(Photos: Yuzuru Sunada)
Belgian Philippe Gilbert of the Omega Pharma team won an incident-filled first stage of the Tour de France here on Saturday and took the race leader's yellow jersey.
Defending champion Alberto Contador of Spain was involved in a mass pile-up 9km from the finish and cam home almost 90sec off the pace set by Gilbert, who this season dominated the hilly Ardennes Classics, winning the Amstel Gold Race, Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege inside eight days. The trio of Jeremy Roy, and Tour debutants Perrig Quemeneur and Lieuwe Westra led an early breakout from the off, but were gradually hauled back in by Gilbert's team with some 20km to go of the 191.5km run from Passage du Gois to Mont des Alouettes.
In a dramatic climax, the peloton was effectively sliced in two when an Astana rider clipped a stray spectator and rebounded into the main body of riders, including Contador, to cause a massive pile-up. There was then another pile-up which cut the lead body of riders to around 30. Gilbert bade his time as first Alexandre Vinkourov and then Fabien Cancellara sprinted through to the front. Cancellara, however, bolted too soon, allowing Gilbert to catch him on the last-but-one turn and the Belgian coasted home from 500m to finish 3sec ahead of Australian Cadel Evans, with Norwegian Thor Hushovd leading the chasing peloton at 6sec.