The Tour returns to French soil. If the start town sounds familiar it’s because it’s on the route of April’s Paris-Roubaix race, in fact it’s where they make the winner’s cobblestone trophy. But the Tour will stay on smooth tarmac all day – the first day of this year’s race without pavé.
Instead the difficulty comes from the climbs at the end. They might look small on the profile but they are a strength sap and a tactical trap.
- Km 132.0 – Côte de L’Éperche – 0.7 kilometre-long climb at 6.9% – category 4
- Km 163.5 – Côte de Mont Violette – 1 kilometre-long climb at 9.2% – category 3
- Km 181.0 – Côte de Herquelingue – 1.7 kilometre-long climb at 5.8% – category 4
- Km 185.0 – Côte de Quéhen – 1.4 kilometre-long climb at 5.9% – category 4
- Km 190.5 – Côte du Mont Lambert – 1.3 kilometre-long climb at 8.4% – category 3
- Km 197.0 – Boulogne-sur-Mer – 0.7 kilometre-long climb at 7.4% – category 4
So you thought the north of France was flat? Actually most of it is but the coast has its cliffs and some hills behind. The race heads straight to the coast and then twists and turns to maximise the number of climbs in the Boulonnais area by the coast.
The intermediate sprint: long, straight and flat, this one will suit the sprint trains as there is no apparent danger at all.
Soon after the sprint at 65km to go the first climb starts and the route twists and turns as it tries to take every climb possible. The way so many climbs appear so late suggests the king of the mountains jersey could change shoulders. Michael Morkov has four points but there are eight on offer today, don’t be surprised to see team mate deployed Chris Anker Sorensen to mop up points. Certainly some riders could be tempted to forget about the stage win in order to take the jersey, for example a spritely Voeckler.
Each climb is not hard but repetition makes it challenging, especially since there’s no clear summit, riders will cross the King of the Mountains point only to find the road drag on until the descent. Indeed the roads are wide on the climbs. The width matters if it is windy because the roads are exposed and the riders can fan out across the full width if needed.
The route suits attacking riders but I suspect the selection will happen via the back, in other words the group will fragment and split over the climbs with riders being dropped rather than a few riders going on the rampage. There’s too much at stake for the bunch to let riders go away and the wide roads allow for teams to organise the chase. Although it would be good to see some riders try to escape.
The finish: In years past the race has finished in Boulogne sur Mer with a sprint on the seafront but “new” race Christian Prudhomme often looks for something different. So after the ups and downs the stage finish is an ramp at 7.4% for 700m which starts after a long straight line and ramps up before two bends before the 250m finishing straight.
It’s hard to look beyond Peter Sagan. The power of a sprinter but agile on the hills, he’s also ice cool for the poker moments. But the final ramp isn’t as selective as Sunday’s Seraing so we could see a wider mix giving it a go. It’s almost short enough for the sprinters to give it a go… on the condition they are still there and thinking ahead today is a mini-Olympic test. All the same Gilbert, Sagan and Boasson Hagen stand out. One rider who will be at ease here is Sylvain Chavanel, he won the French road race championships here in 2011 although he’d gone away solo for the win. If you want an outside pick, see Movistar’s J-J Rojas.
Weather: cloudy with rain showers possible. Cool temperatures but almost normal for the region at 18°C (64°F). The wind will blow from the south at 20km/h but often it feels a bit stronger on the hills.
TV: the video starts soon after 2.00pm Euro time with the finish between 5.00pm and 5.30pm. Tune in for the last 90 minutes to catch the climbs.
Local rider: none. It’s the first time in years that the Nord (north) region hasn’t supplied a rider for the Tour de France. But the region is home to many pros including multiple track world champion Mickaël Bourgain.
Food: Chicory or endive. A root vegetable that is grown in the dark so its leaves stay white, the leaves are used as a vegetable but the bitter root is used as a coffee substitute and its popularity took off in times of hardship and when coffee was expensive and hard to import.
Do: work as a team. The tough nature of the final 40km mean riders could lose time if they are isolated. Every team knows this but as we’ve seen already several riders have lost time because of bad positioning but this time it’s not about the last ramp, it’s the last hour.
Don’t: lose the wheel in front. The climbs at the end are exposed and when riders cross the top there’s no time for a breather, if you let a gap open up you are going to struggle to close it. Worse anyone on your wheel is going to remember your name.