FONTENAY-LE-COMTE, France — Colombia, the land of climbers, finally has a cyclist back in the yellow jersey at the Tour de France.
And it took a sprinter to do it.
Fernando Gaviria won the opening stage on his debut on Saturday, becoming the first Colombian since Victor Hugo Pena in 2003 to don the leader's maillot.
Top Colombian riders such as Luis Herrera, Fabio Parra, and current star Nairo Quintana can't claim that honor.
"It's important, many Colombians tried it, but I believe we needed somebody to get rid of the curse that Victor Hugo left us," Gaviria said. "Many years later we have done it and Colombia has the yellow jersey.
"It's incredible because in Colombia there were only climbers before."
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos celebrated Gaviria's win by tweeting: "Colombia wears yellow! Congratulations to the great Fernando Gaviria, winner of the first stage and leader of the 2018 Tour!"
The 23-year-old Quick-Step rider easily powered away from world champion Peter Sagan to claim the 201-kilometer (125-mile) stage from the island of Noirmoutier-en-l'Ile along the Atlantic coast to Fontenay-le-Comte in nearly 4 1/2 hours.
No Colombian had ever won a bunch sprint at the Tour.
He also became the first rider to win the opening stage on his Tour debut since Fabian Cancellara in 2004. David Zabriskie also won a prologue on his debut in 2005 but was later stripped of the victory for admitting to doping.
To cap off the perfect day, Gaviria was greeted by five-time Tour winner Eddy Merckx on the podium.
Gaviria had his breakout last year when he won four stages at the Giro d'Italia.
"This is a dream come true, it's something we have been working so hard for," Gaviria said. "And today we reap what we sowed."
In Gaviria, Quick-Step has found its replacement for sprinter Marcel Kittel. Kittel won five stages for Quick-Step at the 2017 Tour before he signed with Katusha for this season. On Saturday, he was third behind Gaviria and Sagan.
Colombians have come close to the ultimate goal of winning the Tour in recent years.
Quintana finished second overall to Tour champion Chris Froome in 2013 and 2015, while Rigoberto Uran was runner-up to Froome last year.
But Quintana has had a wretched start to this race.
The Movistar rider punctured both tires when he drove over a curb with just over three kilometers to go and ended up finishing 1:10 after Gaviria. Teammate Jose Rojas, the rider who has supposed to support Quintana in case he had a problem, fell in a pileup moments before.
The only thing that mitigated that loss was seeing Froome finish 51 seconds behind Gaviria after he fell.
"This changes things because right now we have lost a significant amount of time respect to other riders," Movistar director Eusebio Unzue said.
"But that is how the Tour is. You saw that on the first stage, many of the best riders fell and others were separated from the pack. At least (Quintana) is not hurt."