Mirror, mirror, up the wall, who is the fastest of them all? Today’s stage is 180km to an uphill finish via the Côte de la Glacerie, “Glassworks Hill”, with its 14% section just before the line.
Stage 1 Review
Last in, first out: Leigh Howard got a late call-up by IAM Cycling and was the first rider to attack at the KM0 point. He was joined two Bora-Argon 18 riders, Paul Voss and Jan Barta while behind Anthony Delaplace (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) and Alex Howes (Cannondale-Drapac) tried to chase. The Bora-Bora duo had no interest in letting the two chasers get across and kept on the power. As the trio approached Avranches for the first King of the Mountains point Voss jumped away and Howard could not react leaving Voss to collect the sole point on each climb, a wily move, a Schlaufuchs.
The break were kept on a tight leash, never more than four minutes and with 100km to go they had just two minutes, in time Howard, Voss and Barta left Howes and Delaplace to it. The persistent headwind made the bunch nervous and once they hit an exposed section with 80km to go the speed jumped up. Alberto Contador crashed on a corner, shredding his shoulder unlucky but it could have been a lot worse given the speed and the nearby kerb. Soon after the bunch looked less feisty but it was still nervous with riders occupying the width of the road and several logjam moments when it narrowed.
No moves went but the bunch was nervous and charging into the finish. Mark Cavendish has a theory that long finishing straights tempt others to launch their sprint too early because they can see the finish line and the arch from afar and jump too soon. Peter Sagan jumped with 300m to go and Cavendish surged to get on his wheel and benefited from the shelter before launching his sprint to overhaul the Slovak and win the day and the yellow jersey, one of the few prizes he’d yet to claim during his career.
The Route: 183km across the Cotentin peninsula. Three early climbs incentivise a breakaway before more riding across the Normandy bocage and more of the same terrain as you saw yesterday. The race passes through Coutances, which as a reader pointed out yesterday, was were the journalist Albert Londres met with 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” which is part of the canon of eternal cycling literature.
The final 100km are coastal, the race picking up the coastal road just where it turned in land elsewhere. It gets hilly too, a series of rollers for the last 40km. None of this is going to drop the sprinters especially as they’re all in top form but it will wear them down as they head to the finish.
The Finish: the race tackles the climb over Octeville, 1.3km at 4.5%, and drops into Cherbourg, all on a wide road used to speed traffic in and out of the town. They roll past the quays and turn back inland to start the climb to the line, the Côte de la Glacerie, named after the old glass factory that used to supply the hall of mirrors in Versaillles among other places.
The climb begins on a big wide road and the gradient is gentle enough, 5-6% as the road sweeps around wide bend. After 1.3km there’s a roundabout and the road turns left onto a smaller road lined by rowhouses, this is where the 10% gradient arrives. The 14% section cited above? Perhaps if you take the inside line on one right-hand bend it’s there… but it’s not that steep, the finish is mostly 5-6% all the way.
It’s an odd moment, the biggest race in the world diverted into a nondescript housing estate in order to hunt this steep road, this international race taking the backroads among Cherbourg’s suburbs. A brief descent and the race rejoins the main road, a long regular straight that’s got an even 6% slope to the line.
The Scenario: a big showdown at the finish. It’s improbable that a break rides into Cherbourg to contest the stage win, too many teams want to try and set up their leader for the finish today so they’ll chase down any earlier moves. Once the climb starts it’ll be very hard to use the steep slopes in the finish to jump away, the brief descent and then the long run to the line means a rider will flounder here while the bunch will have a good view on anyone ahead.
Note the 3km rule does not apply today (click here for an explainer from 2011) meaning the GC contenders have to join in the fight for the stage win or at least aim to be near the front as the field splits up on the way to the line.
The Contenders: Peter Sagan is the obvious choice. Too obvious? If anything his sprint yesterday was so strong that it confirms his position as the prime pick. He might not have won but he was still able to put out the power in the wind. He showed in Switzerland he was climbing well when he jumped away for the stage win, he was simply untouchable then. Consequently his problem will be the riders queuing on his wheel.
Who can beat Sagan? Greg Van Avermaet did it last year and he’s aiming for this stage. He says this is his “only chance”. There are surely other opportunities for him but this is his best chance, he’s won several uphill finishes during his career.
Who do Etixx-Quickstep back? Julian Alaphilippe is an obvious choice and Dan Martin is a contender here too. Petr Vakoč is a powerhouse for a finish like this but I suspect he’ll be on duty for the first two.
Another team with a dilemma is Orica-BikeExchange, both Simon Gerrans and Michael Matthews. They’re both suited to a finish like this and they’ve had issues in the past about who should work for who. Team management will iron this out, ideally one can try to fire off with 500m to go or cover others who do, while the other can sit tight for the sprint.
Tony Gallopin‘s got a good jump and is targeting stage wins this year. Like many this is one of the few chances he’ll get. It’ll be interesting to see how he approaches it, sometimes he gets nervous in finishes like this. Don’t rule out André Greipel, a win would be be wild but he might fancy trying to hang in there to take points.
Alejandro Valverde could do well here. The final section to the line on the big open road isn’t ideal, he’d surely prefer a much steeper ramp up but he can and should feature. Adam Yates is one of the GC contenders with a fast finish.
Edvald Boasson Hagen is a good pick, he won an uphill sprint in the Dauphiné but went down in yesterday’s crash and could be sore.
Bryan Coquard‘s had this stage marked in his diary for some time, he’s a sprinter who weighs less than 60kg so he’ll hope to float up the hill. As ever the quality of the field is his big problem but he’s got to strike some time.
Ag2r La Mondiale have two options in Alexis Vuillermoz and Samuel Dumoulin. Vuillermoz took a flyer last year but this time the road probably isn’t steep enough for him while Dumoulin’s got too much competition.
|Peter Sagan, Julian Alaphilippe
|Michael Matthews, GVA, Tony Gallopin
|Valverde, D Martin, Gerrans, Boasson Hagen, Coquard, Herrada
Weather: damp and cool, a top temperature of 19°C. It won’t be so windy, typically 15km/h from the south west.
TV: live coverage from 2.15pm and the finish is forecast for 5.20pm 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.