But Cavendish’s strategy of an early acceleration failed to pay off and the stage win went instead to sprint rival Andre Greipel of Germany. “The goal was to win a stage and we’ve already reached that”, Greipel told ITV4 following the presentation of the jerseys.
The race is being touted as a thrilling four-way scrap, one that should very much include Giro d’Italia champion Alberto Contador and Colombian climbing ace Nairo Quintana, the 2013 Tour runner-up.
Cavendish, who would have preferred to hit the front with 200m to go, said: “I think Mark went too early and kind of left me hanging”.
“But we managed to maintain the team and worked with Astana to avoid losing more time”.
The front group were to have their day and a sprint ensued with Andre Greipel getting past Peter Sagan, Fabian Cancellera and Mark Cavendish, followed by Daniel Oss, Greg Van Avermaet, Chris Froome, Tom Dumoulin, Tony Martin and Warren Barguill to win in 3.23.03. “We’ve just been focusing on today”.
Australia’s Rohan Dennis, who won the opening time trial stage, also finished in that second group to concede yellow to Cancellara.
“It was a day where one could build time advantages”. But I’m pretty happy with that.
Dennis was back in the Quintana and Nibali group and his hopes of holding onto yellow was long gone.
Tejay van Garderen is now the best-placed of the recognised GC riders, sitting in eighth place overall, 48 seconds behind new leader Fabian Cancellara (Trek).
The Etixx-Quick Step sprinter has been in fine form this year, winning a stage at the Tour de San Luis, two more and the overall title at the Dubai Tour, three at the Tour of Turkey and four in the Tour of California, while he also claimed victory in the semi-classic Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne one-day race in February.
Froome was excellently shepherded by two other Britons, Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas, for much of the day.
The weather forecast of rain and wind didn’t discourage Perrig Quémeneur (France/Europcar), Jan Barta (Czech Republic/Bora-Argon 18), Stef Clement (The Netherlands/IAM) and Armindo Fonseca (France/Bretagne-Séché) from bolting immediately to become the first breakaway of the 2015 Tour. “It was chaos out there for a few minutes, with the storm and with the winds”.
“I’ve been out there and looked at the cobbles, and I’m quite looking forward to that stage”, said an optimistic and upbeat-sounding Froome.
He said: “One minute Nibali was right next to me, and the next I could hardly believe it when I heard he had been distanced from the leading group”.
The tour will finish on July 26 in Paris. “That’s the nature of the racing up here in Holland for you”.
Sunday’s pan flat 166km second stage from Utrecht to Zeland was expected to end in a bunch sprint before Monday’s third stage will see some potentially significant time gaps on the Mur de Huy as the 157km run ends with a brutally steep, if short, climb.