Jumbo – Visma were a class apart as Olav Kooij sprinted to win the opening stage of the Tour of Britain 2023 in front of a packed crowd on Deansgate in Manchester.
Kooij led home a one-two for the Dutch team ahead of Wout van Aert, with Sam Bennett (BORA – hansgrohe) the best of the rest in third, after Jumbo – Visma and INEOS Grenadiers ensured that the finish was contested by a large peloton.
The Dutchman will wear the leader’s jersey in Monday’s second stage in and around Wrexham, the first of two in this year’s race to take place in Wales.
Kooij said: “It was actually quite a hard day, but really nice with all the fans out on the road. In the end, we managed to catch the break after the guys did a really good job pulling on the front. We got it right into the last kilometre, and then [we were] first and second into the last corner. After that we had to go full gas to the line.
“I’m really happy to start the race with a win. We made a lot of plans for the lead-out throughout the year but it doesn’t come together that many times. To get it right after such a good job from the whole team makes the victory even nicer.”
Blessed by beautiful sunshine, an estimated 500,000 spectators lined the 163.6-kilometre route from Altrincham.
It didn’t take long for riders to take a chance and break clear of the peloton. James Fouché (Bolton Equities Black Spoke) escaped within the opening six kilometres, and by the 10-kilometre mark he had company in the form of Harry Tanfield (TDT-Unibet Cycling Team), Fredrik Dversnes (Uno-X Pro Cycling Team) and team-mates Zeb Kyffin and Jack Rootkin-Gray (Saint Piran).
Tanfield took maximum points at the cottages.com sprint at Hazel Grove, before Fouché was first to the summit of the two Pinarello king of the mountains climbs at Grains Bar (second category) and Ramsbottom Rake (first category), which gives him the lead in the competition after stage one.
The quintet only had a two-minute lead on the chasing peloton at the bottom of the packed Ramsbottom Rake, as Jumbo – Visma and INEOS Grenadiers continued to control the pace behind.
Tanfield was dropped from the break with 51 kilometres remaining, then four kilometres later Fouché decided his day was done and also sat up. Last to be caught was Dversnes, who survived until 1,500 metres out from Deansgate, before his chances of a memorable victory were banished.
Jumbo – Visma took charge on the final run into the line and ominously showed signs of a perfectly-drilled lead-out operation. Van Aert arguably could have claimed the victory himself, but dropped back into Kooij’s wheel to allow the Dutchman to mark his Tour of Britain debut in style and claim the 23rd victory of his career.
Stage two of the Tour of Britain starts and finishes in Wrexham on Monday 4 September with a 110-kilometre route starting and finishing on Chester Street in the city.