By Julien Pretot
UTAH BEACH, France (Reuters) – An emotional Mark Cavendish completed cycling’s prestigious set of distinctive jerseys when he won the crash-marred first stage of the Tour de France on Saturday to take the overall leader’s yellow jersey.
The Dimension Data rider outsprinted German Marcel Kittel and world champion Peter Sagan of Slovakia at the end of a 188km ride from Mont St Michel to near one of the D-Day beaches.
“I can’t believe it. Regardless of who was there, the Tour de France is the Tour de France,” Cavendish told reporters while one of the overall favorites, Alberto Contador, was licking his wounds following a crash.
“To win a stage is incredible. I’m very emotional for it. It’s going to be a special day tomorrow to ride a stage in yellow. There was no better place to achieve this than Utah Beach where soldiers died for us.”
After the podium ceremony, organizers and riders, including Cavendish, American Brent Bookwalter, German champion Andre Greipel, French champion Arthur Vichot, Belgian Greg van Avermaet and Canadian Antoine Duchesne paid tribute to the soldiers who died during the World War Two D-Day operations.
They laid white flowers by a war memorial in a brief ceremony.
Cavendish, who now has 27 Tour stage wins to his name, held off his rivals after several opponents had been taken out of contention following a crash in the final straight.
Cavendish wore the world champion’s rainbow jersey after winning the road race in 2011, the pink jersey for the Giro d’Italia leader (in 2009, 2011 and 2013) as well as the red jersey for the Vuelta leader (2010).
The Manxman also secured the green jersey for the points classification on the Tour de France (2011).
He is third on the all-time list of Tour stage winners behind Belgian Eddy Merckx (34) and one shy of Frenchman Bernard Hinault’s 28.
“I still have that desire, I still have that respect for the Tour de France,” he said,
Double Tour champion Contador crashed with about 80 kilometers left, suffering bruises to his shoulder, elbow and groin.
“He’s got bruises on his shoulder, his elbow and groin,” a race doctor said after the Spaniard had his right shoulder taped.
“At first sight it does not look like he has suffered any fracture. We gave him a painkiller.”
Contador finished the stage without further problem but he is likely to suffer in Sunday’s stage two, a 183km ride from St Lo to Cherbourg en Cotentin that features a tricky climb near the finish.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)