When the early stretches of today’s Stage 1 passed without incident—save the practically obligatory errant canine—some commentators seemed to settle into the notion that the long-anticipated crashes on the always thrilling (and extremely crowded) Dutch and Belgian roadways would not materialize.
But beyond the calm facade were warning signs of the carnage to come. A three-man breakaway gained and lost times in wild clumps as various sprinters’ teams rolled to the front of the peloton and fell back suddenly as the gap became too small. Domestiques’ ears featured heavily in the live photos as heads swiveled to keep nervous eyes on the competition alongside them.
Tough to pin down a moment when the floodgates finally opened—a few lower speed crashes began to bubble up in the field after the pack entered Belgium, and Moldovan champion Alexandre Pliuschin lead the break through a sweeper in a two wheel skid just before being caught.
I guess the moment where the race went “Texas” came when Mark Cavendish became more interested in winning shoving match with a Lampre rider than following his leadout train through a hairpin at two KM to go. Both riders went down, and tied up Oscar Freire in their wake.
A few seconds later, just inside the red kite, a tumble happened behind the sprinters that brought the bulk of the field to a stop, leaving a group of roughly fifteen to contest the stage. A makeshift leadout of Garmin, Cervelo and Lampre riders kept things from getting too crazy, but as Petacchi made his decisive burst for the line another crash occurred.
I haven’t seen chopper footage, or anything clear enough to get a good idea of what happened, but I will say that it’s awfully hard to end up with another rider’s bike around your rear derailleur when everyone is adhering to UCI Rule 2.3.036. Chalk Petacchi’s win up to battling for a perhaps windier position that allowed him to dictate his own course and timing in what was likely to be a very chaotic final surge to the line.