Start as you mean to go on. In this Alpine stage race Stage 1 starts in the heart of the mountains with a hilly circuit to give the sprinters and puncheurs a chance to get the double of the stage win and the yellow jersey while the eight climbs will give someone the chance to wear the mountains jersey for a couple of days. Beware the early afternoon finish.
The Route: 131.5km in and around Albertville. After crossing the finish line they climb the Côte du Villard and then the Côte du Cruet, the same road and really the lower slopes of the Col de Tamié (which the race crosses on Saturday). The Côte du Villard is 1.2km at 8.7% average on a regular road with a granular surface and after the King of the Mountains points comes a narrow road, the kind you’d send a junior race down rather than a World Tour peloton before the descent resumes on a large road. The climb is hard enough but it’s done just six times and there’s a descent and then a long flat section across the valley to make up the 12.5km circuit.
The Finish: a flat one kilometre long finishing straight.
The Contenders: there’s a branch of fantasy literature where the reader decides the story, chapters end with a choice such as “if you want to do X then turn to page 94, if you want to do Y then turn to page 126”. Today’s course is a bit like that, the hill is there to be exploited by teams who want to get rid of the sprinters and even the GC riders might fancy an early skirmish making it hard to gauge what page the peloton will pick. But the short distance and the relative ease of the climb still suggest this is for sprinters and punchy riders.
Edvald Boasson Hagen is back in form after showing well in his native Norway. He’s won stages in the Dauphiné and maybe it’s about time he got back to the good old days, a circuit like this is perfect to prove what he can do especially if his team and others collude to put the squeeze on the pure sprinters.
Julian Alaphilippe’s form is unknown. After a great spring season and the Tour of California he’s coming back from some time off so presumably isn’t 100% but his talent makes him impossible to discount. FDJ’s Kévin Reza was thereabouts in the Giro and can finish fast but he’s an infrequent winner. Sacha Modolo is the obvious pick from Lampre-Merida.
Nacer Bouhanni is a pure sprinter but thrives when his back is up against the wall. A circuit like this where people are expecting him to suffer is just the place where he can surprise while Cofidis team mate Julien Simon likes a sprint after a hilly day. Luka Mezgec had a quiet Giro but Giant-Alpecin will be working hard for him. Ag2r La Mondiale’s best bet is Samuel Dumoulin, almost a local and still able to win sprints on hillier days. Europcar’s Yannick Martinez is quick and does well on hilly circuits but a World Tour win has yet to arrive, maybe Thomas Voeckler tries something instead?
Kris Boeckmans is the stealthy pick, eight wins this season but far from a big name and Lott-Soudal team mate Pim Ligthart pops up when you don’t expect it. Look at the circuit and it’s a kermesse, Alpine style. Cannondale-Garmin’s Ramūnas Navardauskas is useful in a sprint and can survive the climbs if others pus the pace.
I’m curious to see what Magnus Cort can do. Excellent among the lower level races in 2014 he’s joined Orica-Greenedge and has slowly been learning. He’s fast and we’ll see if Simon Gerrans fancies the sprint, if not Jens Keukeleire is fast too.
Otherwise take your pick from the riders in the race who’ll use the climb to attack and get away. Tony Gallopin is a fast-finisher from a group. If the GC riders stir things up then Alejandro Valverde is the obvious choice.
|Edvald Boasson Hagen, Nacer Bouhanni|
|Kris Boeckmans, Julian Alaphilippe, Sacha Modolo, Ramūnas Navardauskas|
|Cimolai, Dumoulin, Mezgec, Martinez|
Weather: warm and sunny, 26°C.
TV: note the early finish forecast for 2.45pm Euro time. It’s an ASO race so you should find it on the same channel as you watch the Tour de France. It’s on Eurosport too and if all else fails you can rely on Cyclingfans and steephill.tv for links to feeds and streams.