Alejandro Valverde

Geraint Thomas wins crash-filled Tour de France Stage 1

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A Team Sky rider leads the Tour de France after Stage 1. Will another one wear the yellow jersey in Paris in three weeks?

Geraint Thomas became the first Welshman to lead the Tour after clocking the fastest individual time trial on a crash-filled rainy day in Duesseldorf, Germany, on Saturday.

“I didn’t even think about it [winning], to be honest,” said Thomas, the most experienced member of favorite Chris Froome‘s support team. “I didn’t believe it was going to happen. I thought [German world time trial champion Tony] Martin‘s going to beat me. Or so-and-so’s going to beat me.”

Thomas covered the flat, wet, nine-mile course in 16 minutes, 4 seconds. He was five seconds faster than Swiss Stefan Kueng.

TOUR: Results/Standings | Highlights | Broadcast Schedule

Several riders crashed earlier on the course. The biggest was to Alejandro Valverde, the third-place finisher in 2015 who slammed into a metal barrier and abandoned the Tour.

That boosts the hopes for Froome, who is looking for his fourth Tour title in five years. Froome ended up in sixth place, 12 seconds behind his Team Sky mate Thomas.

More importantly, Froome is the highest placed of the general classification contenders. He is 35 and 36 seconds ahead of Richie Porte and Nairo Quintana, respectively.

The top American was Taylor Phinney in 12th place, 17 seconds behind Thomas. Phinney, 27 and a three-time Olympian, is making his Tour debut three years after suffering a broken tibia, broken patella, a severed patella tendon and a ruptured PCL from hitting a guard rail at the U.S. Championships.

“I wasn’t really thinking about the journey, but it’s been quite a ride,” Phinney said on NBCSN afterward. “Can’t complain. Didn’t crash today. Jazzed.”

Thomas, in his eighth Tour de France, notched his first stage win in a Grand Tour. The 31-year-old won Olympic team pursuit gold medals on the track with Great Britain in 2008 and 2012.

Sunday’s Stage 2 is a mostly flat 126 miles from Duesseldorf to Liege, Belgium, that should set up well for sprinters. A fourth-category climb about 12 miles before the conclusion likely won’t prevent a mass finish.

NBC Sports Gold‘s live coverage starts at 5:55 a.m. ET. NBCSN coverage starts at 7:30.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Stage 1
1. Geraint Thomas (GBR) — 16:04
2. Stefan Kueng (SUI) — +:05
3. Vasil Kiriyenka (BLR) — +:07
4. Tony Martin (GER) — +:08
5. Matteo Trentin (ITA) — +:10
6. Chris Froome (GBR) — +:12
12. Taylor Phinney (USA) — +:17
49. Richie Porte (AUS) — +:47
53. Nairo Quintana (COL) — +:48

Alejandro Valverde crashes, abandons at Tour de France (video)

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Spaniard Alejandro Valverde crashed and abandoned the Tour de France early on Stage 1 in Duesseldorf, Germany, on Saturday.

Valverde, who finished third at the 2015 Tour, hit the wet pavement and slid into a metal barrier on a rainy day during his individual time trial. Valverde was one of several cyclists to crash on the flat, nine-mile stage won by Geraint Thomas.

Valverde’s Team Movistar said the 37-year-old was taken by ambulance to a hospital to assess possible fractures. He is believed to have suffered a broken knee, Movistar chief marketing officer J.P. Molinero said on NBCSN.

Valverde finished in the top 10 at the last four Tours and was to be a strong support rider for teammate Nairo Quintana, who is trying to challenge Chris Froome for the title.

TOUR: Results/Standings | HighlightsBroadcast Schedule

Valverde has made the podium at all three Grand Tours, with most of his success coming at the Vuelta a España, which he won in 2009.

Sunday’s Stage 2 is a mostly flat 126 miles from Duesseldorf to Liege, Belgium, that should set up well for sprinters. A fourth-category climb about 12 miles before the conclusion likely won’t prevent a mass finish.

NBC Sports Gold‘s live coverage starts at 5:55 a.m. ET. NBCSN coverage starts at 7:30.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: 10 Tour de France riders to watch

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Ten riders to watch at Tour de France

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Ten riders to watch at the 104th Tour de France, whose every stage will air live from start to finish on NBC Sports Gold’s Cycling Pass:

Chris Froome
Team Sky/Great Britain
2013, 2015, 2016 Tour de France winner

Trying to move within one Tour title of the career record of five shared by Jacques AnquetilEddy MerckxBernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain.

Froome has been the anchor of cycling’s most powerful team for five seasons now. Every time the rail-thin Brit has reached the Champs-Élysées in that time, he has been wearing the yellow jersey. The only miss was when he abandoned on Stage 5 in 2014 after crashing three times in two days.

