

“He is all right but it is after the night that we will see how he has recuperated from the crash. There is no fracture,” Contador’s sports director at Team Saxo-Tinkoff, Philippe Mauduit, told reporters.

Slovakian prodigy Peter Sagan, who won the green jersey for the points classification last year, also crashed as the peloton got jittery when they heard the finish line had been moved to the three-kilometre line.

The Orica GreenEdge team bus was eventually moved away before the peloton’s arrival. Organisers said all riders would be credited with the same time because of the incidents.

Nevertheless, Kittel beat Katusha’s Alexander Kristoffof to the line.

Sky rider Mark Cavendish had voiced fears about the impact of crashes during his pre-Tour media conference on Thursday, although even he could not have foreseen the chaotic finish to today’s stage.

Johnny Hoogerland tumbled 15km from the line but that only hinted at what was to come. Moments later, a bigger incident took down 2012 Giro d’Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal and Team Sky’s Ian Stannard among others. By this point, and with the peloton rapidly approaching town, organisers were frantically trying to remove the Orica GreenEdge team bus from the finish line after it had become wedged under the banner after apparently taking a wrong turn.

The teams were initially told the finish would be moved three kilometres forward, but once the bus was freed that just as quickly changed and the route was restored.

Barely had that news come through and the whole complexion of the race changed again as Sagan was caught amid a major tumble around six kilometres from the line.

Greipel appeared to suffer a puncture during the incident while Cavendish, though not hurt, saw his chances ended as he was caught in the queue.

Danny van Poppel of Vaconsoleil came home third while British veteran David Millar of Garmin-Sharp was just behind in fourth.

Today’s victory will be a particularly sweet moment for Kittel, who was forced to withdraw from last year’s Tour on stage five through illness.

Sky’s Chris Froome had actually been the first man to have a tumble on the day, involved in what Team Sky called a “small crash” during the neutralised section at the start of the stage, forcing a swift change of bike for the Briton.

The stage was marked by an early breakaway involving Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM), Jerome Cousin (Europcar), Lars Boom (Belkin), Juan Jose Lobato (Euskaltel Euskadi) and Cyril Lemoine (Sojasun) who raced away at the start for their moment in the spotlight.

They would stay clear until 35km from the finish, with Lobato claiming the King of the Mountains jersey by taking the points on the only categorised climb of the day, while Boom crossed the line first on the intermediate sprint.

Once the riders neared Bastia, the problems began in a frantic finish. Orica GreenEdge communications director Brian Nygaard said on Twitter their bus driver had been following instructions when the incident at the finish line occurred.

“Joking aside, our bus driver is devasted,” he wrote. “He’s an awesome guy and (unlike me) a great driver. He was being told to keep moving forward.”