Eurosport - Sun, 04 Jul 17:27:00 2010
Italian veteran Alessandro Petacchi took victory in a crash-ridden finale to win stage one of the Tour de France in Brussels.
While the likes of Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) and Oscar Freire (Rabobank) were picking their way out of mass pile-ups, the Lampre sprinter, winner of four stages of the Tour back in 2003, latched onto an audacious attack by Cavendish's lead-out man Mark Renshaw, before powering clear of the Australian, who finished second.
Cervelo's Thor Hushovd finished third, with Robbie McEwen of Katusha in fourth.
A whole host of other big names including Fabian Cancellara were also involved in the crashes, though none seemed seriously hurt, nor will any riders lose time as a result, given that both the crashes occured in the protected zone of the final three kilometres.
Cancellara will retain his yellow jersey in stage 2, while Petacchi will now take the green jersey.
The crashes symbolised a typically nervous first stage of the Tour, which had already seen a dog run out into the road at the 50-kilometre mark, taking down green jersey David Millar (Garmin-Transitions), Giro d'Italia winner Ivan Basso (Liquigas) and Ireland's Nicolas Roche, all of whom escaped the incident with no more than minor scrapes, though HTC-Columbia's Adam Hansen was less fortunate, coming down heavily on his left shoulder in a separate incident and requiring lengthy treatment from the medical car.
Perhaps carrying some frustration for having to ride Saturday's prologue through the worst of the rain, Rabobank's Dutch star Lars Boom had launched a big attack as soon as the race commissar's flag had dropped. Alan Perez (Euskaltel) and Maarten Wynants (Quick Step) latched quickly onto his wheel, and the trio set about building up a lead that grew to 7:30 after the 50-kilometre mark.
Strengthening crosswinds along the Dutch coast then prompted a mass rush for the prime positions towards the front. The 10 kilometres or so of tussling saw the leaders' advantage cut to just over three minutes, and though it did increase slightly when calm was restored, the HTC-Columbia, Saxo Bank and Garmin-Transitions teams kept them on a tight leash.
The gap had come down to just over two minutes by the time they crossed the border into Belgium with 70 kilometres remaining,
With 30 kilometres left and the gap narrowing, Wynants attacked from the breakaway, while Katusha's Alexandr Pliushin did likewise from the peloton, and before long the Moldovan had passed Boom and Perez and joined forces with the Belgian out in front.
Though the pair did manage to gain a minute on the peloton, their hopes of staying clear were always extremely slim, and they were finally reeled in by the HTC-Columbia-led peloton eight kilometres from home.
The much-vaunted HTC-Columbia train struggled to control affairs at the head of the field in quite the way they did last year, and their plans were totally torn apart when Cavendish appeared to lose his balance on a tight right-hand bend two kilometres from home, triggering a pile-up that saw around a dozen riders come down, including Milan-San Remo winner Freire and Cervelo's Jeremy Hunt.
Millar brought them into the final kilometre, before Renshaw, having seen his team-mate and star sprinter out of the reckoning, moved out and launched a big kick 300 metres from home.
The experienced Petacchi reacted immediately, and remained in the Austrlian's slipstream before powering past and claiming the stage win, his fifth at the grande boucle. Meanwhile, two further crashes had taken place behind the main action, causing the majority of the field to have to either unpick themselves from the wreckage, or wait for a path through to the finish
He will wear green for Monday's second stage, which takes the peloton 201 kilometres from Brussels to Spa.