To accommodate the tour entourage during their stay in Corsica, the organisers chartered the Mega Smeraldacruiseferry to house members of the organisation, media and others who work on the Tour and to host press conferences, although the riders stayed in hotels in and around Porto-Vecchio.
The first stage of the race was a relatively flat stage on the east coast of Corsica and was expected to end with a sprint finish, with Mark Cavendish looking to claim the sprint and with it the maillot jaune for the overall race leader.
The Tour started out inauspiciously for top favourite Chris Froome of Team Sky, as he crashed in the neutralised area before the true beginning of the stage although he was not hurt. Once the flag came down to signal the true beginning of the stage, five riders immediately distinguished themselves as the day's principal escape group – Jérôme Cousin of Team Europcar, Euskaltel-Euskadi's Juan José Lobato, Belkin Pro Cycling rider Lars Boom, Juan Antonio Flecha representing Vacansoleil-DCM, and Cyril Lemoine from Sojasun. The peloton did not allow them very much lead, as the mostly Omega Pharma-Quick Step-paced main field kept the time gap between two and three minutes for the majority of the stage. The fourth-category Cote de Sotta came at the 45 km (28.0 mi) mark in the stage, the only climb on the day's parcours. This meant that the first rider, from the breakaway, over the line would be the first holder of the polka-dot jersey. It was Lobato who crossed first, beating out Cousin and Boom, and Lobato pulled on the climber's jersey at day's end.
At that point the breakaway sat up (stopped riding hard) and attempted to rejoin the peloton behind them, since the stage's flat profile (and its prestige) meant it was extremely unlikely they could stay away for victory. The time gap got to as little as 39 seconds before eventually getting as high again as four minutes. After both the break and the peloton had passed through the feeding station, it was again reduced to 40 seconds. Four of the riders again looked to sit up and abandon their efforts, but Cousin continued to ride, and eventually so did the whole breakaway group. For these efforts, Cousin was awarded the daily combativity award at stage's end. The time gap then got as large as four minutes, allowing the breakaway to contest the intermediate sprint as well. This one went to Boom ahead of Flecha. A few minutes later, three of the Tour's top sprinters André Greipel, Mark Cavendish, and Peter Sagan sprinted for the points available to them, coming across the line in that very order. The breakaway were at last caught with 37 km (23.0 mi) remaining in the stage, and the teams set up for the anticipated sprint finale.
It was about this time that reports came through of a problem at the finish line – a bus for the Orica-GreenEDGE team had become stuck under the finishing arch. It was too tall to pass through. It disrupted the electronic timing for the stage, but the more pressing problem was the fact that the finish line was not clear to be covered by the cyclists. Race officials tried to extricate the bus, having no success for several minutes as the riders came nearer and nearer to the finish line. As the peloton passed through the 10 km (6.2 mi) to go mark, the decision was sent out over race radio for the finish line to be moved to the banner representing 3 km (1.9 mi) to the (original) finish line. Around this same time, the day's first major crash occurred, sending, among numerous others, 2012 Giro d'Italia champion Ryder Hesjedal off his bicycle. At approximately 6 km (3.7 mi) to go the original finish, meaning 3 km (1.9 mi) to go the revised finish line, teams such as Lotto-Belisol and Cannondale had begun their leadouts.
It was at this point that the bus was successfully removed from under the finishing arch, so race officials chose to move the stage finish back to the original finishing line. Also at this point, a crash of tremendous scope thinned the possible stage winners substantially, as sprinters Sagan, Cavendish, and Matthew Goss all either fell themselves or were caught behind the crash. Greipel, for his part, managed to stay upright and at the front of the race through both crashes, but a mechanical issue ended his chances at a stage victory and a yellow jersey. His German compatriot, 24 year old Marcel Kittel from the Argos-Shimano team, was the rider who profited from the day's chaos and took stage honours, with the yellow, green, and white jerseys to go with it. No time gaps were taken on the stage – all 197 other riders in the field were given the same time as Kittel. Along with sprinters who missed out on the possibility at a stage win, some overall contenders and noteworthy stage-hunters also crashed. Alberto Contador crashed, and while his injuries were not severe enough to force him to retire from the race, he did express concern that they may keep him from being able to ride in optimal position for the upcoming team time trial.Tony Martin and Ted King sustained perhaps the worst injuries of anyone; Martin sustained a concussion and a lung contusion to go along with soft tissue damage and a deep shoulder wound, and King suffered a badly bruised and possibly broken shoulder.Tejay van Garderen, Philippe Gilbert, Gert Steegmans, Janez Brajkovič, Tony Gallopin, and Murilo Fischer all also crashed.Geraint Thomas also crashed, suffering a hairline fracture to his pelvis in the incident.
