BRADLEY Wiggins successfully negotiated the first stage of the Tour de France in a frantic and pulsating finish in Seraing.
Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford declared mission accomplished as Wiggins finished 16th on today’s 198-kilometres undulating loop through the Ardennes region of Belgium around Liege with the same time as rising star Peter Sagan of Slovakia, who claimed victory on his Tour debut.
Wiggins remained second overall behind race leader Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan), who was second today, with Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky) third.
Defending champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) was 20th to remain 17 seconds behind Cancellara and 10 adrift of Wiggins.
“It was a good effort,” Brailsford said. “All in all it was important that Brad didn’t lose any time.”
Wiggins was wearing the green jersey on behalf of Cancellara, who was in the yellow jersey, and all nine Team Sky riders were wearing yellow helmets as leaders of the team classification following the opening prologue. With his team issue black shorts it made him look like a liquorice allsort.
Sagan will wear the maillot vert tomorrow as he is second behind Cancellara in the points competition.
Wiggins and his Team Sky colleagues were prominent at the front of the peloton throughout the day, but dropped back on a wide expanse of road by the river Meuse as the route returned towards Liege before moving through the bunch on the final 2.4km ascent to the finish.
“He was quite confident,” Brailsford added.
“We’d had a look that on the climb he could cruise up. It was easier to move up on a climb than it was on the flat.
“He just waited for that and moved up very easily on the climb.”
Wiggins has lost time on short, sharp ascents in the past, but was buoyed by wins in the Paris-Nice, Tour de Romandie and Criterium du Dauphine stage races this season.
Brailsford added: “As everybody was going full gas up there he was riding up the outside making up 10, 15, 20 places.
“He was comfortable. I don’t think that’s still the case any more.”
After the day’s early six-man break was swallowed up Cancellara attacked a third of the way up the final climb and it seemed only Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) could go with him.
Boasson Hagen bridged the gap and the trio were clear with 500m to go, but Sagan powered away to claim a first Tour stage win of his career.
“Eddy was going to go for the stage,” Brailsford said.
“I think he bridged across really, really well but by the time he got there I think he just about ran out of legs.”
The day was relatively uneventful until the approach to the final climb.
Yohann Gene (Europcar) led the six-man escape, which began from the moment the peloton left the neutralised zone, at the intermediate sprint to collect 20 points.
Two minutes 35 seconds behind them, the peloton crossed, with world champion Mark Cavendish contesting the sprint.
Cavendish (Team Sky) won the green jersey in 2011, but was beaten by former HTC-Highroad team-mate Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) and claimed eight points.
The Manxman had support from Boasson Hagen and it was an indication that he is not yet willing to give up the maillot vert without a fight.
But Brailsford admitted intermediate sprints are not key on the agenda for Team Sky and Cavendish, who is prioritising the Olympic Games road race on July 28, six days after the Tour reaches Paris.
Brailsford added: “If you’re there yes, you’ve got to compete for it, but I don’t think any of the top guys will be thinking that’s an absolute priority once you’ve got six or seven guys up the road.”
It was an eventful day for Team Sky, with Michael Rogers involved in the first of two crashes in the peloton, with a second caused by an amateur photographer. Neither caused any significant problem.
Chris Froome, a leading domestique for Wiggins who finished second in the Vuelta a Espana ahead of his team-mate, punctured with around 15km to go and rolled in one minute 25 seconds behind.
Cavendish was 2mins 7secs adrift but tomorrow is another day and the 207.5km second stage from Vise to Tournai should be one for the sprinters, with the Manxman seeking to add to his 20 stage wins in four Tours.
Brailsford said: “Once he knew he wasn’t going to be competitive he sat up.
“It’s a different stage finish tomorrow so we’ll see some different competitors at the front of the race.”