Australian hope Richie Porte has endured a tough start to his Tour de France campaign, finishing 49th in a dramatic opening time trial won by Welshman Geraint Thomas of Team Sky.
A wet first stage in Dusseldorf caused carnage with Alejandro Valverde, a podium finisher in 2015, crashing out on the rain-slickened roads, dealing a blow to his teammate Nairo Quintana’s hopes of overall victory.
Quintana had been counting on Valverde, a Tour veteran, to help him overthrow defending champion Chris Froome, a teammate of Thomas.
The Tour announced on its website that Valverde was out of the race and had been taken away in an ambulance.
The rain also got the best of Porte’s countryman Luke Durbidge, a strong time trial contender who finished second-last after crashing.
Michael Matthews was the best-placed Australian, finishing 16th.
BMC rider Porte would have been hoping for a top-10 finish after strong performances so far this season. He finished 10th and second on similar stages before winning the time trial at last month’s Criterium du Dauphine.
Thomas clocked 16 minutes and four seconds, five seconds quicker than BMC’s Swiss rider Stefan Kueng and two ahead of Sky teammate Vasil Kiryienka of Belarus.
Froome took time from all of his yellow jersey rivals with a strong sixth place and sits 35 seconds ahead of Dauphine runner-up Porte.
While Porte will be concerned to concede ground before the Tour proper begins, he was happy not to suffer the same fate as Valverde.
“It wasn’t a day to take risks,” Porte said.
“It was just a matter of keeping it rubber side down. I saw my teammate [Nicolas Roche] bin it and I was petrified to be honest. It was such a slippery course.”
The opening stage was a statement of intent from Team Sky. In addition to Thomas, Froome and Kiryienka, Poland’s Michal Kwiatkowski also finished in the top 10.
Thomas was forced to withdraw from the Giro d’Italia in May after he suffered a shoulder injury during the ninth stage, but he put that behind him with the victory in Germany.
“It’s unreal. The start of my eighth Tour, my 12th Grand Tour and my first stage win,” Thomas said.
“It’s been a long time coming and it’s just an amazing feeling. I didn’t even dream about it last night.
“It’s been a rough time on the bike this year and it’s nice to finally … it certainly makes up for most of the Giro, and back home as well. With my mum and my wife I’ve had a bit of a rough time recently so it’s nice to get this win.”