After the stage, Cavendish, Lotto-Belisol rider Greg Henderson, and FDJ.fr team boss Marc Madiot all expressed their displeasure with race officials for moving the finish back to the original line while the teams were at sprint speed racing for the supposed finish at the 3 km (1.9 mi) banner. Henderson's criticisms focused on the effects the rapid changes had on the competitive aspect of the race, while Cavendish and Madiot were more concerned with how they affected rider safety. Orica-GreenEDGE were fined 2,000 Swiss francs for "not respecting the timetable put in place for auxiliary team vehicles arriving at the stage finish" as a result of the incident. For his part, stage winner Kittel claimed not to have heard the instructions over race radio for the revised finish at the 3 km (1.9 mi) banner, which would seem to have played a part in his being focused to ride hard for the original finish line and take the day's honours.
The tour crossed the island to Ajaccio on the west coast, with four ranked climbs including the Category 2 Col de Vizzavona (1,163 m (3,816 ft)) after 95 km (59.0 mi) and a Category 3 climb 12 km (7.5 mi) before the finish.
The third and final day on Corsica saw the race return northwards again along the rugged west coast with several small climbs including the short but steep climb of the Category 2 Col de Marsolino (443 m (1,453 ft)), 13 km (8.1 mi) before the finish in Calvi.Simon Gerrans won the stage.
The first stage on mainland France was a team time trial, in which each team's time was taken when their fifth rider crosses the line. The race commenced in the Jardin Albert I and looped around the streets of Nice until reaching the Promenade des Anglais after 1.5 km (0.9 mi). The route then followed the seafront for 6.5 km (4.0 mi) before turning north at Nice Côte d'Azur Airport to follow the Var valley. The intermediate time check came at 13 km (8.1 mi), after which the race turned south and returned via the Promenade des Anglais to the Jardin Albert I.
American cyclist Ted King, who was nursing a shoulder injury, was controversially eliminated from the tour after riding on his own using a standard road bike (rather than a time trial bike) and finishing seven seconds outside the cutoff time. Many felt that race officials should have taken account of his courage in completing the stage and allowed him to continue the tour.
The fifth stage took the riders westwards through Provence, crossing four small categorised climbs before reaching the port of Marseille, finishing at Parc Borély, to the south of the city centre.Mark Cavendish won the stage which was the 24th Tour de France stage victory of his career.
After 120 km (74.6 mi) of flat to start, Stage 8 featured the first mountains of the tour, including the Hors catégorie climb of the Port de Pailhères which, at 2,001 m (6,565 ft), is the highest point reached on the 2013 Tour. The first rider to cross the summit, Movistar Team's Nairo Quintana won the Souvenir Henri Desgrange. The finish was at the Ax 3 Domaines ski resort, at 1,375 m (4,511 ft), with the final climb covering 7.8 km (4.8 mi) and rising 670 m (2,198 ft) at an average gradient of 8.6%. The final climb saw the GC contenders come to the front in this tour's first battle for the maillot jaune.
The race soon reached the base of the Port de Pailhères with the leading group only holding an advantage of under two minutes. Hoogerland attempted to break away from his companions at the 50 km (31.1 mi) to go mark before being brought back. Riblon then launched an attack of his own and built a sizable lead over his former escape companions. Robert Gesink (Belkin Pro Cycling) was the first rider to attack from the peloton and was followed by an attack from Thomas Voeckler (Team Europcar). At this point, yellow jersey holder Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEDGE) was dropped.
Quintana launched his own attack with 34 km (21.1 mi) to go; quickly catching and passing Voeckler, Gesink, and Riblon. Pierre Rolland (Team Europcar) and Igor Antón (Euskaltel-Euskadi) attempted to follow, but Quintana built and advantage of 55 seconds over the chasing group at the top of the climb. Rolland would catch Quintana on the bottom of the descent, but was quickly dropped as the riders began the ascent up to Ax 3 Domaines. Riders were continuously shelled from the back of the chasing group until only five riders remained with under 10 km (6.2 mi) to go: Team Sky riders Chris Froome and Richie Porte, Quintana's team-mate Alejandro Valverde and Saxo-Tinkoff pairing Alberto Contador and Roman Kreuziger. Porte and Froome, having built a small gap over the other three riders, soon caught Quintana; thus prompting Froome to launch an attack of his own up the mountain. Froome gradually built a larger advantage all the way to the finish line and into the yellow jersey. Behind, Valverde attempted to chase after Froome, before being passed by Porte who comfortably rode into second place. Contador and Kreuziger struggled behind and were passed by Belkin Pro Cycling duo Bauke Mollema and Laurens ten Dam, and Euskaltel-Euskadi's Mikel Nieve.
Following Froome and Team Sky's dominating performance at Ax 3 Domaines, Movistar and Garmin attacked from the early stages. Although Chris Froome was able to follow the attacks, Richie Porte's efforts caused him to be dropped by the leaders and eventually lose 10 minutes. As a result Froome was left isolated for the majority of the stage, having to hold off several attacks from Nairo Quintana on the final climb. A late attack on the final climb by Jakob Fuglsang and Dan Martin was allowed to escape, and the Irish rider held off Fuglsang to win the stage. The rest of the leading riders, minus Porte, finished in a group behind Martin.