By Martyn Herman
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Dutchman Mike Teunissen edged a thrilling bunch sprint to claim a surprise win in the opening stage of the Tour de France on Saturday after a big crash caused mayhem near the end.
The Team Jumbo Visna rider was not expected to be fighting for the win but he held off Slovenian Peter Sagan and Australian Caleb Ewan to take the stage by the narrowest of margins.
Defending champion Geraint Thomas was involved in a mass pile-up near the finish that also held up his Team Ineos joint-leader Egan Bernal but both finished safely.
That crash also took down Teunissen’s team mate Dylan Groenewegen, one of the pre-stage favourites, but his lead-out man Teunissen 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 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 was a really strange day.”
Thomas escaped injury but the same could not be said of Astana’s Jakob Fuglsang, one of the fancied riders for overall victory, after a heavy fall 17km from the finish left him groggy and with 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 in the peloton.
Belgian great Eddy Merckx, the five-times Tour champion, had got the race under way in the Grand Depart, the first in his native Brussels since 1958, in front of massive crowds in the city centre.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond)