Powless takes polka dots as Carapaz crashes out in rocky Tour start for EF

EF sees one objective go up in smoke as another comes into focus on the first stage of the Tour.

Neilson Powless on stage 1 of the Tour de France. Photo: Vincent Kalut/Nico Vereecken/PN/Cor Vos © 2023

Dane Cash
by Dane Cash 01.07.2023 Photography by
Cor Vos
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Updated: This story has been updated following confirmation from EF Education-EasyPost on Saturday evening that Richard Carapaz is out of the Tour de France with a fractured kneecap.

EF Education-EasyPost will have to recalibrate its Tour de France approach after just one day following a rollercoaster stage that saw Neilson Powless pick up the early lead in the King of the Mountains competition, but designated GC leader Richard Carapaz crash out of contention for yellow.

Just inside the final 30 km of the opening stage, Powless jumped clear of the favorites near the top of the second-category Côte de Vivero on the outskirts of Bilbao, and he held on to pick up maximum mountain points at the summit, securing the first KOM jersey of the race. Minutes later, however, Olympic champion Carapaz hit the deck hard rounding a left curve some 25 km to go in a crash that also took out Movistar’s Enric Mas. Mas abandoned the race altogether, while Carapaz, who came aboard as EF’s big offseason acquisition this season, did get back on the bike, but only after several minutes had passed.

“It was a left curve, recently paved, recently painted, but it seems like both of them, Enric Mas and Richard, took it pretty fast,” said EF DS Juanma Garate after the stage. “They both lost control of their rear wheels.”

The crash left Carapaz in serious knee pain, and he was visibly bleeding from his left knee as he spoke with team staff at the side of the road before ultimately deciding to remount and make his way to the finish line in Bilbao, well down on the stage winner Adam Yates (UAE Team Emirates) but still comfortably within the time cut.

“At first he wasn’t sure if he could move it because it really hurt but we managed to encourage him to get back on the bike in case there wasn’t a fracture and he could continue. The doctors are checking him out right now and we’ll see how the injuries are,” Garate said.

“He has both knees affected, in one knee he’ll probably need a bit of suturing, but above all it’s the internal injury where we’ll have to see what he has.”

As of Saturday afternoon, Carapaz and the team will wait and see what doctors have to say before knowing how to proceed with the former Giro d’Italia winner.

The team announced Saturday evening that Carapaz will not start stage two of the Tour de France due to a fractured kneecap.

It wasn’t all bad for EF on the day, with Powless showing some serious punch on his way to the mountains points that ultimately earned him at least a day in the polka dot jersey.

Powless’s push for mountain points came before the crash, and Garate confirmed that the team was eyeing that battle regardless of Carapaz’s situation, saying that “part of the team was already on that plan.”

In other words, as devastating a blow as it is for EF to see their designated GC star drop of contention this early, the team isn’t just going to pack it in after this early setback.

“We have the King of the Mountains jersey too. We have come here to fight for stages [and] to fight for the general,” Garate said. “The general has already fallen behind after five hours of the Tour, but we are a team that is accustomed to remaking ourselves, like we did the year we had Sergio Higuita and we had that crash.”

After an up-and-down first stage, both literally and figuratively, EF will hope things improve from here on out, and the team at least showed that it was already din the mix for other objectives beyond the GC.

“In five minutes we went from happy to really sad, but now we have the jersey with Neilson and he is in good shape, Garate said. “We are looking forward to the next stages and let’s see if we can recover Richard as well.”

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