Each morning during the Tour de France I will preview the day’s stage. It’s hard to predict a winner but there are some certainties about the course and conditions that can help give us some insight into what might happen.
So here goes, here’s The Spin on Stage 1.
The race might start on the slippery submarine Passage du Gois road and then take an exposed coast route for a while but it’s the closing moments of the stage should be the key. The seaside part of the race should see ideal weather, the forecast says no crosswinds meaning reduced danger that the race splits up early on.
The intermediate sprint in Avrillé after 87km is literally straightforward, on a long wide road with a very mild uphill gradient, it’s for the proper sprinters if their teams can contain the breakaways.
After this the race gets progressively hillier as the route heads to the Collines Vendéennes, the Vendée hills. It’s not exactly the Alps but the terrain gets lumpy and the racing will get nervous. No more so than in the final moments where there are nine roundabouts in the last six kilometres as the race takes a route around the finish town of Les Herbiers. That’s bound to be nervous and I’ll be very pleased if there are no crashes.
It’s going to be a critical moment as even if there no crashes, gaps can open up in the bunch thanks to all the corners. This means the scrap to stay up front is even harder. You’ve got many riders in with a chance of the stage win, but then you’ve got another category of rider wanting the yellow jersey in the first week and knowing they can’t afford to lose just five seconds in a split and finally there are the GC riders who also don’t want to be delayed by a crash. This creates a self-fulfilling prophecy, with riders knowing they have to be at the front, so the pace goes up and riders squeeze into the smallest gaps and mistakes and mishaps are more likely… meaning you’d better be up front to keep out of trouble. All this combines to make the final some of the most nervous racing of the year.
That said, I’m not trying to hype this up, just trying to warn and let’s hope this more fast than furious. The roads are generally wide and suitable for a bike race so we should get some good racing, not a wacky race finale.
The finish itself is tricky with a 2.2km climb at 4.7%, which flattens off only 120 metres from the finish line but the road is seven metres wide. In other words this is an uphill finish, and a touch steeper than the kind used in the GP de Plouay so the finish certainly isn’t reserved for the sprinters. I’d expect an attack from Philippe Gilbert on the steepest part of the climb… but so will everyone else and it’ll be interesting to see who leads the chase. Note that Thomas Voeckler lives 20km away from the finish but this is the Tour de France and sentimental moments are rare.
Note the hill counts for the mountains jersey too. The winner on the day could take all three jerseys. Finally every rider hoping for the yellow jersey will have to sprint up the hill, should they lose the wheel in front they risk losing time on their rivals.
Future stage briefings will be more concise but there’s a lot at stake in the opening stage.