A sprint finish looks likely as the race heads across the Navarra region on a largely flat route. But if a sprint seems the most probable scenario, the identity of the winner is far from certain and given this, it’s possible that a determined breakaway exploits this uncertainty to stay away.
The route: largely flat with an intermediate climb as the first tactical point, although with one categorised climb, the third category La Chapela (6km at 3.5%) – where points go to the first three over the top – and then on past the vineyards of Rioja to a flat finish in Viana where the riders cross the line for an intermediate sprint again once before heading out to the vineyards and back again.
Time bonuses: a reminder that each intermediate sprint brings 6-4-2 seconds for the first three riders and the finish line offers 12-8-4 for the first three.
The finish: a long straight approach with a slight uphill gradient to the line but no more than 2-3% at the max and easing to 1% for the line.
The scenario: many will want to get in an early breakaway. Someone can take the mountains jersey, if only for a day but for many riders and teams alike this would be a vital opportunity to get noticed in the race. I’ll be interested to see who chases. Will Movistar defend the overall lead of Castroviejo or is his lead to slender to expend energy on? Which teams will work for the sprint, will it be Argos Oil-Shimano and Radioshack? And if Ben Swift is the bookie’s pick – do the British just bet more, thus driving down the price of their home riders? – will Sky work for him? Other sprinters to watch are John Degenkolb, Daniele Bennati and Elia Viviani but there are plenty more, what makes this interesting is that without Cavendish, Greipel or Kittel the sprints should be more open. Or will the uphill finish suit the likes of Gianni Meersman, Allan Davis and J-J Rojas?
In short we should get some questions answered. Which teams are working for the overall already, who is going to try for the sprints and which teams will try to set this up. That said the first stage of a grand tour is always nervous and many teams will be optimistic about their chances.
Weather: hot with top temperatures of 33°C and a breeze. Right from the start the temperatures can cause problems in stage racing as riders need to drink litres of water during the stage and the body is not suited to sluicing this amount of water into the stomach. Get it wrong and fatigue can set in early.
TV: tune in for the last hour. The finish is expected between 5.30pm and 5.45pm Euro time but can vary.
Local food: Rioja wine. This red wine is aged in oak barrels to give a distinctive rich aroma and is exported around the world.