But Froome went winless in his Tour lead up this season for the first time since 2012. Plus, this year’s route does not suit his strengths, with just two summit finishes and no extended time trials.

Richie Porte
BMC/Australia
Fifth at 2016 Tour de France

Froome has called Porte his main rival this year, though that may be in part because they were Team Sky mates through 2015. Porte is in his second season as BMC’s general classification rider. Last year, his Tour GC hopes were punctured by a flat tire on Stage 2, where he lost 1 minute, 45 seconds. Porte ended up fifth.

This season, Porte won the Tour de Romandie and was second at the Criterium du Dauphine, both stage races with Froome in the field, plus the Tour Down Under.

Nairo Quintana
Movistar/Colombia
Three Tour de France GC podiums

Every year that Froome has won the Tour, he has been joined on the Paris podium by Quintana. The Colombian has gone from 23-year-old upstart in 2013 (second at his first Tour) to trail blazer in the sport. He is a Tour de France title from becoming the first non-European to claim all three Grand Tours.

This is the first time Quintana rides the Tour de France having already done the Giro d’Italia in the same season. How will he recover? The lack of time trial mileage will help the climber.

MORE: Tour de France broadcast schedule

Alberto Contador
Trek–Segafredo/Spain
Tour de France winner in 2007, 2009

El Pistolero returns for what could be his final Tour. Contador, now 34, would be the oldest Tour winner since 1922. But that’s looking unlikely. He failed to finish in 2014 and 2016 and has not made a Grand Tour podium in more than two years. Contador was also 11th at the Criterium du Dauphine.

Romain Bardet
AG2R La Mondiale/France
2016 Tour de France runner-up

The latest French hope to end the nation’s longest Tour title drought — now 32 years since Hinault’s last win in 1985. Bardet, who at 26 is younger than Froome, Porte, Quintana and Contador, was second to Froome last year after a gutsy Stage 19 win moved him up from fifth.

This season, Bardet was sixth at the Criterium du Dauphine, after being runner-up the year before. In comments before the Tour, he downplayed his chances to win, perhaps hoping to keep the French pressure to manageable levels.

Alejandro Valverde
Movistar/Spain
Third at 2015 Tour de France

Valverde has been competing in Grand Tours since 2002 and, last year, rode all three for the first time with a worst finish of 12th. Not bad for a man who turned 37 in April. Though Valverde is on the outside of the top GC contenders here, he should be very present in helping team leader Quintana.

Peter Sagan
Bora-Hansgrohe/Slovakia
Five-time Tour de France green jersey winner

One of the sport’s great, unique personalities. He demolishes handfuls of gummy bears immediately after races. Sagan can match Erik Zabel‘s record of six points classification titles that go to the best sprinter. In 2016, he won three stages and was named the Tour’s Most Combative Rider. At just 27 years old, there’s no reason to think he won’t eventually hold the mark to himself.

Mark Cavendish
Dimension Data/Great Britain
30 Tour de France stage wins

It was thought the Manx Missile might be losing steam after winning one stage between the 2014 and 2015 Tours (he abandoned the 2014 Tour after the first stage) and changing teams before the 2016 edition. But Cavendish roared back with four stage victories last year, including wearing the yellow jersey for the first time. He followed that with a long-awaited, first Olympic medal on the track in Rio. Now, he is four stage wins behind the career Tour record of 34 held by Merckx. However, Cavendish considers himself fortunate to even be starting an 11th straight Tour after being diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus in April.

Taylor Phinney
Cannondale–Drapac/United States
First Tour start

What a winding road Phinney, the son of Olympic cycling medalists, took to his Tour debut at age 27. First, he was a phenom on the track, winning individual pursuit world titles at ages 18 and 19. He later found road success, placing fourth in both 2012 Olympic events and taking silver in the 2012 World time trial. But injuries kept Phinney from sustaining that run. He missed 15 months in 2014-15 with a broken tibia, broken patella, a severed patella tendon and a ruptured PCL from hitting a guard rail at the U.S. Championships.

Andrew Talansky
Cannondale–Drapac/United States
2013 Tour de France — 10th place

There are three Americans among the 198 riders in this year’s Tour. That matches the smallest U.S. contingent in the last 20 years. Talansky is the only one of the trio with Tour experience and the only one with hopes of decent placement in the general classification. In 2013, he was 10th at his first Tour, then 11th in 2015. Last year, Talansky passed on the Tour to focus on the Vuelta a Espana, where he was fifth. No doubt Talansky will be expected to better the top U.S. result from the 2016 Tour, Tejay van Garderen‘s 29th, which marked the worst American high finish since 1996.

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