A few minutes earlier then scheduled – and catching the ITV coverage off-guard – the 2001 Tour de France got underway today (Saturday, July 2) with the grand depart Stage 1 covering 206km from Passage du Gois to Mont des Alouettes. There had been early rumours that defending champion Alberto Contador would be going all-out in serious contention but this proved nothing more than day-one rabble-rousing hype and the troubled Spaniard (who was booed by the French crowds in pre-race presentation) merely sat comfortably back in peloton – at least until he was caught up in the spectacular crash that decimated the field with just 8km to go. In fact Stage 1 proved to be something of an all-round crash-riddled affair, with a series of upsets beginning barely an hour into the race when a number of Movistar and Europcar riders tumbled.
Ultimately though, today was about Philippe Gilbert of Omega Pharma-Lotto who took the Stage 1 win; widely-tipped for victory and very much on form the Belgian, whose season thus far has been outstanding, finished today in a time of 4h 41′ 31″ with BMC Racing’s Cadel Evans in second on +03 and Thor Hushovd of Garmin-Cervelo in third on +06. Best of British was Geraint Thomas (Sky) in sixth place, also on +06.