HARROGATE, ENGLAND – Marcel Kittel of Germany won the first stage of the Tour de France for a second straight year after a late crash brought down British rival Mark Cavendish in the presence of royals on Saturday.
Kittel, who earned four Tour stages last year, won the 190.5-km (118-mile) run in the mainly bucolic Yorkshire countryside from Leeds to Harrogate. The German raised his arms skyward and cried after he edged Peter Sagan of Slovakia in second, and Ramunas Navardauskas of Lithuania in third.
“I am incredibly proud of this victory,” Kittel, a Team Giant-Shimano rider who also won two Giro d’Italia stages in May, said through a translator. “It happened pretty easily. It was like coming out of a tunnel. I was able to accelerate like never before.
“It’s really awesome. Deja vu, yeah.”
The two favorites for victory in the three-week race, Alberto Contador and Chris Froome, finished safely in the trailing pack that clocked the same time as Kittel.
With fewer than 400 meters to go, and the speedsters rushing ahead, Cavendish veered slightly to his left, tilted his head and bumped into Australia’s Simon Gerrans. The two crashed alone, with Cavendish landing hard on his right shoulder.
Cavendish got up gingerly and cruised over the finish line — cradling his right arm. X-rays revealed he separated his right shoulder, a Tour statement said. Omega Pharma QuickStep said in a separate statement that a decision about whether he will continue the race will be made on Sunday morning.
“I’m gutted about the crash today,” Cavendish said in the statement. “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.”
Many British fans were hoping for a win by Cavendish, a native of the Isle of Man, whose mother is from Harrogate. Prime Minister David Cameron, Princes William and Harry, and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, were on hand among throngs of British fans who lined the route — a testament to the cycling craze in the U.K.
England hosts the first three stages of this 101st Tour before riders enter France on Tuesday. In all, the 198 riders are to cover 3,664 km (2,277 miles) of road before the July 27 finish in Paris. Stage 2 on Sunday covers 201 km from York to Sheffield, in southern Yorkshire.
Cavendish previously said that winning the first Tour stage was his main goal this year. He was hoping to capture his first yellow jersey and his 26th Tour stage win.
“It’s sad because he (Cavendish) was racing in front of the home country,” Sagan said.
Added Kittel: “I hope he gets well soon. I’m looking forward to seeing him on the race tomorrow . . . it’s not nice to have Mark crash. Nobody wants that.”
A second German excelled on the English roads: Veteran Jens Voigt took the polka-dot jersey as the race’s best climber, after getting out early on a three-man breakaway that first cleared three low-grade hills including Buttertubs pass. At 42, the Trek Factory Racing rider is the oldest competitor this year: This is his 17th Tour, equaling the record.
The nervous first day included more mishaps. Untold tens of thousands of fans turned out in such big numbers that a train service shuttle between the start and finish towns was crammed, and some had to wait for 90 minutes or even longer to get aboard — or gave up altogether.
Yorkshire, the largest county in England, has paid richly for the right to host the Tour. The peloton sped by abbeys in ruins and sights like 14th century Bolton Castle, near Leyburn, before finishing in Harrogate, known for its spas.
Nearly three dozen countries are represented at this Tour, led by France with 44 riders. It’s the second time cycling’s greatest race has begun in Britain, though the Tour also crossed the English Channel for stages in 1974 and 1994.