The Tour de France has a habit of throwing up surprises on the opening day and that tradition continued on Friday as the most northerly Grand Depart in the race's history took place on the sodden streets of Copenhagen.
At the end of a week dominated by headlines surrounding the controversial non-selection of Mark Cavendish, the Belgian Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl team made the news for all the right reasons with an emphatic victory for Yves Lampaert in the Tour’s opening stage, a 13.2km individual time trial around the Danish capital.
Thirty-one-year-old Lampaert, who recently came second to team-mate Remco Evenepoel in the Belgian national championships ITT, covered a highly technical course in an average speed of 51.8kmh to dislodge compatriot Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) from the hotseat by a whopping five seconds.
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Lampaert’s special time of 15’17” remained untouchable as the incredulous Belgian topped an illustrious top five featuring Van Aert, the two-time Tour champion Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates), time trial world champion Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) and superstar Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck).
“My mind is exploding – I can’t believe it,” a tearful Lampaert said in an emotional post-race interview. “I came with an expectation that a top 10 would be great. Now I beat all the best riders in the world and it's... I'm just a farmer's son from Belgium. To do this - I never expected it. I know I’m in good condition but to win the first stage of the Tour de France, the prologue, is something I never dreamed of. To beat Van Aert, Van der Poel, Ganna… It’s unbelievable for me.”

‘My mind is exploding!’ – Tearful Lampaert on shock time trial win on Stage 1

Two weeks after being kicked off the Baloise Belgium Tour for barging, Lampaert’s colourful run continued – and this time he didn’t see red, but yellow as he secured the first maillot jaune of the 109th edition of the race.
Van Aert had earlier emerged fastest from a stellar trio that set off one after the other, the Belgian instantly moving ahead of powerhouse Ganna after the Italian debutant – who suffered a late puncture, but soldiered on to the finish – had edged ahead of the early benchmark time set by Van der Poel of the Nertherlands.
Ganna had yet to make it to the leader’s enclosure by the time Van Aert came home five seconds faster to set a time nobody expected to be bettered. Pogacar – who else? – came close, the Slovenian coming within two seconds of Van Aert to lay down a marker to his general classification rivals ahead of his bid to win an historic third consecutive Tour.
The most prominent of those two rivals – Van Aert’s team-mates Primoz Roglic and Jonas Vingegaard – both put in solid time trials in the testing conditions to finish inside the top 10. Denmark’s Vingegaard delighted the home crowds as he took seventh place, 15 seconds down on Lampaert, and level with another Dane, the 2019 world champion Mads Pedersen of Trek-Segafredo.
Roglic, meanwhile, took eighth place, one second slower than his co-leader Vingegaard and nine seconds behind his compatriot Pogacar, who famously wrested the yellow jersey from his back on the penultimate day of the 2020 Tour.
Adam Yates set the best time for the British contingent, the 29-year-old shrugging off a recent bout of Covid to come home 23 seconds down – one second faster than team-mate Tom Pidcock and two seconds faster than another Ineos Grenadier rider, the Welshman Geraint Thomas.
Thomas may well have put in a faster ride were it not for the fact that he forgot to remove his sleeveless gilet before rolling down the ramp – something he was left to rue during his otherwise solid ride.

Thomas makes gilet confession after time trial at Tour de France

But the day belonged to Lampaert, who pulled a rabbit out of the bag to trounce compatriot Van Aert and all the favourites to secure the race’s first yellow jersey ahead of two largely flat but potentially windy road stages in Denmark – just the kind of conditions favoured by his Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl team.
The Wolfpack will now rally around Dutch debutant Fabio Jakobsen, whose selection meant there was no place for last year’s green jersey Cavendish, whose bid to become the outright leading Tour stage winner will be put on hold for at least another year, perhaps indefinitely.

Hellish conditions take their toll

A highly technical course around the Danish capital included 24 tight corners, a short section of cobbles and numerous narrow bridges, and was further compounded by heavy rain and lying water.
One of the big victims of the day was a rider tipped as a potential winner – the Swiss specialist Stefan Bisseger of EF Education-Easy Post. Leaving the start gate early, Bisseger had the confidence to roll down the ramp with an extraordinary 64-tooth chain ring – although this did him no favours when he twice hit the deck on slippery corners.
So grim were the conditions that Welshman Thomas, the 2018 champion, forgot to take off his gilet, while many other riders opted to wear snoods covering their necks and ears.
“The first half of the course was perhaps the worst cornering I’ve done in a TT,” Thomas said after finishing in 18th place. “It felt so bitty and stop-start. Mentally, it was the toughest TT I’ve done in a while and it was hard to stay focused.
“When I heard the split, I thought ‘Sod it, forget about what everyone’s saying about taking risks and just go for it’, and it went better. But that blinking gilet. I totally forgot I had it on. Nobody spotted it at the start and that was cracking me a little. I did think about taking it off but I thought that would be a bit dodgy. But the main thing was that the legs felt good.”

'Enormous waste!' – Thomas forgets to remove gilet, squanders '£5000 skinsuit'

After Jumbo-Visma duo Roglic and Vingegaard got their Tour off to a solid start in the rain, their team-mate Van Aert took over the provisional lead after Ganna’s slow puncture saw the Italian world champion fade towards the finish.
But it was another Jumbo-Visma rider, the Frenchman Christophe Laporte, who threatened to tear up the script by soaring to the fastest time at the intermediate check. No sooner had Laporte gone through the checkpoint two seconds faster than he lost his back wheel on the same corner where Bisseger suffered his own second fall.
Van Aert’s time at the top came to and end, however, after Lampaert benefitted from slightly dryer conditions while taking risks consummate with his supreme bike-handling skills around the succession of corners.
If the yellow jersey can now turn provider for team-mate Jakobsen for the 202km Stage 2 from Roskilde to Nyborg – which concludes after the 18km long Great Belt Bridge linking two islands – then the noise surrounding Cavendish’s absence will disappear.
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