Inevitably, Pogacar and Vingegaard were to the fore in the finale of the toughest opening stage in living memory. On the short ascent of the Pike, UAE Team Emirates shattered an already reduced peloton, with only Vingegaard and Victory Lafay (Cofidis) able to match the tempo of Adam Yates and Pogacar.
Vingegaard took second behind Pogacar at the summit before the strongest of the chasers managed to scramble their back up over the top. When Adam Yates made a speculative dig on the false flat over the other side, his brother didn’t hesitate to follow, and they quickly built up a 10-second lead.
Jumbo-Visma’s Wilco Kelderman and Sepp Kuss led the chasing group in support of Wout van Aert and Vingegaard, with Thibaut Pinot, David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ), Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) and Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) also on board, but they couldn’t make significant inroads into the Yates brothers’ advantage.
Adam proved the stronger of the pair when the road climbed again in the final kilometre, and he eased away within sight of the line to take the first Grand Tour stage win of his career and move into the yellow jersey.
“I don’t even know what to say, we tried to set the climb up for Tadej. He attacked but then there was headwind on the descent,” Adam Yates said afterwards. “I came back from behind and then my brother came across to me and then we started working together. At first, I didn’t know if I should work with him. I asked on the radio and they said, ‘Yeah, go for it.’ I’m speechless.”
Prior to the race, UAE Team Emirate manager Mauro Gianetti indicated that Yates would set out as co-leader due to the uncertainty over Pogacar’s fitness after he broke his wrist at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The Slovenian looked at ease on his first test here, but Yates certainly presents UAE with a fascinating tactical option. With winner’s time bonus factored in, he is 22 seconds clear of Vingegaard in the general classification, while Pogacar lies third overall at 18 seconds after he nabbed the seconds on offer for third place.
“I want to keep my feet on the ground,” Adam Yates said. “We’re here for Tadej, the boss. He’s shown he’s the best in the world and over the next few weeks, I’m sure he’s going to show that.”
The grand opening of this Tour, however, belonged to the Yates twins. Simon, who skipped the Giro d’Italia for the first time since 2017 to prepare for this race, showcased his form by making up significant ground over the top of the Pike.
“I was caught a little behind when UAE made the initial push and I couldn’t get around because the crowds were so big, but that’s how it goes,” said Simon Yates, who then found himself off the front with his brother.
“When he saw it was me coming across, I think he was put in a difficult situation, and he asked on the radio, ‘Can I roll through?’ Normally on a finish like that I wouldn’t be beating Pogacar or Vingegaard or those guys in a sprint. To get away with Adam, there was maybe a chance. Unfortunately, he got the better of me but there are more chances coming up.”
The Grand Départ brought the Tour to one of the great heartlands of cycling and, as ever in this corner of the world, the Basque faithful turned out in their thousands to welcome the great bike race. After the peloton was waved away from the San Mamés stadium, the cathedral of Basque football, the race proceeded to thread its way through some of the holy places of Basque cycling, taking in the climbs of Laukiz and San Juan de Gaztelugatxe in the opening kilometres.
A five-man break featuring Lilian Calmejane (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty), Simon Guglielmi (Arkéa-Samsic), Pascal Eenkhoorn (Lotto-Dstny), Jonas Gregaard (Uno-X) and Valentin Ferron (TotalEnergies) escaped early on, building a maximum lead of 2:30, but the brisk pace of the peloton meant they were never likely to pull off a surprise.
With Jumbo-Visma and Alpecin-Deceuninck especially prominent at the head of the bunch, the escapees were swept up with 50km remaining, just ahead of the Col de Morga.
The pace on that climb saw the first selection, with most of the sprinters promptly dropped. On the following Alto del Vivero, so familiar from Itzulia Basque County, Mikkel Bjerg took up the reins for his leader Pogacar, setting a hyperactive pace that split the peloton still further.
When Bjerg swung off midway up the climb, Jumbo-Visma grouped en masse at the front on behalf of Vingegaard, as the shadow boxing between the two overwhelming Tour favourites continued before Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) won the sprint for the mountains points at the top to secure a stint in the polka dot jersey.
On the other side, however, EF Education-EasyPost’s Tour took a disastrous turn, when Carapaz crashed heavily on the descent in the company of Enric Mas (Movistar). Although Carapaz gingerly remounted, he lost more than a quarter of an hour, while Mas became the first rider to abandon the race.
The Tour is a cruel business, but a relentless one too. Up ahead, the race for the yellow jersey was already beginning to ignite, as Pogacar and Vingegaard traded their first blows of the three weeks.
There will, of course, be many more to come, but there was already considerable collateral damage for some of their rivals. At this rate, Sunday’s tough stage 2 to San Sebastian should reveal much more.