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Adam Yates beats twin brother Simon Yates to win first stage of Tour de France

BILBAO, Spain (AP) – The Tour de France began with a family celebration in Basque Country.

Adam Yates pulled away from his twin brother Simon Yates to win the Tour’s first stage on Saturday, with race favourites Tadej Pogacar and Jonas Vingegaard finishing not far behind.

The Yates brothers escaped to the front with about seven kilometres to go and Adam had the strongest finish to take the initial yellow jersey in the three-week race that began in Basque Country territory in northern Spain.

Adam and Simon Yates ride for different teams but joined forces to break away from the pack. Adam eventually pulled away in the final uphill stretch with about 400 metres.

“We worked together,” Adam Yates said. “I speak to him every day, we are close. To share this experience with him was really nice. I’m speechless, super happy.”

Adam Yates has never won a Grand Tour race but also held the leader’s yellow jersey during the 2020 Tour de France. Simon Yates won the 2018 Spanish Vuelta.

Cycling’s biggest race is taking place amid continued unrest in France after a fourth night of riots triggered by the deadly shooting of a 17-year-old by police.

Pogacar, the two-time Tour de France champion who is teammates with Adam Yates at UAE Team Emirates, finished third after leading a group of chasers that also included Vingegaard, the defending champion of team Jumbo-Visma.

“It’s a superb team victory and it’s even better than when I win myself,” Pogacar said. “This guy works for me and today I have the pleasure to see him winning. It has worked out very well and Adam attacked and managed to go clear. It’s even better than what we hoped for. We can be proud of this work. We’ve showed that we’re strong and we have a good tactic.”

Pogacar had a strong start to the season but had to undergo wrist injury after a crash two months ago. Vingegaard, the former fish factory worker from Denmark, was runner-up to Pogacar in his first Tour two years ago then came out on top in a thrilling battle with his Slovenian rival last year, building his triumph on two big rides in the Alps and the Pyrenees.

Pogacar appeared to have most of the crowd support in Bilbao after pleasing them in the race presentation with some words praising the city and local club Athletic Bilbao.

The first two stages are taking place in Basque Country, with the opening day taking riders through a hilly 182-kilometre route that started and finished in the city of Bilbao.

Two of the top riders in the race — Enric Mas and Richard Carapaz — had to pull out after crashing with just over 20 kilometres to go. Both were attended by doctors but Carapaz was able to finish the stage despite a left knee injury, while Mas withdrew immediately with what looked like a shoulder problem.

The EF Education-EasyPost team later announced that Carapaz would not continue after a scan showed he sustained “a small fracture in his left kneecap. He also needed three stitches to close the cut on the same knee.”

The first crash of this year’s edition came nearly 100 kilometres into the race when Torstein Traaen went down.

American Neilson Powless of team EF Education-EasyPost took the red polka dot jersey for best climber.

Former champion Egan Bernal, returning to the Tour for the first time since a life-threatening crash early last year while training in Colombia, finished 23rd with the main pack.

Veteran sprint specialist Mark Cavendish, who needs one more stage victory to break the race record with 35, finished toward the end of the pack. Cavendish is competing in his last Tour before retiring.

Sunday’s second stage will be a hilly route of more than 200 kilometres from Vitoria-Gasteiz to San Sebastian. The Tour will cross into France on Monday with a flat stage that will start in the Spanish city of Amorebieta-Echano.

The 110th edition of the Tour de France has only one time trial and four mountain-top finishes. It will include a record 30 difficult climbs over the 3,405 kilometres featuring eight mountain stages across five mountain ranges.

This year, riders who test positive for COVID-19 won’t be automatically expelled from the race.

Britain’s Adam Yates celebrates after crossing the finish line of the first stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 182 kilometres with start and finish in Bilbao, Spain on Saturday. PHOTO: AP