British rider Luke Rowe labelled rival team Astana “pretty stupid” for aggressive tactics when the peloton were looking to slow things down after several crashes in the rain had hampered Saturday’s opening stage of the Tour de France in Nice.
Alexander Kristoff won a sprint finish as the UAE Team Emirates rider powered through ahead of Mads Pedersen on the Promenade Des Anglais to claim the first yellow jersey of the delayed 2020 event.
However, Saturday’s race had earlier been beset by crashes along the 156km route as several riders went over because of the wet conditions, including Ineos Grenadiers’ Pavel Sivakov.
Tony Martin (Jumbo Visma) later took on the role of patron of the peloton to try to keep everyone safe. The veteran German signalled for a temporary halt to racing tactics with a neutralised second descent off the main climb up Cote de Rimiez to get the riders safely around the hairpins and on towards the finish.
Ineos Grenadiers’ Rowe, however, was left less than impressed by the behaviour of Kazakh team Astana, who themselves saw leader Miguel Angel Lopez skid off into a road sign.
“We had a couple of touchdowns, but in general we came through,” Rowe said.
“We have got this riders organisation, or group, and there are a couple of guys from each team in there and we spoke about it last night with how we would approach the Tour de France in general and look after each other and do the right thing when needed.
“Whilst you want to race and put on the best show, you could see how many crashes there were and that was with the three descents at a very careful speed.
“I have to say ‘chapeau’ (hats off) to the whole peloton, minus Astana to hit it down one climb, and as a result, their leader was left on his back.
“They made themselves look pretty stupid, but apart from them, chapeau to the whole peloton.”
The weather had cleared by the time the peloton approached the Promenade Des Anglais for the second time, but there was another mass collision just under three kilometres from the finish, which saw pre-race favourite Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) take a heavy fall.
As the sprinters were all being lined up, it looked anybody’s race and Kristoff came through to take the line ahead of Pedersen for Trek-Segafredo with Dutchman Cees Bol taking third place.
Kristoff said: “I always dreamt about wearing the yellow jersey and it’s a dream come true. You can’t dream of a better start.
“It means a lot for my career and a stage win shows I can still be up there even at 33 years old and with four kids. I still manage to perform, so I’m very happy about that.”
Irishman Sam Bennett, who earlier had suffered a broken wheel and a puncture, looked set to be in contention at the sprint finish until Kristoff turned on the power.
The UCI WorldTeam Deceuninck-Quick-Step rider, who finished fourth, said: “It was a dangerous day with the roads being very slippery. I tried to do my best and stay safe, but in the final I didn’t make the best decision.
“When Michael (Morkov) went, I let another rider slot in thinking he will go early, but that didn’t happen, so I dropped the speed and had to accelerate again, but it was too late.
“It’s a pity, because I had good legs, but I’m confident other opportunities will come next week.”
Frenchman Pinot, meanwhile, suffered no major injuries other than bruising to his knee and right shoulder as well as road rash.
With the last collision having come inside the final three kilometres, the Frenchman did not lose any time in the general classification.
“It was a difficult day, certainly one of the worst of my career, a bit like it was for the whole peloton,” he said.
“It was clearly as if we were riding on ice. Riders were falling even when the race was neutralised.”
Couldn’t have expected a worst start for my first @LeTour, 2 heavy crashes back to back! Hit both my hips and knee pretty bad but still in the mix and in the fight for our road to yellow with the @INEOSGrenadiers ! 👊🏻
— Pavel Sivakov (@PavelSivakov) August 29, 2020
Sivakov crossed the line more than 13 minutes off the pace.
The Russian, who crashed twice, is a key part of the Ineos team to support defending champion Egan Bernal, who was able to finish safely in the peleton.
Sunday’s second stage runs over 186km mountainous terrain and includes two category one climbs.