Luxembourg, July 6: Dutch rider Mike Teunissen powered to victory in Brussels on the first stage of the Tour de France as defending champion Geraint Thomas had a crash scare near the finish.
Teunissen's success made him the first man from the Netherlands to hold the yellow jersey since Erik Breukink won the prologue in 1989 when the race began in Luxembourg.
In a stirring finish to the Grand Depart leg of the marathon race - a stage than began and ended in the Belgian capital - Teunissen sprinted for the line ahead of Slovakia's Peter Sagan and Australia's Caleb Ewan.
As the riders began to wind up for a fast finish, Team INEOS reported Thomas went down against a barrier on the course but swiftly got back on his bike.
"I'm fine. I gave myself enough space and avoided the actual crash," the Welshman told reporters afterwards.
"The main thing is that it didn't do any damage – the bike took the hit and I just toppled over."
Teunissen will not have been focusing on that drama. The 26-year-old Jumbo-Visma man is competing in Le Tour for just the second time, having trailed in 129th overall two years ago, and he made a dream start.
The 106th Tour de France began with 176 riders, with the most notable absentee being four-time winner Chris Froome after the Team INEOS rider suffered multiple injuries in a major crash during the Criterium du Dauphine last month.
Thomas was named co-leader of Team INEOS, along with Colombian Egan Bernal, and has high hopes of repeating his 2018 ride to glory.
This was just the second time that Le Tour has started in Brussels, which first staged the Grand Depart in 1958. Its return to the city was designated to mark the 50th anniversary of Belgian great Eddy Merckx’s maiden Tour triumph.
Olympic champion Greg van Avermaet surged into an early three-minute lead as part of a four-rider breakaway group and the 34-year-old Belgian from CCC Team was first to reach the top of the Mur de Grammont, the opening points-scoring climb of the race.
Another home favourite, Wanty-Gobert rider Xandro Meurisse, led the race by the top of the Bosberg climb, but a breakaway group of three was soon reeled in by the peloton.
Bora–Hansgrohe's Sagan took the intermediate sprint in Les Bons Villers before Cofidis' 32-year-old Tour newcomer Stephane Rossetto made a dip for glory with a solo break 59 kilometres from the finish.
Rossetto's career highlight is a lengthy solo ride to victory in the final stage of the 2018 Tour de Yorkshire, and he continued to lead on his debut Le Tour stage with 10km remaining before being hauled back into a multi-rider scramble to the finish.
OPENING STAGE DRAMA
Rossetto would have made a dream debut if only he could have sustained his charge in the manner he managed in Yorkshire. This race is a step up though, and it seemed inevitable he had gone too soon. His being reeled in made for the grandstand finish, and the crowds in Brussels were treated to a gripping finale where Dutch courage prevailed.
1. Mike Teunissen (Jumbo-Visma) 4:22:47 2. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) +0:00 3. Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) +0:00 4. Giacomo Nizzolo (Dimension Data) +0:00 5. Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) +0:00
1. Mike Teunissen (Jumbo-Visma) 4:22:47 2. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) +0:04 3. Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) +0:06
1. Mike Teunissen (Jumbo-Visma) 50 2. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) 50 3. Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) 33
King of the Mountains
1. Greg van Avermaet (CCC) 2 2. Xandro Meurisse (Wanty-Gobert) 2