Mike Teunissen

Geraint Thomas opens gaps on Tour de France rivals in team time trial

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BRUSSELS (AP) — Just two days into the Tour de France, Geraint Thomas is already putting daylight between himself and some of the riders dreaming of dethroning the reigning champion.

Thomas, who claimed his first Tour win last summer, answered questions surrounding his form and fitness in a dominant fashion during Sunday’s short team time trial around the streets of Brussels.

His Ineos team did not win the stage but the 33-year-old Welshman gained precious seconds on rivals, including French duo Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot, former Tour champion Vincenzo Nibali, climber Nairo Quintana, Adam Yates and Jakob Fuglsang.

Thomas arrived at the Tour on the back of a rather mundane season and no victory to his name.

Even worse, he crashed out of his final preparation race last month, and endured another setback, though minor, when he was caught in a pile-up near the finish of Saturday’s opening stage.

With the No. 1 bib on his back, Thomas, a former track specialist, showed no signs of weakness following his spill.

He took solid turns at the front and led his teammates across the finish line close to the Atomium, the iconic Brussels monument built for the 1958 World Fair.

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The only team riding faster than Ineos on Sunday was the Dutch outfit Jumbo-Visma, which covered the 17.1-mile course in 28 minutes, 58 seconds, keeping the yellow jersey on Mike Teunissen’s shoulders.

They were 20 seconds faster than Thomas and his teammates, with Deceuninck Quick-Step completing the podium, 21 seconds off the pace.

“Looking at GC (general classification), it’s a good performance,” said Thomas. “It was a positive day for sure.”

Teunissen’s teammate Steven Kruijswijk is now the best placed overall contender, who sits third overall with a 20-second lead over Thomas and Egan Bernal, the co-leader at Ineos this summer in the absence of four-time champion Chris Froome.

Even without Froome — the dominant Grand Tour rider in recent years and an expert in the race against the clock — Ineos was still able to replicate its result from last year’s team time trial.

Dylan van Baarle, who replaced Froome in the team, was up to the task and there was no weak link on the road.

“We took some time on some good GC riders today, so it was perfect for us,” Bernal said.

Before the race leaves Belgium on Monday, Thomas and Bernal gained 12 seconds on Pinot, 16 seconds on Nibali, and 21 seconds on Yates and Fuglsang.

They opened more significant gaps with Quintana (45 seconds) and Bardet, the day’s big loser who conceded 59 seconds.

After rolling down first from the start ramp near Brussels’ Royal Palace, Ineos riders stayed in the lead for two hours until Jumbo-Visma, the last team to set off, bettered their time in an impressive performance.

Putting on a well-choreographed display, the Dutch team’s riders covered the route at an average speed of 35.5 mph, close to the record of 57.8 set by Orica-GreenEdge when they won the 2013 team time trial on a similar distance.

“We went hard from the start. We heard we were the fastest … We were flying,” Teunissen said.

The first Dutch rider to wear the race leader’s jersey in 30 years, Teunissen was a surprise winner of Saturday’s opening leg.

Surrounded by teammates best-suited for the flat terrain, including former time trial world champion Tony Martin, Teunissen did not play second-fiddle in his aerodynamic skinsuit and helmet.

“Yesterday it was a dream come true, and it’s the case today again,” he said. “It’s not that I’m getting used to winning stages at the Tour de France but it’s two out of two now and it’s really, really nice.”

Teunissen now leads teammate Wout Van Aert by 10 seconds in the general classification.

Jumbo-Visma riders monopolize the five top spots, with Kruijswijk in third place.

After two days in Belgium, the peloton will enter France during Monday’s Stage 3 which leads riders from the Belgian town of Binche to Epernay in the Champagne region.

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Mike Teunissen wins Tour de France Stage 1; Geraint Thomas crashes

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BRUSSELS (AP) — Mike Teunissen claimed the first yellow jersey of this year’s Tour de France with a sprint victory in Saturday’s opening stage, which was marked by defending champion Geraint Thomas’ crash in the finale.

