Matt Goss snagged his first small advantage today at the Tour de France, when he won the intermediate sprint from the bunch. With a six rider break up the road, Goss bested Mark Cavendish (Sky Procycling) and André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) in the mid-stage sprint to earn nine points in the green jersey competition. The sprinters took a backseat to the puncheurs at the finish with Michael Albasini animating the finale and Simon Gerrans posting ORICA-GreenEDGE’s top finish on stage one in 13th place.
“I’m happy with the team’s opening day,” said Sports Director Matt White. “We might have been hoping for more in terms of results, but there’s plenty of chances ahead. We’re looking forward to tomorrow already.”
The first road stage began in Liège under dark skies. Five fourth category climbs punctuated the lumpy 198 kilometer route. The Côte de Seraing marked the conclusion of the stage with a 2.4 kilometer uphill run to the finish.
An early break of six riders shot up the road from the gun, and RadioShack-Nissan-Trek, with an interest in keeping race leader Fabian Cancellara in yellow, set tempo on the front during the first half of the race.
“Things were fairly relaxed early on,” noted White. “We’re taking the intermediate sprints very seriously, unless there’s only one or two points available, so the sprint was the first key moment for us.”
The six rider break gobbled up top points at the mid-stage sprint in Érezée. Nine points would go to the first riders across the sprint line in the bunch. ORICA-GreenEDGE and Lotto-Belisol massed at the front to contest the sprint. Cavendish, without a leadout at his disposal, freelanced behind the sprint trains. Opening his sprint at the 100 meter mark, Goss beat Cavendish by a bike length. Greipel finished third from the bunch for ninth overall.
“It was good for the confidence to have a chance to sprint today with less at stake,” explained White. “Tomorrow we’ll be sprinting for a stage win. We didn't expect to see Matt at the finish, so this was his only opportunity for a sprint in a race setting today."
Intermediate sprint completed, ORICA-GreenEDGE settled back into the bunch. RadioShack-Nissan-Trek continued to set tempo and picked up the chase, aided by a tailwind, 50 kilometers from the finish in Seraing. When the gap fell under one minute with 30 kilometers left to race, Sky and BMC moved towards the front to protect their overall contenders and assert some control to the impending chaos.
Inside the final ten kilometers, the bunch swallowed the break and ORICA-GreenEDGE, led by Stuart O’Grady, came to fore. Leading a strung out peloton, O’Grady charged towards the final climb with three of his teammates on his wheel.
“We knew we needed to drop Albasini and Gerrans off in a good position as the final climb began,” White said. “We waited until the closing kilometers and then Stuey took over at the front. He did a great job putting them where they needed to be.”
Two kilometers from the finish, Albasini led the field. Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma – QuickStep) launched the first major missive. Albasini was able to respond and bridged across on the steepest part of the finish climb. The duo briefly lead the race before Cancellara pulled them back and launched an attack of his own.
Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) attached onto Cancellara’s wheel and ignored the race leader’s flick of the elbow request to take a pull. Unable to drop Sagan, Cancellara powered towards the finish as Edvald Boassan Hagen (Sky Procycling) bridged across to them. Sagan took the stage win. Cancellara held onto yellow. The field caught the trio at the line with 48 riders finishing on the same time.
“The finish played out pretty much as expected,” said White. “There was no way the whole bunch was going to get up there together. I thought we’d see 40 or 50 guys there at the finish, and that’s exactly what we saw. There were no pure sprinters up there today.”
“Fabain is going to want to keep that jersey tomorrow,” concluded White. “The stage should come down to a field sprint, and we’re ready to go with Gossy.”