- Tour de France, Stage One
Bus fiasco at finish line mars first stage
Shimano's Marcel Kittel won the opening stage of the 2013 Tour de France following a dramatic, incident-packed sprint finish in the 213-kilometre stretch from Porto-Vecchio to Bastia, as Team Sky rider Chris Froome avoided the after-effects of a huge late crash.
Carnage ensued inside the final 15km as the Orica team bus somehow became wedged under the finish line, plunging the conclusion of the race into confusion.
With riders unsure of whether the race result would be called in 3km early, some made their move too soon - causing a huge pile up on the last stretch which restricted the challenge of Froome's fellow Brit and Omega Pharma rider Mark Cavendish.
Later it would emerge that Froome's team-mates Geraint Thomas and Ian Stallard would be sent for X-rays following the calamitous end.
Similarly, Saxo Tinkoff rider and Froome's rival Alberto Contador was another caught up in the smash - having nothing but a huge hole in his jersey to show for it.
The truck was finally freed and backed away from the track with the pack fast closing in - clearly the race would go to the wire. Kittel timed his move to perfection to hold off Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) in second and Danny Van Poppel in third.
Britain's David Millar, riding for Garmin Sharp, came home in fourth - Froome was eventually classified as 41st, while Cavendish crossed the line in 58th position. None of them lost ground, however, after organisers ruled everyone would be classified with the same time due to the drama over the closing stages.
It was a less than ideal start to the opening stage for Froome, who suffered a puncture in the first kilometre of the neutral zone - his Team Sky team-mates were forced to sit up and wait.
Europcar rider Jerome Cousin stole the early advantage, with Juan Jose Lobato (Euskaltel), Lars Boom (Belkin), Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil) and Cyril Lemoine (Sojasun) in close proximity.
World champion Philippe Gilbert endured an early puncture, but was quickly up and running again.
First to negotiate, though, was the solitary climb - a 1.1km rise, which the first rider to pass would adopt the coveted polka dot jersey for stage two on Sunday. Lobato took the initiative to sneak clear of Cousin at the line to gain the first point in the King of the Mountains race.
Coastal breezes picked up on to make conditions slightly trickier before the field neared the intermediate sprint stage; the peloton picked up the pace, cutting the leading pack's advantage to just less than three minutes - but still too far behind to challenge for maximum points.
Boom sprinted clear ahead of Flecha, Lemoine and Cousin to take the 20 points on offer for the sprint, while Cavendish had to settle crossing the line in seventh - just ahead of Cannondale's Peter Sagon - to pick up nine points.
The lead was soon cut to less than a minute inside the final 40km banner - with the gap rapidly decreasing, a lively finish looked more and more likely. Despite a predominantly quiet day for Team Sky and Froome, as well as title rivals Contador and Cadel Evans, it would get increasingly lively at the business end.
Within 30km, Contador and the Saxo Tinkoff team edged closer, while Stallard paved the way for Froome.
Drama ensued as the Orica team bus collided with the finish line and became wedged - with the riders only 15km out. This caused ridiculous amounts of confusion, with race radio calling for a result 3km from the finish.
That decision prompted chaos in the field - as Evans made his move to the front, a number of riders were caught up in a minor collision at the back, including Stallard, before a huge crash restricted the rides of Contador , Gilbert and Tony Martin, as well as Cavendish.
Kittel somehow escaped, as did Froome, and held on for victory in a stage that will be remembered for the outcome of a vehicle comprising four wheels rather than two.
Stage One, Porto-Vecchio - Bastia
1. Marcel Kittel (Ger) Team Argos-Shimano 4:56:52
2. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Team Katusha
3. Danny Van Poppel (Ned) Vacansoleil
4. David Millar (GBr) Garmin-Sharp
5. Matteo Trentin (Ita) Omega Pharma
6. Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
7. Gregory Henderson (NZl) Lotto Belisol
8. Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Lotto Belisol
9. Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar
10. Kris Boeckmans (Bel) Vacansoleil