PLUMELEC, France – Alejandro Valverde has won the first stage of the Tour de France.
The 28-year-old Spaniard will wear the race leader's yellow jersey after breaking away from the pack at the end of a 197.5-kilometer (122.7-mile) ride from Brest to Plumelec on Saturday.
Valverde, who won the Dauphine Libere stage race last month, crossed the line ahead of Philippe Gilbert in second and Jerome Pineau in third.
"I've achieved two of my objectives: to win a stage and to wear the yellow jersey," Caisse d'Epargne rider Valverde said. "That's done today...it gives me peace of mind for the rest of the race."
Valverde is among the favorites for the title, along with Australia's Cadel Evans and Russia's Denis Menchov.
Valverde finished the course in 4 hours, 36 minutes, 7 seconds. Evans finished sixth, 1 second back, while Menchov was 26th, 7 seconds behind the Spanish leader. Most of the other pre-race favorites were all within seven seconds of Valverde.
The Tour's 95th edition, which ends July 27 in Paris, got off to a nervous start. Valverde's strategy was to avoid the crashes that often occur in the flat, early stages and the victory gives him a boost before the race's first big challenge — the Stage 4 individual time trial where Valverde could struggle.
Of the four crashes that marred the race debut, one took down Juan Mauricio Soler, the Colombian who was the Tour's best climber last year. He got back up, his hip and elbow blooded and jersey torn, and struggled across the finish line 3 minutes, 4 seconds behind Valverde. Soler was set to undergo X-rays on his left wrist later Saturday, the race medical team said.
France's Herve Duclos-Lassalle became the first rider to abandon the race. The Cofidis cyclist's debut Tour ended when he tumbled to the ground and broke his wrist after a fellow rider's refreshment bag got stuck in his front-wheel spokes.
Riders will cover more than 3,500 kilometers (2,175 miles) during the three-week race.
This year's race is taking place without defending champion Alberto Contador of Spain whose Astana team was banned by organizers after doping infractions by other riders.