95th Tour de France
Stage 1 - Brest to Plumelec - 197.5 km (122.5 mi)
05 July 2008
Caisse d'Epargne's leader, Alejandro Valverde, has long been accustomed to winning. As a junior racing in Murcia, he earned the nickname El Imbatido -- The Unbeaten. He first emerged as a Tour threat in 2005, when he bested Lance Armstrong in his final Tour to take the climbing stage victory at the summit in Courcheval. He was forced to pull out of that race after experiencing knee problems, but after several seasons which have seen him continue to mature as both a stage- and one-day racer, Valverde indeed is living up to his nickname once again. Looking to make this a third straight Spanish victory at the Tour, Valverde emerged as the favorite after defeating the field to take the opening maillot jaune at the 2008 Tour de France...
The 2008 Tour rollled out on dry roads from the Atlantic coastal town of Brest, the rains from the preceding days receding and allowing the race to get started without inclement weather. Without the traditional prologue, which the Tour is forgoing for the first time since 1966, the 180 riders on the starting line all began the day with a shot at wearing yellow by the end of the day...
The first few miles out of town were run at a ceremonial pace, as is usually the tradition for the start of each day's stage. Once the roads had wound through the scenery of the westernmost city in France and had started turning north toward the Breton countryside and Plumelec, Christian Prudhomme dropped the flag and the race began in earnest. From the beginning of the race proper, the attackers came out in full force. Lilian Jegou of Francaise des Jeux opened up the first attack, and seven other riders -- Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom), Ruben Perez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Jose Luis Arrieta (AG2R La Mondiale), Geoffroy Lequatre (Agritubel), Bjorn Schroder (Team Milram), David De La Fuente (Saunier Duval-Scott) and Stephane Auge (Cofidis) -- joined him to open up a six-minute gap over the peloton in the first twenty-five kilometers of the race.
The eight riders quickly came apon the Cote de Ty-Jopic, a fourth-category climb and the first official climb of the 2008 Tour. The polka-dot jersey was up for grabs, and former French champion Voeckler looked to seize the momentum, attacking up the climb in search of the maximum points. He had the appearance of taking the first summit victory, but Schroder from Milram pipped him at the line. The breakaway took its maximum advantage of the day, just over eight minutes ahead of the peloton, at the top of the climb...
The two would battle over every one of the four fourth-category climbs as the breakaway stayed ahead as the rabbit for the peloton. Stephane Auge suffered a flat tire just before the start of the day's second climb, the Cote de Kerivarc'h, but rejoined the lead group in time to open up the attacks as he made his own bid for the King of the Mountains points. This time, however, it was Voeckler ahead of Schroeder as the two continued their head-to-head battle. Soon after the descent from the climb, the breakaway was contesting the first intermediate sprint point of the race at Plonevez-du-Faou. By the time the peloton arrived at the point, only five and a half minutes behind the breakaway now after 62 kilometers, Lequatre had already taken the first intermediate victory over Jegou and Perez.
Twenty-three kilometers later, the breakaway came up on the first official col of the Tour -- the Col de Toullaeron, rising to a summit of 266 meters (873 feet) above sea level. Schroeder and Voeckler marked each other's moves, allowing Jegou to pass both of them for the points with Voeckler taking second to open a mere one-point lead into the final climb over his competitor. Immediately after, the second intermediate sprint came at Gourin; Lequatre took the prize again... and then the feed zone at Moulin-Trancher came up. Always a hectic place, with assistants for each team darting out into the road to hand off feed bags to the riders, crashes can easily occur -- and this time the Tour's first feed zone took a victim, Herve Duclos-Lassalle of Cofidis, who suffered a broken wrist and was transfered to the hospital in Lorient.
Right before the final climb of the day, at around fifty-two kilometers remaining, a crash put the peloton on high alert to take extra caution. Among the riders who spilled off their bikes were Fabian Wegmann, Frank Schleck, and Yaroslav Popovych -- all key lieutenants on their teams. All, however, emerged unscathed and caught back up to the main group to press on and continue another day. Their team leaders, including Popovych's leader (and number-one favorite) Cadel Evans...
