By Martyn Herman
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Defending champion Geraint Thomas suffered a scare near the end of the opening stage of the Tour de France on Saturday when he hit the deck after being entangled in a pile-up.
The Team Ineos rider was inside the last three kilometres of the 194km stage which started and finished in Brussels when several riders in the peloton went down and Thomas ended up in the barriers.
The Briton lost no time on his General Classification rivals, however, getting back on his bike to finish the stage won by Dutchman Mike Teunissen of Team Jumbo Visna.
“I’m fine. It was pretty slow by the time I hit them,” Thomas said. “I gave myself enough space and avoided the actual crash but with the barriers there was nowhere to go.
“It’s just one of those things. The main thing is that it didn’t do any damage — the bike took the hit and I just toppled over.”
It was a heart in the mouth moment for Thomas, who suffered more than his fair share of misfortune on the Tour before winning the race last year.
The Welshman won the opening stage of the Tour in 2017 but suffered a broken collarbone on stage nine and had to abandon.
In 2013 he broke his pelvis on the opening stage but soldiered on and finished the race, helping Chris Froome win, while two years later he went headfirst into a telegraph poll in a spectacular crash but escaped serious injury.
Saturday’s spill highlighted the perils of defending the title but he remained upbeat.
“It was good to get back in the groove with the boys,” the 33-year-old said. “We were riding really well together, always at the front. Communication was good and we started on the front foot. We’ll try to continue that now.
“This first week is all about just getting through.”
Sunday’s stage offers Team Ineos, formerly Team Sky, the chance to lay down a marker in a 27.6km team time trial.
“It’s a big day tomorrow,” Thomas said. “Hopefully, we can all rest up well tonight and give it a good go tomorrow.
“We’ll go 100% to try and win the stage but there’s a lot of other good teams.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond)