Tour de France: Kittel thrills, Cavendish spills in 1st stage


HARROGATE, England — Mark Cavendish went down in a late crash. Marcel Kittel’s hands went up in victory. And British royals who turned out for the Tour de France debut in England witnessed new signs of a changing of the guard among two of the world’s top sprinters.

For many British fans, with cycling’s greatest race making a rare start in England on Saturday, Stage 1 wasn’t supposed to end this way: They wanted British speedster Cavendish to get his first race leader’s yellow jersey and 26th career Tour stage win after the 118-mile ride through Yorkshire countryside.

But with the pack swelling in intensity and his rivals up front as the finish neared, Cavendish leaned his head to his left into Australia’s Simon Gerrans, and their bikes tumbled to the ground — with the Briton coming down hard.

Germany’s Kittel then made it look easy by dusting three other rivals at the finish. Cavendish got up gingerly and cruised across, cradling his right arm, and got into an ambulance. Tests showed a separated right shoulder. His team said it’ll be decided Sunday morning if Cavendish rides in Stage 2 from York to Sheffield.

Contrite despite the pain, Cavendish said he was “gutted” about the crash.

“It was my fault. I’ll personally apologize to Simon Gerrans as soon as I get the chance. In reality, I tried to find a gap that wasn’t really there. I wanted to win today,” he said in a statement. “Sorry to all the fans that came out to support — it was truly incredible.”

The sprint specialist from the Isle of Man had a lot riding on this stage: His mother is from Harrogate. He had said winning Saturday was one of his key goals this year. And he had a bit to prove: Kittel, a 26-year-old rising star in sprinting, won four Tour stages last year, to Cavendish’s two. Many Britons wanted him to win gold in the road race at the London Olympics, but that quest also ended in disappointment.

Cavendish surely would have wanted to be in Kittel’s pedal-clip shoes when Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, handed the yellow jersey to the German, and she, husband Prince William and Prince Harry flanked him, clapping, on the winner’s podium in Harrogate.

“Before the stage, I said it was one goal, maybe, to be with Kate on the podium — and also, of course, Harry and William,” said Kittel, who also won Stage 1 at last year’s Tour. “It was not a goal for me to beat Mark Cavendish … in his home country.”

“It’s not nice to have Mark crash. Nobody wants that,” he added.

Early signs that Britain’s sprint king may be losing his crown came at last year’s Tour, when Kittel beat him in similar circumstances. Doing it at two Tours in a row suggests that he really does have Cavendish’s number — although there are still plenty of chances at this Tour for the 28-year-old Briton to come back, if healthy.

TOUR DE FRANCE

HARROGATE, England — A look at Saturday’s first stage:

Stage: The 118-mile stage took riders on a hilly trek from Leeds to Harrogate over three moderate climbs in Yorkshire.

Winner: Marcel Kittel, who started his campaign the same way he did last year when he also won the first stage. The powerful German sprinter avoided a crash about 300 yards from the finish when local favorite Mark Cavendish took Simon Gerrans down. Gerrans escaped uninjured but Cavendish hurt his head, right wrist and right shoulder. Peter Sagan’s bid for a third consecutive green jersey got off to a good start with the Slovakian finishing in second place.

Yellow jersey: Kittel.

Stat of the day: 42. The age of veteran Jens Voigt, the oldest rider in the race. Voigt spent the day in a long breakaway before being reined in with 37 miles to go.

Quote of the day: "It’s great for our sport to see such huge crowds lining the roads, but I hope the police will do something tomorrow, because if they don’t, it could be a problem for our health." — Fabian Cancellara.

Sunday’s stage: Stage 2 takes the peloton on a 125-mile trek from York to Sheffield on an undulating terrain featuring nine climbs and narrow roads. Overall contenders will be watching each other and riding in front to avoid being caught by a break.

By wire sources