Dennis wins 1st stage of Tour de France with record speed

UTRECHT, Netherlands (AP) – Rohan Dennis won the first stage of the Tour de France in record speed in the individual time trial on Saturday.

The Australian completed the 14-kilometer (8.6-mile) flat and windy urban circuit through cycling-mad Utrecht in 14 minutes, 56 seconds.

“I didn’t expect to go that fast,” Dennis said. “It was very long on the way home, and I was just thinking `16 minutes, 16 minutes’ from what I did in training, and in the end I got a bonus.”

Dennis’ average speed of 55.446 kph (34.4 mph) beat the record by British rider Chris Boardman on the 1994 Tour prologue, albeit over a distance twice as short.

His performance in sweltering heat that hit 36 degrees (97F) was even more impressive given that he beat two time trial world champions.

Three-time world champ Tony Martin trailed five seconds behind in second place, and four-time world champ Fabian Cancellara was six seconds back in third.

“I’m very, very disappointed. I wanted to win. Any other result is a bad one,” Martin said. “I feel that I couldn’t handle the heat, especially in the second half where I felt weaker.”

Defending champion Vincenzo Nibali, who tried to counter the searing heat by warming up with ice cubes strapped to his back, and other main Tour contenders finished safely.

Nibali finished 43 seconds behind Dennis in 22nd place.

But in regard to his main rivals, he was seven seconds ahead of 2013 Tour champ Chris Froome (39th), 15 seconds up on two-time Tour winner Alberto Contador (46th), and 18 seconds ahead of Nairo Quintana (57th).

After his ride, Dennis climbed off his bike and watched with a nervous smile from the finish line as his rivals tried and failed to beat him.

They included Tom Dumoulin, who looked in great form but crossed the line eight seconds adrift in fourth.

The Netherlands’ fourth largest city has 320,000 inhabitants, and most of them seemed to be lining the course route, squeezing next to each other behind railings, or leaning out of windows as they roared on each rider.

The only place where there were no fans was when riders went through a tunnel.

The noise level went from loud to deafening when Dumoulin — a Dutchman with a rather French sounding name — put his head down and pounded his pedals.

After Dumoulin tried and failed, it was Cancellara’s turn.

Cancellara also made a strong start, using his slick handling skills to attack the corners, but the heat also took its toll on the Swiss rider, who crossed the finish line gasping for air.

Utrecht has the country’s biggest university with around 30,000 students, many of whom zigzag around the quaint and peaceful streets on their bikes.

The bike theme clearly runs through the city, and a huge cycle park is set to open in 2016 in front of the city train station — or right next to Saturday’s finish line. With enough room for more than 12,000 bikes, it is reportedly set to be the biggest in the world.

The race stays in the Netherlands for Sunday’s second stage, which starts out from Utrecht before ending 166 kilometers (103 miles) later at the heart of the Zeeland Delta.

Cycling along the Dutch coastline promises to be tricky for riders, with heavy gusts and sprays.

The Tour swings into nearby Belgium on Monday.

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