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Tour de France 2017 - Week One review

10 July 2017

Well, where to start?!

Some Grand Tours build slowly, some never quite completely capture the imagination, and some knock at your door, demanding your attention from the very first stage - the 2017 Tour de France is very much the latter.

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From unfancied stage winners to abandoned contenders to the narrowest of winning margins, the first nine stages of Le Tour have had it all this year.

Stage 1 - Dusseldorf, 14km time trial

Held in pouring rain from start to finish, the stage was all set for Team Katusha-Alpecin’s Tony Martin to add a yellow jersey in his home country to his already impressive list of time trialling achievements.

Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas stole his thunder though, putting in a stellar effort to take the stage by five seconds from BMC Racing Team’s Stefan Kung.

Martin could only manage fourth, eight seconds back, as Thomas’ teammates amassed in the top ten - three of them to be exact.

With treacherous conditions the stage also inevitably took its casualties, with Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde the highest profile of them all as he was forced to abandon with a broken kneecap after crashing into a barrier.

The general classification contenders were also casualties, if only in terms of time, as defending champion Chris Froome finished stage one with at least 30s advantage over all his main rivals.

Yellow - Geraint Thomas (Team Sky)

Green - Geraint Thomas (Team Sky)

White - Stefan Kung (BMC Racing)

Stage 2 - Dusseldorf - Liege, 203.5km

The first road stage of Le Tour saw the race cross the border from Germany into Belgium and a victory for sprint powerhouse Marcel Kittel.

The German may not have been in range of Thomas to take the yellow jersey with his time bonus for crossing the line first, but it was once again a show of strength by the Quick-Step Floors rider and a timely win for his Belgian team.

Frenchman Arnaud Démare was his closest rival, and the appearance of Mark Cavendish, who came into the Tour on the back of just six weeks’ training following a bout of glandular fever, in the shakeup at the end bode well for future stages.

Yellow - Geraint Thomas (Team Sky)

Green - Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors)

Polkadot - Taylor Phinney (Cannondale-Drapac)

White - Stefan Kung (BMC Racing)

Stage 3 - Verviers - Longwy, 212.5km

A ramp up to the finish, not too steep, not too long, but challenging enough to rule out the pure sprinters - so who else but Peter Sagan was going to win on stage 3? No-one.

The breakaway was once again caught in time for a race to the line, with the day’s move meaning Nate Brown overtook Cannondale-Drapac teammate Taylor Phinney in the king of the mountains competition.

Once the road started going upwards on the run in to Longwy, Marcel Kittel waved goodbye to the cameras as Bora-Hansgrohe’s Sagan completed a remarkable stage win.

The Slovakian managed to pull his right shoe out of his pedal with less than 500m to go, calmly clip back in and still claim the win ahead of a fast finishing Michael Matthews, of Team Sunweb - only Sagan could do such a thing.

The finish was selective for the general classification, too, with Thomas and Froome finishing in the top ten to move the defending champion up to second overall as Matthews and Sagan also entered to top five.

Yellow - Geraint Thomas (Team Sky)

Green - Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors)

Polkadot - Nathan Brown (Cannondale-Drapac)

White - Pierre Latour (AG2R La Mondiale)

Stage 4 - Mondorf-les-Bains - Vittel, 207.5km

When the main breakaway featured just Wanty-Groupe Goubert’s Guillaume van Keirsbulck going solo for more than 150km, you could have been forgiven for thinking stage four was going to be forgetful.

As it turns out, the run in to Vittel will be remembered for many years to come, and for all the wrong reasons.

A crash in the closing kilometres split the bunch, before another spill in the final 500m cost Sagan his place in the race and left Cavendish with a badly gashed hand and a fractured right shoulder blade.

Sagan was blamed by the race commissaires for causing Cavendish to crash into the barriers as the Manxman attempted to squeeze through a gap on the right hand side.

It was a flailing elbow of Sagan that the race jury deemed unacceptable and as Cavendish was whisked off to hospital to have it confirmed that his race was over, the world champion was being shown the exit by Tour officials.

The decision was not without its controversy, with some saying Cavendish should not have been trying to squeeze through such a small gap, to others saying he made contact with Sagan first and the elbow was just the man in front trying to maintain his balance as a result.

Whatever the reasoning though, the Tour lost two of its main protagonists just as it was kicking into life.

In the aftermath it was easy to forget that Demare, also seemingly guilty of cutting up his compatriot Nacer Bouhanni in the sprint before escaping punishment by the jury, won the stage.

Yellow - Geraint Thomas (Team Sky)

Green - Arnaud Demare (Francaise des Jeux)

Polkadot - Nathan Brown (Cannondale-Drapac)

White - Pierre Latour (AG2R La Mondiale)

Stage 5 - Vittel - La Planche des Belles Filles, 160.5km

The first real test of the climbers on the 2017 race and it confirmed what many had suspected heading into the race.

Despite Froome not having won a race yet in 2017 he is still in fine form, but the man of the moment was newly-crowned Italian champion Fabio Aru.

The Astana man launched a stinging attack on the road up to La Plance des Belles Filles, leaving his rivals in his wake as he took the stage win.

