MONT DES ALOUETTES, France — Philippe Gilbert of Belgium assumed the race lead with a solo win as the crash-marred 98th edition of the Tour de France began Saturday. Wenatchee’s Tyler Farrar was making his first concerted effort for the “green jersey” or points competition for sprinters.
Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto), his country’s reigning national titlist, powered to the front in the final half mile to claim the 191.5 kilometer (118.9 miles) Passage Gu Gois-Mont de Alouettes stage 4 in hours, 41 minutes and 31 seconds.
Gilbert was considered a favorite in the stage, but with the peloton riding together, a crash involving most of the field occurred with about 5 1/2 miles left when a spectator on the ride side of the road was clipped by one of the cyclists. A second crashed occurred with about a mile left.
Farrar, riding in his third Tour de France, was caught in the crash and was not part of the subsequent 40-rider group that subsequently formed. Defending race titlist Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard) of Spain was also caught behind the crash and lost about 1 1/2 minutes to the race leader.
Farrar eventually finished 181st among 198 starters, trailing by 4 minutes and 37 seconds and is 13th in the sprinters’ competition.
Jeromy Roy (Francaise des Jeux) of France, Dutchman Lieuwe Westra (Vancansoleil-DCM) of and Perry Quemeneur (Eurocar) of France moved to the front from the opening miles and built more than a six-minute lead, but the trio was caught with about 11 miles left.
The opening stage was one of nine Farrar designated as a sprinters’ finish. But the 1.5-mile uphill stretch with a 4.7 percent grand didn’t suit his pure power skills as much as teammate and reigning world road titlist Thor Hushovd of Norway, a two-time points competition. Hushovd fiished third in the stage, just behind runner-up Cadel Evans (BMC) of Australia.
Much as in previous years when Hushovd claimed the sprinters’ green jersey, Farrar is the Garmin-Cervelo’s likely candidate this year. But as Farrar said before the race, the format change in how points are distributed — only one mid-race sprint, but worth more points as opposed to multiple mid-race sprints with fewer points — will change the daily race dynamic.
With the three breakaway riders in the opening stage building nearly a seven-minute advantage on the field, the trio claimed the top sprint points at Avrille, about 55 miles into the stage.
But since none of the stage leaders is a sprint competition contenders, Farrar surged to claim the mid-stage field sprint worth 13 points. Farrar was expected to also contend for more finish points, but his efforts were stifled with the late race crash.
The field will contest the 23-kilometer (14.28 miles) Les Essarts team time trial Sunday.
Each team will ride together in formation, with Garmin-Cervelo among the favorites in the 21-team field.