Mark Cavendish struggles in heat on brutal first stage of Tour de France

Romain Bardet won a thrilling stage one of the Tour de France in Rimini to take the yellow jersey as Sir Mark Cavendish’s pursuit of a record-breaking 35th stage victory got off to a gruelling start with intense heat leaving him vomiting on the bike.

Bardet, riding his final Tour, attacked out of the peloton with 50 kilometres left of the 206km stage from Florence and, aided by his team-mate and Tour debutant Frank van den Broek out of the breakaway, did just enough to hold off the approaching pack by a matter of metres on the Adriatic seafront.

But as Bardet, 33, was celebrating his first stage win since 2017, Cavendish and several of his Astana-Qazaqstan team-mates were negotiating the final climb up to San Marino, still with the long descent to the coast to go, almost 40 minutes down.

Cavendish had been dropped on the opening climb and could be seen throwing up as he struggled through every pedal stroke, with his team-mates pouring bottles of water over him.

As the race had rolled out of Florence, close to where Cavendish owns a home, the Manxman had enthusiastically waved to the crowds, but it soon turned into a day of crisis as he faced a fight to finish the stage within the time cut.

He eventually crossed the line more than 39 minutes down, around 10 minutes inside the cut, having offered a thumbs up to the TV cameras.

Cavendish, 39, postponed his planned retirement after crashing out of last year’s Tour, returning to take one more shot at claiming the Tour stage win record outright, having matched Eddy Merckx in 2021.

Cycling Tour de France
A struggling Mark Cavendish was guided through the stage by his team-mates (Jerome Delay/AP)

He will have had Monday’s stage three into Turin circled as the first of the “five or six” sprint opportunities he sees in this year’s Tour, but, even if it was only a temporary bug or the effects of the heat, this day may take some time to recover from.

“We know what we’re doing. It’s not easy,” Cavendish told reporters at the end of the stage.

“If you got my body type now don’t start cycling. Those days are gone but we know what we’re doing.

“That was so hard, but we had a plan and we stuck to it.

“OK, we would have liked one more climb with the peloton but it was so hot. We’re happy to make it, we’re OK.

“You work out what the front guys are going to do. You can work out what you can do and get the time you need. Bit boring, but that’s the way cycling’s gone.”

The first ever Italian Grand Depart of the race threw up an opening stage with an unprecedented amount of climbing – more than 3,600 metres – and searing heat to boot on a day that put many riders to the sword.

Seven riders went up the road early on but were never given too much rope by a peloton full of competitors with an eye on the yellow jersey.

With the gap to the front down to around two minutes, Bardet launched a move out of the peloton still with three of the categorised climbs to be crested and soon got on to the wheel of dsm-firmenich PostNL team-mate Van den Broek, who helped him move clear.

Irishman Ben Healy tried a move of his own to bridge across but fell back on the rise up to San Marino, with Mads Pedersen’s Lidl-Trek team and Wout Van Aert’s Visma-Lease A Bike taking over to lead the chase.

The gap was down to just 10 seconds as the front pair went under the flamme rouge and it proved just enough to deliver a French winner on day one of the Tour.

The team bus may have broken down, but it was a day to celebrate for dsm-firmenech PostNL.

“I really have a hard time believing it,” Bardet said. “It was not premeditated at all. I raced without any stress…I owe a lot to Frank. This jersey is shared.

“I want to finish at the top, but this win is another sign that it’s the right time to stop. It crowns my journey on the Tour for so many years.”

All the main contenders – Tadej Pogacar, Jonas Vingegaard, Remco Evenepoel and Primoz Roglic – were in the main group along with the likes of Geraint Thomas and Tom Pidcock, coming in five seconds behind.