If anyone’s in a hurry to get to Nice this is a slow start because Stage 1 starts and finishes in the same place. It might be the longest version of the eight day race ever but the race will make up ground elsewhere. The opening stage should be for the sprinters but watch for others trying to poach bonus seconds or get an early march on their rivals.
Here’s the first of daily previews with route info and more from the weather to TV listings.
The race uses a small loop before taking on a circuit around Mantes-La-Jolie. There’s a climb but the Côte de Vert is a lowly affair, 2km at just 4% and so the chance for a big ring sprinter or breakaway rouleur to wear some polka dots for a change.
If the race does laps it takes a different approach to the finish for the last lap meaning a potential surprise for the bunch. There are two sharp 90 degree bends with three kilometres to go and the local hospital is a stretcher-carrying walk away. Past these there are two narrow roundabouts to cross before the red kite, enough to string out an already nervous peloton before the safer finish on beside the Seine river on a six metre wide road.
An early break is likely to go but several teams have an interest in a sprint finish and they’ll use the circuit to keep the fugitives within range before a final sprint. Circuit races allow for more control because the surprise factor is reduced, the bunch can measure its chase with more certainty. If a break wants to stick it’ll need some heavy hitter from sprint teams but these riders will be the same ones given orders to support their sprinters.
There are time bonuses available with 10 – 6 – 4 seconds at the finish and 3 – 2 – 1 seconds respectively for the two intermediate sprints which means any break that goes away can’t win the yellow jersey because the finish is more valuable.
The prime pick is FDJ.fr’s Nacer Bouhanni. The French sprinter is in good shape but just lacking a little confidence after “just” one win this year. But he’s on home soil and comes with the improving team sprint train led by Geoffrey Soupe and Séb Chavanel. John Degenkolb is second easy pick, he’s got a big train in the shape of Koen De Kort, Ramon Sinkeldam and Albert Timmer
There’s a big supply of rivals. Belkin’s Moreno Hofland has the leg speed and the form. Alexander Kristoff might find the course too easy, it’s not selective enough but he’s won already this year and is the third pick, the interaction with Katusha comrade Vlad Isaietchev will be interesting. I think Europcar’s Bryan Coquard might strike later, Monday’s stage has a tight turn that suits his “boomerang” style but he’ll be in the mix. Cofidis’s Adrien Petit is a fast finisher and is part of a club of sprinters with Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) and Matthew Goss (Orica-Greenedge) who need a win to justify their label; Garmin-Sharp also have Steele Von Hoff.
Will Tom Boonen sprint? He hasn’t come here to do nothing but why risk the classics form with a crash? If he goes for it his long surge could surprise but maybe OPQS will sit tight and hope for crosswinds later in the week.
Weather: for a change the race to the sun starts with bright sunshine and warm conditions. Blue skies and a temperature of 20°C (68°F) awaits. A breeze of 15km/h from the south is forecast which should be too gentle to alter the race.
TV: live on Eurosport and various channels around the world from 2.00pm Euro time with the finish expected for 3.50pm. Tune in to watch the teams jostle for position. There’s more on the TV channels / streams here.
Guide Wolber: you might have heard of the Michelin Guide but this week will see an alternative tour guide named after the now defunct French alternative to Michelin. The home of recently retired Sandy Casar Mantes-la-Jolie means “Mantes the Charming” but it’s a commuter dormitory town 50km outside Paris. Served by the A13 autoroute – unlucky for some – it has its nice parts like the large church that sits above the town.
But the large Val Fourré housing project often steals the headlines; the other day kids decided to attack the fire brigade with improvised mortar rockets. Pas jolie! But it’s hardly Compton or Scampia, this is petty crime and bored teenagers. Attempts to renovate the housing are ongoing but the quartier is still used by Parisian politicians when they need to be seen visiting a gritty area. The race passes through the area on each lap, the sharp bends in the finish are in the heart of the Val Fourré quartier.