No more waiting, the Tour de France starts today and there’s loop out of Brussels with bergs and cobbles before a high stress finish and a presumed bunch sprint with yellow jersey waiting for the winner.
The Route: 194km and a course of national unity visiting Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels. The early highlight is the Kapelmuur and Bosberg combo, for a while the legendary finish of the Tour of Flanders, today the finale of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad but while these climbs are so important at the end of a 250km race today they’re 40km into a three week event and so they’re fun but not strategic. Still expect a scrap for the mountains points on offer. Then the race loops towards Charleroi and there’s a cobbled section with 76.5km to go but no surprises: it’s nothing wild and was used in the Tour in 2015 when the race went from Seraing to Cambrai. Instead the biggest danger all day is the combination of a nervous peloton fighting for space and the collection of street furniture and the tension rises the closer the finish gets.
- NB the intermediate sprint awards points for the green jersey classification but there are no time bonuses at intermediate sprints.
The Finish: a sprint royale, at least because the final kilometre is alongside Laeken castle, home of the Belgian monarchy. It’s on city boulevards but not always wide and the final two kilometres are uphill, it goes up in sections with 2-3% then it levels out, another 2-3% and then it flattens out for the finish. Hardly for the mountain goats but it’ll slow things a touch.
The Contenders: a difficult three way pick among the sprinters. The uphill sections in the finish tilt it to Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) but his lead out train looks weak compared to those enjoyed by Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-Quickstep) and Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma). Viviani gets his preferred train and is out to make amends after a flop in the Giro, remember he’s back in his blue overalls now. Groenewegen is strong in uphill finishes too and of the trio probably offers the most certainty but as mentioned before he was stretching his back a lot after the ZLM Tour, as if something wasn’t right and it’ll be interesting to see what team mae Wout van Aert does, don’t be surprised if he doesn’t and is saved for tomorrow’s team time trial. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) should be close too, a sprint chaperone. For Ewan it’s now or never, he could make his Tour debut – he was flicked by Mitchelton this time last year – with a stage win and the yellow jersey while both Viviani and Groenewegen could lose today but still, just, hope for the maillot jaune if they manage a great team time trial tomorrow.
Among the others Alexander Kristoff (UAE Emirates) is a powerful rider with the pedigree but not a frequent pick these days and if he wins a stage this Tour it might be later in the race. Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott) likes harder finishes than this, his time could come later. Cees Bol (Team Sunweb) is a neo-pro but starts precisely because he’s popped up to win already this year. Christophe Laporte (Cofidis) sprints but is more of a complete rider at yet to win at this level. Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) and Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) could be in the mix but normally don’t have the pure speed to beat the top trio, they’re suited to later stages but could pounce if there’s an opportunity. Kitten rustler Niccolò Bonifazio (Total Direct Energie) and Giacomo Nizzolo (Dimension Data) will sprint but how to win? André Greipel used to love finishes like this but is near invisible since moving to Arkéa-Samsic but it’s job done as he has helped to secure the team a wildcard invitation.
Finally all this is predicated on a sprint finish and it’s the most likely scenario but just how hard with Deceuninck-Quickstep and Jumbo-Visma work today knowing they have eyes on winning tomorrow’s stage as well?
|Caleb Ewan, Dylan Groenewegen|
|Elia Viviani, Peter Sagan|
|Kristoff, Bol, Colbrelli|
Yellow story: each day a quick story or reflection on the yellow jersey, cycling’s iconic prize. To start, the start of the yellow jersey. The yellow jersey was first awarded in 1919 but only midway during the Tour, a response to half the peloton wearing the same jersey. It should have been in Marseille for the start of Stage 9 but the package containing the golden fleece didn’t reach the race in time so instead was in Grenoble and Stage 11 by which time there were only 11 riders left in the race, somewhat reducing the necessity for a “distinctive jersey”. It wasn’t an instant hit either, race leader Eugène Christophe was mocked as “cri-cri the canary” by his peers for dressing in yellow but he had the last laugh, first because he’d lose the race after breaking his forks (again) later in the race near Wallers Arenberg, only to gain “moral victor” status and collect donations from the public worth more than first prize in the race; and again today as it’s Christophe we celebrate.
Weather: Belgium but not as we know it, warm and a mix of sunshine and clouds, a top temperature of 26°C. A light breeze shouldn’t split the race but it means a 3/4 headwind for the finish.
TV: the stage starts at 12.00pm CEST and finish is forecast for 5.00pm CEST / Euro time. Tune in for the start and to see what sort of fight there is for the breakaway. The Kapelmuur and Bosberg combo begins around 1.20pm but after this you may want to tune out if things are looking processional before returning for the final, hectic 45 minutes.