Valverde wins first stage to pull on Tour's yellow jersey
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Saturday, July 05, 2008

Valverde wins first stage to pull on Tour's yellow jersey

by Agence France-Presse at 2:32 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
 
Spaniard Alejandro Valverde, riding for Caisse d'Epargne, won the Tour de France's first stage, held over 197.5km of undulating terrain, to pull on the race's yellow jersey here Saturday.

Valverde came through in a sprint finish, seeing off Belgian Philippe Gilbert, Frenchman Jerome Pineau and Kim Kirchen of Luxembourg.

For the first time since 1967 the world's biggest race did not kick off with a time trial prologue, with organisers determined to shake up the first week and get the yellow jersey race going as quickly as possible.

With the first stage passing through the home town of France's last winner, Bernard Hinault, in 1985, it took only two kilometres for one of French riders to attack.

Lilian Jegou's break was soon followed by seven other riders, and they were given almost immediate permission to pull away from the peloton.

By the time the main peloton hit the summit of the first of four small climbs, at the 29.5km mark, they had a 8min 15sec deficit to the eight leaders.

But with the prestigious yellow jersey up for grabs at the end of the race's final climb, they were never going to be allowed a free run to the finish.

The Caisse d'Epargne team of yellow jersey co-favourite Valverde was among those who began pulling to the front of the peloton in a bid to up the tempo and start the chase.

Their efforts soon began to pay, and by the time they had passed through the feed zone at the halfway stage the lead was down to four minutes.

It was at the feed zone that the first of several crashes occurred.

Race debutant Herve Duclos-Lassalle of the Cofidis team became the race's first unfortunate victim when a feed bag from another rider tangled in his wheel and forced him to crash.

He got up, only to be told he'd fractured his wrist and could no longer continue.

Sniffing their fate, it was soon to be every man for himself at the front as the peloton brough the deficit down to only 3:15 with 55km to race.

Another 20km further on and with the peloton at just over 1:30 behind them Frenchman Stephane Auge was first to attack off the front.

He soon ran out of juice, and then Jegou and Spaniard David de la Fuente managed to build a slight advantage.

With 17km to ride, their lead on the peloton fell, fatally, to just below a minute.
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