The 2011 Tour de France has already featured some major drama, as Stage 1 was incredibly eventful, featuring a great finish and a crash that included Alberto Contador, Bradley Wiggins and Andy Schleck, who all finished well behind the leaders. The winner of the stage was Phillipe Gilbert, the champion of Belgium and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, as he out-dueled Cadel Evans and Fabian Cancellara at the end.
The breakaway was caught at 25 kilometers to go, and the peloton started pushing the pace and jockeying for position early. Europcar, the team of Thomas Voeckler, and Omega Pharma-Lotto, Gilbert's team, controlled the pace at the front starting at that point. With 10 kilometers to go, the teams spread out a bit with multiple teams vying for position, but a massive crash at 9.3 kilometers to go completely changed everyone's gameplan.
Alberto Contador was caught up in that crash, which was started when a spectator got too close to the road and bumped an unidentifiable Astana rider. This caused a massive split in the peloton and a leading group of around 50 riders broke away. Andy Schleck and Bradley Wiggins were stuck in a group between Contador and the leaders, but they had a second crash of their own, causing the trio of Contador, Schleck and Wiggins to finish together.
Up ahead of them, on the finishing hill, the pace of the climb caused the sprinters to be selected out, as the individual stage and classics riders ruled the day. Cancellara made the first major attack, but he went too early and was caught by Gilbert with around one kilometer to go. Gilbert started to run out of gas with 500 meters remaining and Evans closed, but Gilbert held on for the stage win, which will also give him the yellow jersey.
Though he did not win the stage, today was still a massive victory for second placed Cadel Evans. Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador lost nearly 90 seconds to Evans today, which will be a massive boost in his bid to win the Tour. On Sunday, his BMC team will have to help him keep that gap up in the team time trial, as Saxo Bank and Leopard Trek will try to bring back some time for Contador and Schleck.
Despite the crash and the massive early shake-up in the general classification, today is Phillipe Gilbert's day, as he has captured his first Tour de France stage win and his first Maillot Jaune.
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