Cavendish struggles as Bardet wins first Tour stage


Mark Cavendish struggled on a demanding opening stage of the Tour de France as Romain Bardet claimed the yellow jersey after a thrilling finale in Rimini. 

France's Bardet and his DSM-Firmenich-PostNL team-mate Frank van den Broek held off a high-quality group including all of the main general classification riders to triumph by five seconds.

The duo had gone clear around 40km from the end of the 206km route from Florence and were still celebrating as Cavendish and several of his Astana-Qazaqstan team-mates were negotiating the final climb to San Marino. 

Manx rider Cavendish eventually crossed the line over 39 minutes down and with just under 10 minutes to spare before the elimination time limit. 

Speaking to Eurosport, Cavendish said: “That was so hard but we had a plan and we stuck to it. 

“We would have liked one more climb with the peloton but I was seeing stars it was so hard.”

The 39-year-old, who postponed his retirement at the end of last season, is attempting to break the Tour de France record of 34 stage wins he currently shares with Belgian legend Eddy Merckx. 

However, in the first ever Italian Grand Depart, he was dropped on the opening climb and appeared to be in immediate difficulty in sweltering conditions on the road, with his team-mates continuously pouring water over him.

Cavendish's task was hardly made any easier by an unprecedented amount of climbing in a brutal opening stage - more than 3,600m - over seven categorised ascents.

He was far from the only rider to toil, with French GC hopeful David Gaudu coming home almost 30 minutes down along with 54 other riders. 

Czech climber Jan Hirt, who is expected to be a key mountain domestique for Remco Evenepoel, was even further back. 

The Soudal Quick-Step climber endured a painful day - breaking three teeth on his way to the start after being knocked off his bike by a fan's backpack.

Stage two on Sunday sees the race travel 199.2km over the rolling hills of the Emilia-Romagna region as it heads from Cesenatico to Bologna