But the breakaway leaders ahead were already on the Cote de Guenerve when the crash occurred, and both Voeckler and Schroeder were both determined to take charge of the King of the Mountains classification and the polka-dot jersey. Schroeder bested Voeckler, with both finishing behind David De La Fuente, but the Frenchman slotted in right behind to tie the leaders up at eight points apiece. The terrain coming out of the modest climb continued to roll onward toward the finish in Plumelec. The peloton was within three minutes of the breakaway as Lequatre took the hat trick of intermediate sprints at Remungol with forty kilometers remaining. The gap was closing rapidly, and the breakaway splintered as riders either slowly reentered the peloton or attacked ahead in vain hopes of arriving in Plumelec with enough of an advantage to win.
De La Fuente and Jegou soldiered on in their search for a stage victory. The peloton suffered several more crashes as the riders neared Plumelec. Seven kilometers from the finish, the race was all back together and the sprinters started pressing the pace and getting their speedsters in position to contend the uphill sprint finish. Just inside the final ten kilometers, another crash saw last year's winner of the King of the Mountains, Mauricio Soler (Barloworld), tumble to the tarmac. He fell on the same wrist he fractured in the Giro d'Italia, and also looks to have damaged the other wrist. X-rays will be taken to decide whether he will continue, a tough break for the Colombian climbing sensation.
As the racers rounded through Plumelec and turned over a bridge to tackle the final climb, a headwind spread apart the attackers at the front. Kim Kirchen bridged the attack led by Stefan Schumacher, and countered to take the lead up the climb. He looked set to take the opening stage within the final 250 meters, but instead it was the Spanish superstar, Alejandro Valverde, who took the victory. He blew past Kirchen with a hundred meters to go and opened up enough of a lead to sit up and celebrate his second career Tour stage victory. Now it only remains to be seen if he has grown up since 2005 and can sustain this success through the entire three weeks...
Results - Stage 1
- Alejandro Valverde (ESP), Caisse d'Epargne 4:36:07 (42.917Kph)
- Philippe Gilbert (BEL), Francaise des Jeux at 0:01
- Jerome Pineau (FRA), Bouygues Telecom
- Kim Kirchen (LUX), Columbia
- Riccardo Ricco (ITA), Saunier Duval
- Cadel Evans (AUS), Silence-Lotto
- Frank Schleck (LUX), CSC
- Filippo Pozzato (ITA), Liquigas
- Oscar Freire (ESP), Rabobank
- Oscar Pereiro (ESP), Caisse d'Epargne, all s.t.
- Alejandro Valverde (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- 35 pts
- Philippe Gilbert (BEL) Francaise des Jeux -- 30
- Jerome Pineau (FRA) Bouygues Telecom -- 26
- Kim Kirchen (LUX) Columbia -- 24
- Riccardo Ricco (ITA) Saunier Duval -- 22
- Cadel Evans (AUS) Silence-Lotto -- 20
- Frank Schleck (LUX) Team CSC -- 19
- Geoffroy Lequatre (FRA) Agritubel -- 18
- Filippo Pozzato (ITA) Liquigas -- 18
- Oscar Freire Gomez (ESP) Rabobank -- 17
KING OF THE MOUNTAINS
- Thomas Voeckler (FRA) Bouygues Telecom -- 8 pts
- Bjorn Schroder (GER) Milram -- 8
- David De La Fuente (ESP) Saunier Duval -- 4
- Lilian Jegou (FRA) Francaise des Jeux -- 3
- Geoffroy Lequatre (FRA) Agritubel -- 1
BEST YOUNG RIDER
- Riccardo Ricco (Ita) Saunier Duval -- 4.36.07
- Andy Schleck (Lux) Team CSC
- Iouri Trofimov (Rus) Bouygues Telecom
- Trent Lowe (Aus) Garmin-Chipotle
- Thomas Lovkvist (Swe) Columbia
- Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
- Maxime Monfort (BEL) Cofidis
- Roman Kreuziger (CZE) Liquigas
- Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) Liquigas
- Eduardo Gonzalo (ESP) Agritubel -- all s.t.