Thomas’ Ineos team said he fell in the final meters but “feels fine.” Another top contender, Jakob Fuglsang, also hit the tarmac about 12 miles from the finish in a separate crash.

The 26-year-old Teunissen, who became the first Dutch rider to wear the yellow jersey since Erik Breukink 30 years ago, edged former world champion Peter Sagan and Caleb Ewan on the finish line in Brussels.

Thomas quickly got back on his bike after hitting a barrier while his teammate Egan Bernal was held up by the crash. They did not lose time as per race regulations because the accident occurred within the final three kilometers.

In the absence of four-time winner Chris Froome, Thomas and Bernal have been promoted to co-leaders of the Ineos team.

Fuglsang, who is rated among the favorites this year, was hurt in the crash that took place a few moments earlier. The Criterium du Dauphine winner remounted his bike with blood on his face and right knee, and scratches on his jersey.

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The race started from the Belgian capital to honor the 50th anniversary of cycling great Eddy Merckx’s first of five Tour victories. The 120.8-mile trek took the peloton through the Flanders and Wallonia regions and back to Brussels, which will also host Sunday’s team time trial.

The second spill played havoc within the sprinters’ teams riding at the front and split the peloton in two. It took out of contention Teunissen’s Jumbo-Visma teammate Dylan Groenewegen, the team’s best sprinter.

“Bizarre scenario. I hope Dylan is OK,” said Teunissen, who was initially set to be part of Groenewegen’s lead-out train.

In the slightly uphill section leading to the finish line on the leafy Avenue du Parc Royal, Teunissen perfectly timed his effort to deny Sagan a 12th stage win at the Tour.

The opening day had started in a joyful atmosphere in the cycling-mad city of Brussels. Merckx was greeted by Belgian fans filling the streets as he stood alongside race director Christian Prudhomme in a red open-top car riding in front of the peloton.

The five-time Tour champion saluted the crowd and chatted with competitors before a short stop on Brussels’ Grand Place where Prudhomme introduced riders to King Philippe of Belgium and Prime Minister Charles Michel.

Leaving Brussels, the 176 Tour competitors started their loop south of the city at a fast tempo as a group of four riders led by Greg Van Avermaet, a one-day classics specialist from Belgium, immediately formed at the front.

The quartet reached the first difficulty of the day — the Muur van Geraardsbergen, a 1.2-kilometer cobbled climb — with a 3-minute lead. Van Avermaet made a point of honor to be first at the top to the delight of home fans cheering him along on the side of the road. Belgian rider Xandro Meurisse, a member of the initial breakaway, was first at the Bosberg, another climb featuring at the Ronde van Vlaanderen classic race.

Guaranteed the first best climber’s polka dot jersey, Van Avermaet stopped his effort soon after and was reined in by the peloton as the lead group was reduced to three men: Meurisse, Natnael Berhane and Mads Wurtz.

Behind them, sprinters’ teams organized the chase to reduce the gap to less than two minutes with 90 kilometers to go. As the main pack approached a two-kilometer long and dangerous cobbled sector outside of the city of Charleroi, Thomas and other contenders also surged to the front in a move aimed at avoiding potential crashes on a narrow stretch of road.

The only noteworthy incident on the tricky section was Deceuninck-Quick Step sprinter Elia Viviani’s puncture. The Italian rider was held back for a while and could not compete with the fastest men for the intermediate sprint points once the three at the front were caught with 70 kilometers left.

Sagan, chasing a seventh best sprinter’s green jersey this year, used his power and speed to beat Sonny Colbrelli and Van Avermaet.

Tour debutant Stephane Rossetto of France then tried a solo escape and was first at the Lion’s Mound monument that overlooks the battlefield where Napoleon’s troops were defeated at the Battle of Waterloo. But the Frenchman’s efforts on open stretches of road exposed to wind were left unrewarded and he was ultimately swallowed up as the final sprint took shape.

Watch world-class cycling events throughout the year with the NBC Sports Gold Cycling Pass, including all 21 stages of the Tour de France live & commercial-free, plus access to renowned races like La Vuelta, Paris-Roubaix, the UCI World Championships and many more.

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