Mark Cavendish surged to victory in a crash-marred opening stage at the Tour de France on Saturday. The British rider claimed his 27th career stage win and will wear the leader’s yellow jersey for the first time.
Cavendish outsprinted German Marcel Kittel and world champion Peter Sagan of Slovakia at the end of the 188-kilometer ride from Mont-St-Michel to Utah Beach, where Allied forces landed on D-Day in 1944.
Several of Cavendish’s main rivals were taken out of contention following a crash in the final straight.
The Isle-of-Man-born rider is third on the all-time list for stage wins at cycling’s premier race behind Belgian Eddy Merckx (34) and Bernard Hinault of France (28).
“I can’t believe it,” Cavendish said after the opening skirmish in the 103rd edition of the three-week race.
“To win a stage is incredible. I’m very emotional for it,” added the Dimension Data rider.
“It’s going to be a special day tomorrow to ride a stage in yellow. There was no better place to achieve this than Utah Beach, where soldiers died for us.”
Spaniard Alberto Contador, a two-time Tour winner and one of the favourites, crashed around 80 kilometers before the finish, sustaining bruising to his shoulder, elbow and groin.
Contador finished without further mishap but is likely to suffer in Sunday's 183-km second stage from Saint-Lo to Cherbourg.
“This was not the best way to start,” Contador told reporters. “I'm bruised all the way down my right side from my ankle up but at least I don't have to go home.
"Hopefully I can get through the coming days and recover before the mountains. There are some positions where my shoulder gives me some doubts but I want to be optimistic."