July 1, 2012 - Tour de France favorite Bradley Wiggins stayed in the hunt for the race's yellow jersey Sunday after a "sketchy" finale to stage one that took down Sky teammate Michael Rogers. In a thrilling finale won by Slovakian Peter Sagan just ahead of race leader Fabian Cancellara, Wiggins stayed out of trouble to finish 16th and stay second overall at 07sec behind Swiss powerhouse Cancellara.
Wiggins' main rival Cadel Evans finished 20th in the same time, meaning the Londoner retains his 10sec lead on the Australian, who won the race in 2011. Because Team Sky had dominated the teams' classification in the opening prologue on Saturday, the team started the 198km stage from Liege to Seraing wearing yellow helmet covers, in accordance with new race rules.
Wiggins was also dressed, uncharacteristically, in the green jersey usually worn by the sprinters during the points competition. Heading into Monday's second stage from Vise to Tournai, the helmet covers will remain although Liquigas rider Sagan will wear the green jersey because he is second in the points competition after Cancellara, who is in yellow.
For Sky principal Dave Brailsford, who seen Wiggins crash out of the race on stage seven last year, the eventuality of crashes - and not the colour of jerseys or helmet covers - was more worrying.
"The way it ended up Brad didn't lose any time, which was the main consideration for the day," he said. "All in all it was important that Brad didn't lose any time."
Sky could have come off worse, with Chris Froome puncturing and Australian Rogers crashing but emerging unscathed.
"It was pretty sketchy at times. Froomey punctured with about 15k to go, which took him out. Mick crashed, which was disappointing, but he'll be all right. It got really nervous once that first crash happened and from then on in it was pretty sketchy. We've come through it, the first day's done. Still here to fight another day."
Belgium's Philippe Gilbert was left disappointed after missing the chance to repeat his opening stage win from last year's Tour de France. Ranked as one of the favorites for victory at the end of a punchy, 2.4 km uphill finish on stage one.
Gilbert, who is from nearby Remouchamps, pulled on the yellow jersey after winning the opening stage on similar terrain in the Vendee in 2011. This time, a combination of crashes that made his lose position, tough wind conditions and stronger rivals conspired against him.
"It was very nervous in the peloton today because of the wind conditions," said Gilbert. "There were quite a few crashes, someone hit my back wheel just before the finale and I just avoided crashing myself. I lost a lot of places and had to fight to get back into position."
Once on the climb, Gilbert was well positioned to counter attack from his rivals and go for a win that his many local fans had been calling for on the road all day. But by the time yellow jersey wearer Fabian Cancellara of RadioShack made a decisive attack with 1500 metres remaining, Gilbert had virtually run out of juice.
"It's a shame all I did was win the sprint, but that's racing," said Gilbert, who dominated the ensuing peloton to take fourth. "They launched a good attack and I just couldn't follow, simple as that. I had a lot of supporters out on the road during the race, which was great to see, and in the peloton a lot of guys were going past me and joking, 'who's this guy Philippe?" he added. "You can't be happy with a fourth place, but it's better than nothing."