|Omega Pharma-Lotto rider Philippe Gilbert of Belgium cycles during the final sprint in the first stage of the Tour de France 2011 cycling race from Passage du Gois La Barre-de-Monts to Mont des Alouettes Les Herbiers, July 2, 2011. Gilbert won the stage. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
Belgium's Philippe Gilbert captured the first stage of the 2011 Tour de France on Saturday.
Gilbert covered the 191.5-kilometer trek from Passage du Gois to Mont des Alouettes in a time of four hours, 41 minutes and 31 seconds, beating Cadel Evans of Australia to the finish line by three seconds. Thor Hushovd of Norway was another three seconds behind in third.
Two-time defending champion Alberto Contador of Spain was caught behind a late crash and finished 82nd on Saturday. He was a minute and 20 seconds off the winning pace.
Contador, who also won cycling's most prestigious event in 2007, starts this year's Tour mired in a bit of controversy. Last September, it was announced that he tested positive for a small amount of the banned substance Clenbuterol during the second rest day of the 2010 Tour. He blamed foot contamination and was still initially suspended, but was eventually cleared by the Spanish Cycling Federation.
There has been an appeal by both the International Cycling Union and World Anti-Doping Agency, but the Court of Arbitration for Sport won't make a final ruling on the case until at least August.
So, Contador will continue to ride in this year's Tour and will be the strong favorite, as long as he can avoid the big crash. He wasn't directly involved in any of Saturday's mishaps, but could not catch the leaders after a rider hit a spectator along the roadside and caused the main pack to finish well behind.
Luxembourg's Andy Schleck, who finished 39 seconds behind Contador as last year's runner-up, was also slowed by a late crash and wound up 33rd on Saturday. Since the accident occurred less than three kilometers from the finish line, he and those involved were given the same time as the main pack -- winding up six seconds off the pace.
Schleck's brother, Frank, was also part of the group of 75 riders that finished three seconds behind. Included in that large pack were Swiss star Fabian Cancellara, American Levi Leipheimer, Britain's Bradley Wiggins and Italy's Ivan Basso.
A total of 198 riders began this year's Tour, which will continue Sunday with a 23-kilometer team time trial. The Tour features a total of 21 stages and will conclude July 24 with the traditional ride along the Champs Elysees in Paris.