MEAUX (France): Giro sprint king Alessandro Petacchi humbled his rivals to win the 168-km first stage of the Tour de France in a mass sprint tarnished by a spectacular crash near the finish line yesterday.
Winner of six stages in the Giro, Petacchi scored his inaugural Tour win at the expense of other top sprinters, Australian Robbie McEwen and German Erik Zabel.
McEwen and Zabel were the last two winners of the Tour points classification and the Italian can be considered a favourite for the green jersey this season.
Defending champion Lance Armstrong finished in the bunch which were all given the same time as Petacchi.
“I’m glad to confirm my Giro victories with this win,” said Petacchi at the end of the stage from Montgeron to Meaux.
“I’m not in my best shape but I hope to improve as the race goes on. I want to thank my team for the great job they did to help me,” he added.
But Petacchi’s feat in 3’44:33 was overshadowed by a dreadful pile-up in the bunch some 400m before the finish line.
Spaniard Jose-Enrique Guttierez crashed for no apparent reason as the bunch was speeding to the finish, splitting the main group and causing dozens of riders to fall in turn.
Prologue winner Bradley McGee of Australia was involved in the crash but retained his leader’s yellow jersey.
The FDJeux.com rider even increased his overall lead by finishing second in the first intermediate sprint of the stage after 19km to grab a bonus of two seconds. He now leads Briton David Millar by four seconds. Armstrong was eighth.
“I’m fine. Nothing’s broken. But I can’t help thinking about my teammate Jimmy Casper, who was taken to hospital,” McGee said.
Casper was among the most seriously hurt and will probably be the first rider to abandon the Tour.
But American Tyler Hamilton, the CSC team leader, also left the finish area in an ambulance and doctors feared he may have broken his collarbone.
McEwen recovered his green jersey thanks to his second place but was still disappointed at the finish.
“He’s very quick,” the Australian said about Petacchi. – Reuters