Start as you mean to go on. The opening stage has a suburban feel but the tricky uphill finish is crucial for the overall contenders, a split in the field or a missed time bonus could cost them plenty.
The Route: pressed for time in Paris but want a ride with some greenery? Today’s course does a tour of the roads used by many Parisian cyclists, the area to the south-west of the capital offers hills, valleys and woodland within reach of a spin beyond the périphérique. The Côte des 17 Tournants – climb of the 17 bends – is hardly Alpe d’Huez’s cousin, the 17 bends are more slight kinks in the road rather than hairpins and it’s 1km at 6% but there’s 4-2-1 points at the top so get this and the ensuring Côte de Meridon and you’ll wear the mountains jersey until Tuesday evening; possibly Thursday evening so expect several teams to scrap for this podium rendez-vous.
The Finish: it’s flat but high stress as the race heads for the finish along a suburban road lined with traffic islands, dividers and roundabouts before reaching the banks of the Seine and running south on a wider road. With 2km to go they turn away from the river and the road starts to climb gently and with 800m to go there’s a left-hand bend onto the finishing straight. Here’s it’s a steady 5% climb all the way to the line and cobbled. These are urban pavé but just, certainly rougher than the Champs Elysées and combined with the slope it makes for a hard finish.
The Contenders: one for the sprinters or for the power puncheurs? The compromise pick is Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) remember he won the opening stage last year by chasing Julian Alaphilippe uphill and then easily winning the sprint. He’s won uphill finishes before but this is probably on the edge of his abilities.
Julian Alaphilippe is at another frontier, this finish is probably not steep enough for him. But he can handle himself in a bunch sprint and the Quick Step team have a lead out train which will be deployed for Elia Viviani tomorrow but is perfect for today too.
If we get Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott) in Vuelta form then this is ideal for him: he was kopgroep material in last weekend’s Omloop but having broken a rib earlier this year says he’s still building up his form. Magnus Cort Nielsen (Astana) is a similar rider to Trentin, capable of winning a bunch sprint, capable of winning a semi-classic and he’s got a stage win in Oman already. John Degenkolb (Trek Segafredo) would have been a strong pick in the past but post that crash the win rate has slowed for obvious reasons, still this is a perfect finish.
Now for the pure sprinters. Alexander Kristoff (UAE Emirates) has been looking back to his old ominously powerful self again, can he power over the cobbles or will team mate Ben Swift pounce, he’s suited to a finish like this but No.2 on the pecking order and an infrequent winner. André Greipel has the experience to bid his time in a finish like this. Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) has won uphill sprints too. Dylan Groenewegen (Lotto-Jumbo) is a curiosity here, part of his success is being able to turn a huge gear in the sprints but this is twice as hard uphill over cobbles so we’ll see if he’s a dragstrip demon or more versatile? Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) has got ambitions for Paris-Nice and this finish is a good test. Do Team Sunweb back Phil Bauhaus or Edward Theuns? The latter seems more suited to this finish and looked strong last weekend but Bauhaus has won for them already. Jonathan Hivert (Direct Energie) is good at uphill finishes and won both stages of the Tour du Haut-Var but given the opposition cited above it’d be a big upset.
|Arnaud Démare, Julian Alaphilippe|
|Trentin, MCN, Kristoff|
|Degenkolb, Swift, Theuns, Bouhanni, Greipel, Bennett, Hivert|
Weather: cool and cloudy with a top temperature of 8°C. Early rain showers will clear and the wind could get up at times before calming down for the finish. If the forecast stays accurate there will be a headwind for the finish.
TV: You should find it on the same channel as you watch the Tour de France. It’s on Eurosport and you can rely on Cyclingfans and steephill.tv for links to feeds and streams. The finish is forecast for 5.00pm CET.