BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Dutchman Mike Teunissen was meant to be helping a team mate take the yellow jersey but ended up slipping it on himself after winning a thrilling bunch sprint at the end of stage one of the Tour de France on Saturday.
With a crash involving 2018 Tour champion Geraint Thomas causing mayhem 1.7km from the end of the 194km opening stage, Team Jumbo Visna rider Teunissen seized his chance for glory.
A lung-busting bunch sprint just across from the iconic Atomium ended with Teunissen holding off sprint specialists Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) to become the first Dutchman to wear the yellow jersey for 30 years.
Thomas went down along with numerous other riders while his Team Ineos co-leader Egan Bernal was held up in the aftermath.
Because the race was inside the last 3km, however, they lost no time and Thomas, whose preparations were hampered by a crash at the Tour de Suisse, was okay.
“I’m fine. I gave myself enough space and avoided the actual crash,” the Briton said. “The main thing is that it didn’t do any damage — the bike took the hit and I just toppled over!”
The same could not be said of Astana’s Jakob Fuglsang, one of the big threats to Thomas, after he crashed 17km from the finish, his glasses cutting his eyebrow and leaving blood trickling down his face.
Initially it looked as though the 34-year-old Dane might lose touch but his team mates helped him recover and he worked his way back to finish safely in the peloton although he went straight to the medical area afterwards.
A relatively uneventful 194km opener around the Wallonia and Flanders countryside exploded into life after the bunch reeled in an audacious late breakaway from French debutant Stephane Rossetto as the race re-entered Brussels.
Team were jostling to get their sprinters in prime position to strike when the pile-up occurred, taking down Dylan Groenewegen, one of the pre-stage favourites.
It left his lead-out man Teunissen without a job but he took matters into his own hands to claim the first yellow jersey of the 106th Tour de France.
“I can’t believe it, we’ve been working for months to bring Dylan to the victory and the jersey then it all disappears because he goes down in the crash,” Teunissen, 26, said.
“After that I though, I’m still fresh and everyone was dying in the last metres, even Sagan, then I took him on the line.
“It’s crazy, I could never imagine myself in the yellow jersey, but no one will ever take it away from me. Hopefully when Dylan heard it was me who won he could still smile.”
Thousands of fans had descended on Brussels city centre decked in yellow earlier in the day for the first Grand Depart held in the Belgian capital since 1958.
This year is the 50th anniversary of Brussels native Eddy Merckx’s five Tour de France titles and the 74-year-old marked the occasion by sending the 176 riders on their way from the majestic Grand Place where fans chanted “Eddy Eddy”.
Fittingly, it was a Belgian rider who was first to make his mark on the race as Olympic champion Greg van Avermaet (CCC) won the day’s only short, but steep, climb, the Mur de Grammont.
While world champion Sagan was unable to take the yellow jersey, this year celebrating its 100th year, he contented himself with the 20 points he collected from the day’s intermediate sprint.
Slovenian Sagan is seeking a record seventh points classification title and is already in the green jersey.
Jumbo Visna will seek to hold the yellow jersey in Sunday’s 27.6km team time trial.
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond