Tour de France Stage 1 Preview

The race begins and the first stage seems to have a known ending: surely a sprint finish? Probably but the riders have to get to the finish first and there are some obstacles in the way including plenty of crosswinds and a fraught finish. It’s live on TV from start to finish.

The Route: 188km and much of it coastal. After the start by Mont-Staint-Michel, one of France’s most popular tourist sites (if you like omens then St Michael is the patron saint of Germany: hallo Kittel and Greipel), the route heads north along the coast. As the profile suggests it’s up and down during the day, nothing much, it’s just that the first two categorised climbs are replicated at other points during the course. These rollers are not selective in themselves but mean more exposed terrain and the wind will feature today, especially because there will be a crosswind from the west/left for most of the first 100km. After 100km the race leaves the coast but the terrain remains flat and exposed at times, sometimes sheltered by the bocage, sometimes totally open to the elements. The intermediate sprint is a long straight line, one roundabout to negotiate with 1km to go.

The map matters here because the wind is coming from the west meaning a crosswind for much of the stage, when the stage turns back south at Quinéville it’s a crosswind from the other side. All riders will be warned about this section of road and the dangers of the crosswind and how echelons could form.

  • Echelon explainer: in a strong crosswind a rider sitting behind another rider does not get the same drafting effect. In order to benefit from the rider in front they must know the vector of the crosswind and the slipstream of the rider in front. So when the bunch is doing 50km/h in a crosswind, you often need to be 45° off the back wheel of the rider in front. Consequently being directly behind a rider does not bring aerodynamic advantages, you need to be positioned diagonal to the rider in front and when the road is a few metres wide there is only room for a few riders and the race splits into small groups. This is self-perpetuating when teams and riders know there are crosswinds the strongest and most organised can split the bunch into pieces

Note the section running east before the finish, a tailwind always raises the chance of a crash. This is with 15km to go to 5km. The road is not wide and it drags up and down along the way. It’ll be very hard to move up here, the peloton will be packed tight across the whole width of the road.

The Finish: with 5km to go there’s a tight bend and then the race takes the same long straight road all the way to the finish. It’s up and down, up just a bit but the downhills will be fraught as the peloton thunders along. The final kilometre is flat and straight and without obstacles.

The Scenario: a sprint finish but they have to get there first. As races go this will be a stressful and dangerous day. The coastal route means a sea breeze and the terrain is exposed. This is a high pressure stage, you might remember trains of the overall contenders surging in parallel formation for much of the first week last year (pictured) and the forecast crosswinds will have everyone stressed out. This prompts a vicious cycle where teams know the race could split so they fight to stay near the front which heightens the danger as riders are packed like sardines across the road which encourages teams to fight harder to stay at the front. It means two races, the sprinters aiming for the stage win and the yellow jersey but also the GC contenders hoping to avoid a disaster.

Expect local powerhouses Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Anthony Delaplace (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) to be among those trying to go clear along with others because the two early climbs offer someone the chance to stand on the hallowed podium at the finish. The arrival by Utah Beach, a site of the 1944 D-Day landings, is a reminder to eschew all the language of warfare for a mere bicycle race.

The Contenders: Marcel Kittel is the obvious pick. The star sprinter has twice won the opening stage of the Tour de France before. This year he started the Giro so well he made the others look bad, winning with peerless ease. His team is well suited and drilled, at least for the final but as much as this might be Etixx-Quickstep it’s their summer version rather than the Flandrien team we see in the spring classics so they’re a touch less able in the crosswinds than we might think.

Are these the golden calves? André Greipel doesn’t have the same celebrity status as Kittel but he’s got even bigger legs and the superior palmarès, albeit because he’s older. He’s in form too, he got the jump on Kittel last weekend in the German national championships, Kittel was third with the promising Max Walscheid taking second. As stated during the Giro Greipel has won a stage in every grand tour he’s started since the 2007 Vuelta which suggests it’s a matter of time until he collects his souvenir from France. He’s got a strong Lotto-Soudal team built around him. Last year he won the opening road stage on the Dutch coastline, proof that if the winds are cross he can get angry too.

Mark Cavendish is being written off by many, he even lost out to Adam Blythe last weekend in the British championships. Only the moment he’s written off is exactly when he bounces back for the win. This time it’s harder to imagine, his form is unknown and in the team presentation two days ago he lamented the opportunities for sprinters these days, despite the many chances offered by the route this year: is he downplaying his chances to hid better or down on his chances? Has his focus on the track brought him more power for this sprint? So many question marks for someone who used to be so dependable in the sprints but he’s been focussing on this stage for a long time.

Dylan Groenewegen isn’t a big name in sprinting yet but packs a powerful finish, look out for the Lotto-Jumbo in his new Dutch champion kit. He’s new to the Tour – he’s 23 and may not make the Alps – but Lotto-Jumbo have echelon formations in their DNA. The Dutch like to say “the monkey comes out of the sleeve“, an idiom to mean the truth emerges and what better place to pop up in front of the world than the opening stage in La Manche?

Will Alexander Kristoff sprint? The Norwegian powerhouse’s coach, his stepfather Stein Ørn, floated the idea of sitting out this sprint in order to avoid the risks. It’s not a bad idea if you consider the crashes in Yorkshire and Corsica, the last two times the Tour started with a sprint finish and that Kristoff has tended to grow into the race, his stamina taking over when the purer sprinters begin to fade with a week’s racing in their legs. But here’s the chance to take a stage win and the yellow jersey and he’ll enjoy the windy conditions too. The wilder the race the more he and his Katusha train will thrive.

Sam Bennett

Sam Bennett suffered in last year’s Tour, he was never in form but kept trying. 2016 hasn’t been great for him either with only one win, the morning stage of the Critérium International and against weak opposition although he scythed through the field with ease. The Irishman was beaten in the Critérium du Dauphine last month but he’s still a prospect and has scalped some big names during his career. Dan McClay won his way into the Fortuneo-Vital Concept team thanks to his two wins this year, he’s been their best rider this year, but has yet to win in the World Tour so he and his team will be satisfied with seeing the jersey in the photo finish.

Peter Sagan could be close, he was winning bunch sprints in the Tour de Suisse but the opposition simply wasn’t there and against the names above it’s hard to see him taking the win given the dragster finish today. However if the race turns to chaos and splits to pieces he could be the one to profit, maybe Greg Van Avermaet too but even if today turns messy there’s bound to be a sprinter in the front group to beat them.

John Degenkolb who would be a popular winner but is still working his way back from injury while Michael Matthews will surely find this too fast and furious and we’ll see if Edvald Boasson Hagen is given a free pass or is working for Cavendish.

Bryan Coquard is going to be the perpetual underdog of the sprints and this will delight his sponsors. Direct Energie are a small alternative energy reseller and so the image of the little guy taking on the big outfits is perfect. Still this is not an ideal finish, he will prefer tomorrow’s stage and Stage 4 into Limoges.

Marcel Kittel, André Greipel
Dylan Groenewegen, Mark Cavendish, Alexander Kristoff
Sagan, Coquard

Weather: cool, cloudy and with some rain showers forecast early on. A top temperature of 17°C. Crucially it’ll be windy at times with a 25-30km/h breeze blowing from the west and this will gust at times to 40km/h. This wind is forecast to pick up during the afternoon.

TV: live from start to finish. The stage starts at 12.20pm Euro time with the processional roll out and then the KM0 point where the flag drop and the race begins is a full 30 minutes later at 12.50pm. The wind and the coastal aspect means this could be worth watching in full. If not then remember the finish is forecast for 5.10pm Euro time.

No other race attracts as much TV coverage but if you can’t find it on TV at home cyclinghub serves up a pirate feed.

35 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 1 Preview”

  1. Thanks for the work INRNG, great as usual, will be my morning coffee read before work..ahem.. tour watching.

    If it Echelons… Cavendish would be my top pick, he seems to be able to make the splits when other sprinters don’t – I guess he just likes to race.

    • The cool thing is you don’t think of the vector of the slipstream and the crosswind when you’re on the bike – it’s very easy to feel the exact spot where you get the most shelter from the guy in front. Living in Ireland it’s generally pretty windy, even on the more sheltered east coast:

      In fact I got caught out in my first ever race – it turned onto an exposed main road on a ridge with a cross/headwind, and it immediately turned to echelons, then split about 3 or 4 riders ahead of me. They did nothing while I went around them trying to get back on. I ended up in no man’s land between the two bunches for several km, and was exhausted when I finally got caught by the second group again. Nothing like learning a lesson the hard way.

  2. When looking at Cav it’s worth noting that his being beaten by Blythe in the national championship was after a race where Cav was making huge repeated efforts, and was doing so on his own – Blythe had more of a free ride. What it wasn’t was a sprint from a leadout train.

    Can see him trying to get into the front group of it fractures, he’s done that well before – especially in echelons.

    • I may just be living in the myths of the past but my first impression after the British Nationals last weekend was that Cav might have ‘let’ Blythe win.. Based on post on twitter they had certainly been training together leading up to it and I believe they are friends.

      I could well be wrong and Blythe’s has form with the Ride London Classic in targeting a one day race in Britain as a major goal and winning

      • It certainly looked like Cav let him have it. Cav was coming round him, got in front and then sat down and shook his head. Could’ve just been the tough race, like you say.

  3. A tiny historical shame that, in a rare visit to this bit of France, that the race sticks to the coast. A little detour through Coutances could have given a nod to the famous meeting in the Café de la Gare between the journalist Albert Londres and the riders Henri and Francis Pélissier and Maurice Ville, which Londres wrote up in his book “Les Forçats de la route” – “The convicts of the road”.


  4. Groenewegen has some issues with his stomach although yesterday it went pretty ok he said and his numbers were good. Lets see!

    • Ha.
      Mont St Michel was also associated with 1066 and all that, so it could be “one in the eye” for the Anglo Saxons?

      Unfortunately there’s bound to be a pile up or two today, and someone is going to suffer.
      For all the attention devoted to Sky’s climbing riches, they can also call on the Classics experience and expertise of Standard, Thomas and Rowe among others. Thomas may or may not be in great form, but he’s worth a place in the team in this regard alone.

  5. Inrng mentions Gougeard and Delaplace in a possible French breakaway.
    Such an attempt would be great to see and very fitting; Utah Beach was also the place where the Free French Army of de Gaulle and Leclerc came ashore, albeit not on D Day.

  6. Thinking back about the Giro point jersey debate we had here some time ago, I find it interesting that Cav, albeit stressing the utter importance of the Tour for his career, nevertheless felt like pointing out not only that he had dressed the leader’s jersey in the other GTs, but also that he brought home all the point jerseys, the three of them.
    Not my favourite rider, but that’s a detail from which you can say the difference between the champion and other great athletes. Same goes for getting spectacular victories even when you have apparently entered the declining part of your career.

    • Cavendish’s career is only declining because of the staggering heights it reached earlier. Viewed in reference to Robbie McEwan’s stage-sniper tactics, he;s doing okay – no team really pulling for him, just opportunistic stage-theft.

  7. Cavendish and Contador have been the backbone of my fandom over their careers. In their different ways they just look great on a bike apart from anything else.
    I must confess that Cavendish’s ride in the British national championships provided only the slightest inkling for today’s result. History shows Cavendish never starts a GT well but builds into the race: Kittel is usually at his best at the start of a GT. But Cavendish sent them backwards when he came off Sagan’s wheel. It was a long, flat drag too –a perfect sprinting test. The cross wind was a variable. If it wasn’t for that I would wonder if track training isn’t the secret ingredient for road race sprinters. Cycling Tips has an instructive graph of his sprint speed profile peaking twice at 68kmph and from a fair way out from the line.
    Despite what he has said, I shall be very surprised if, having worn the yellow jersey, Cavendish sees the Tour through to the Champs Elysees but suspect that instead reason will win out over sentiment and he will conserve for Rio (where I don’t think he has an earthly of Omnium gold). Perhaps Sagan or Greipel for tomorrow?

  8. there was a big crash at the finish but I can’t find a mention of it in any of the news outlets. Was anyone injured? How does one find this out? They publish medical reports somewhere right?

    • Sam Bennett and Michael Mørkøv were involved and both lost skin but medical bulletins say that’s it, they’re ok. The abrasions look bad but I’d feared worse seeing pictures of Bennett being pushed across the line by team mates as he rode his bike one-handed.

  9. Unless some miracle happened meanwhile, Cavendish *is* declining because he hasn’t been anymore the fastest sprinter around for several years now. As simple as that.

    Petacchi won 2 stages in the 2010 Tour and podiumed some 5 times besides of that, eventually winning the final green jersey (he also took home a Tour de Suisse stage and another one in the Vuelta, that year, plus some 4-5 other minor races, and podiumed in Sanremo, too).

    Though, I’d challenge anyone to argue that he wasn’t already in the “declining part” of his career.

    That doesn’t make less valuable those victories, quite the contrary I’d say, nor does that make less a champion of him – again, it’s pretty much the other way around.

    Same goes for Cav, IMHO.
    He could go on winning big, this year, but to change the shape of the curve which his career is presently showing, he’d need to go on doing the same for at least one more season or two.

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