Ireland’s Dan Martin also confirmed his good climbing legs by finishing second and Froome, who finished third, took the yellow jersey.

Former Revolution Series Future Stars champion Simon Yates also showed himself for the first time as he came home sixth on the stage to take the white jersey.

But Colombia’s Nairo Quintana and Spain’s Alberto Contador lost further time to Froome and Richie Porte as their challenge for the yellow jersey in Paris was faltering before the first week was out.

Yellow - Chris Froome (Team Sky)

Green - Arnaud Demare (Francaise des Jeux)

Polkadot - Fabio Aru (Astana Pro Team)

White - Simon Yates (Orica-Scott)

Stage 6 - Vesoul - Troyes, 216km

With no Sagan and no Cavendish, Kittel took his second win of Le Tour as no-one could live with the pace of the big German.

The breakaway consisted of riders from Direct Energie, UAE Emirates and Wanty-Groupe Goubert - ever-presents in breakaways during the first week - but it was not to last as the peloton caught them inside the final three kilometres of the stage.

All that was left was for Norway’s Edvald Boasson Hagen to launch a lengthy sprint in the absence of his teammate Cavendish, before Kittel calmly rode through the middle of the pack to take a routine victory.

Yellow - Chris Froome (Team Sky)

Green - Arnaud Demare (Francaise des Jeux)

Polkadot - Fabio Aru (Astana Pro Team)

White - Simon Yates (Orica-Scott)

Stage 7 - Troyes - Nuits-Saint-Georges, 213.5km

Simply to look at the stage result would tell you it was much the same as stage seven, only with Boasson Hagen taking Demare’s place as the beaten sprinter - but that would be wrong.

The breakaway was once again caught in the closing kilometres and Kittel again won the sprint, but this time only by the smallest of margins - 6mm to be exact.

A winning margin made possible simply by inflating your tyres slightly more, it took the race officials some time to come to a final conclusion.

The initial photo-finish could not split the pair, but a second, enhanced, image showed that it was indeed Kittel who crossed the line first, just.

A sprinter’s intuition normally tells a rider if they’ll be on the top step of the podium or not, but neither man knew who had won it in the immediate aftermath.

As it was Kittel took a third stage win of the 2017 Tour, his 12th in total and stole the green jersey from Demare’s shoulders.

Yellow - Chris Froome (Team Sky)

Green - Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors)

Polkadot - Fabio Aru (Astana Pro Team)

White - Simon Yates (Orica-Scott)

Stage 8 - Dole - Station des Rousses, 187.5km

Frenchman Lilian Calmejane took the biggest win of his young career as he defied cramp in the final kilometre to seal a famous victory.

Robert Gesink, of Lotto NL-Jumbo, finished 37s back in second place as another talented young Frenchman Guillaume Martin came home third - leading in a pack of 38 riders 50s behind Calmejane.

Building up to the day’s final climb with a third, and then a second category climb, Calmejane attacked from a group of eight on the Montee de la Combe de Laisia les Molunes, before soloing the final 12km on a plateau to take the second Grand Tour stage win of his career, aged just 24.

Froome, Thomas and all the overall contenders finished in the group 50s back, but it was far from an easy day for them as the day’s initial break of more than 50 riders contained numerous threats to the general classification.

Forced to ride to haul them back, it was the last thing the big teams wanted with the stage nine that was to come.

Yellow - Chris Froome (Team Sky)

Green - Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors)

Polkadot - Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie)

White - Simon Yates (Orica-Scott)

Stage 9 - Nantua - Chambery, 181.5km

This wasn’t the Queen’s stage of the 2017 Tour for no reason, featuring as it did seven categorised climbs, three of which were beyond classification.

Uphill from the very start, the showcase stage of Le Tour was also contested in damp conditions, making descending just as important a skill as climbing.

And it was on the descents that the day’s biggest moments took place, with Thomas running into the back of Bora-Hansgrohe’s Rafal Majka as he crashed on the run down from the Col de la Biche.

Thomas had nowhere to go and went over the top of Majka, falling on his collar bone and despite remounting and trying to ride on, the obvious pain of a broken bone soon took it’s toll and he was forced to climb off - leaving race leader Froome without one of his most trusted teammates for the final two weeks of the race.

And things got worse for the main contenders on the run to the finish line off the Mont du Chat, as Porte clipped the inside of a corner, sending his bike down the mountain and his sliding across the road into the cliff face.

He took out Martin with him, but while the Irishman got up and rode on, Porte was put in a neck brace and taken to hospital where it was confirmed he sustained a broken collarbone and hip.

The stage continued, though, and Cannondale-Drapac took their first stage of the race as Rigoberto Uran - stuck with just two gears for much of the closing stages - beat lone breakaway rider Warren Barguil  in a sprint to the line.

The young Frenchman was in tears after thinking he had won the day, but a photo-finish showed it was the Colombian who grabbed the win and moved up to fourth place overall.

Thomas’ abandonment meant Froome’s lead was actually extended, with Aru now second overall, 18s behind the Brit, with France’s Romain Bardet quietly moving into third a further 33s back.

Yellow - Chris Froome (Team Sky)

Green - Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors)

Polkadot - Warren Barguil (Team Sunweb)

White - Simon Yates (Orica-Scott)

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