Romain Bardet wins first stage of Tour de France as Mark Cavendish struggles

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 was put into question by an apparent illness.

Bardet 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 still negotiating the final climb up to San Marino, still with the long descent to the coast to go, more than half an hour behind the main pack.

Cavendish had been dropped on the opening climb, and appeared to be vomiting as he struggled in intense heat, 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, and to do so within the time cut.

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.

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.

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 riders 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.

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.