Defending champion Chris Froome was overjoyed to avoid the carnage which engulfed Mark Cavendish as over one million people welcomed the 101st Tour de France to Yorkshire.
Froome finished sixth on the 190.5 kilometre first stage from Leeds to Harrogate, which was won by Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano).
“It’s unreal, absolutely unreal,” Froome said. “As defending Tour champion it doesn’t get much better than this.
“The crowds out there were just incredible.
“Just a shame for Cav in the final there. It would’ve been nice to have a British victory today, but that’s racing.”
While Cavendish crashed to end his bid for a 26th Tour stage win and a first yellow jersey of his career, Froome avoided trouble and was conscientious enough on a stage where the sprinters were expected to dominate to put himself in a strong position entering Sunday’s second stage from York to Sheffield.
“Today was more about staying out of trouble, getting to the finish without any big issues,” Froome said.
“The guys did a really good job today, keeping me out of harm’s way.
“Car positioning is quite a big issue and I just thought ‘we don’t really have a sprinter here, it’ll be good to have a position somewhere’.
“I was just well positioned. The crash with Cav happened on the left, I was on the right, and I just carried on.”
Froome’s Team Sky colleague Geraint Thomas said: “It was perfect, really. We stayed out of trouble. Mission complete for day one.”
Team Sky principal Sir Dave Brailsford added: “The first stage of the Tour is about getting through unscathed; Froomey finished sixth. Job completed.”
The Tour’s northernmost start and fourth visit to Britain gave the main protagonists a sensory experience.
Brailsford had never seen so many people; Thomas struggled to hear himself think; and Cavendish tumbled on to the home soil he had hoped would serve him well.
“The crowds were just incredible all day,” Thomas said.
“My ears are ringing now; it was like being in a disco for four hours.
“It was so noisy. You couldn’t hear the radio, you had to shout to speak to each other.
“It was great to race on home roads (but) it is quite dangerous at times. There was a dog that nearly ran on and a few kids around.
“Try and stay off the road and give us a bit of room.
“Everyone’s going on about how good it was. (Giant-Shimano’s John) Degenkolb came up to me and said ‘you should be proud to be British, this is amazing’. It’s pretty cool.”
Brailsford was British Cycling’s performance director during the London 2012 Olympics, when crowds flocked to the road races, in particular, and is the mastermind behind Team Sky’s Tour wins in the last two editions.
He said: “I’ve never seen so many people in my life. Quite literally.
“The amount of people and support was unreal. Unbelievable.”
Told one million people lined the route, Brailsford added: “It looked like more to me. It was just incredible, fantastic.
“One of the great things about this sport is it’s so accessible and as a fan you can get so close to the riders while they’re actually racing. It’s crazy really.”
Team Sky’s focus immediately turned to Sunday’s 201km second stage from York to Sheffield, a route which could test even those bidding for a podium place come Paris on July 27.
Brailsford added: “It’s like a hurdle race. You can only jump one at a time. We jumped today’s hurdle.”
Thomas said: “The main goal for tomorrow is the same as today: look after Froomey, keep him out of trouble.
“Get into that last climb in a good position with him, then it’s all to play for.
“He was sixth today. Froomey could even win tomorrow.”