South African champion Ryan Gibbons was among many riders who crashed during the most dramatic of opening stages in this year’s Tour de France, which got under way from Nice on Saturday.
Norway’s Alexander Kristoff of UAE Team Emirates won the stage in a mass bunch sprint to take hold of the race leader’s yellow jersey following a stage littered with crashes. It was the first rain in the Mediterranean city since June, and a slippery 154km loop around Nice turned the opening jaunt of the 21-day race into a lottery.
In the most spectacular spill Astana leader Miguel Angel Lopez crashed into a sign post after his team decided to accelerate on a downhill despite agreement in the peloton to slow down the pace. Astana said he escaped unscathed.
Gibbons is riding in his national colours for NTT Pro Cycling and was placed 40th after day one. The other South African in the field, Daryl Impey, riding for Australia’s Mitchelton-Scott team, is placed 117th, while sharing the same time as the peloton of 3:46.23.
The pouring rain in the Riviera resort following a long spell of hot and dry weather particularly affected defending champion Egan Bernal’s Ineos team. Two of the Colombian climber’s key teammates – Pavel Sivakov and Andrey Amador – were involved in pileups while several overall contenders, including Frenchman Thibaut Pinot and Colombian climber Nairo Quintana, also went down.
As did Gibbons, the 26-year-old South African riding in his first Tour de France, for NTT Pro Cycling. He also revealed that he came into the race with a broken rib and did well to finish in the peloton after 3:46.33 of riding.
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‘I came into the race nursing a broken rib on my left side and today I went down on my left side again, of course typical, and on the same spot, so at the moment I’m in quite a bit of pain. I was able to get back on and caught the peloton somehow and did a bit of work but I’m feeling it now,’ Gibbons said after the dramatic stage.
‘The doctor has checked me out but we’ve got a few other patients as well. At the moment he’s stitching up Pozzovivo, so he’ll check my shoulder a bit later. Nothing you can really do for a broken rib but just tolerate the pain.’
Gibbons added: ‘The first stage of a Grand Tour is always going to be nervous, especially at the Tour de France. This season we’ve seen a lot more crashes since the restart; I think riders are just taking more risks. I think today on top of a treacherous course, with the rain, it was just a nightmare. A lot of oil on the road; very, very dangerous. I’m very, very happy to see that the riders came together and made a unanimous decision to take the last descent relatively easy but, yes, still very treacherous, a challenging stage.
‘The legs are great and I think that showed today, it’s the one positive,’ he said.