MONT DES ALOUETTES, France — Philippe Gilbert won Saturday's first stage of the Tour de France as defending champion Alberto Contador lost more than a minute in a late crash.
Gilbert, the Belgian who won three races in April, sped ahead from the pack in the final several hundred yards and kissed his Omega Pharma-Lotto team jersey as he crossed the line.
"It was the last 500 meters, I had a lead … (and) I went for it," Gilbert said. "It was an extreme effort, and I was able to take advantage."
Gilbert, who has notched 13 victories between race and stage wins this year, had been a favorite to win the opening stage.
He clocked 4 hours, 41 minutes, 31 seconds for the sunny 119-mile ride from La Barre-de-Monts to Mont des Alouettes in the western Vendee region.
Two-time Tour runnerup Cadel Evans of Australia was second, three seconds back. Thor Hushovd of Norway was third, six seconds off the pace.
Three-time champion Contador, a Spaniard, beat runnerup Andy Schleck of Luxembourg by just 39 seconds last year.
However, they both ran into trouble toward the end of Saturday's stage.
With about 5.5 miles left, Astana rider Maxim Iglinskiy knocked shoulders with a fan on the roadside, causing a mass crash that delayed Contador and split the pack. About 40 riders stayed in front. The Spaniard finished 1:20 after Gilbert and was 82nd overall.
Schleck also was slowed by yet another crash near the end and finished 39th. But according to race rules about crashes within last three kilometers, he was credited with the same time as the pack he was in — six seconds behind Gilbert — and placed 33rd overall.
American Levi Leipheimer was 38th, in a pack six seconds behind the stage winner.