The race was gripping yesterday when the opening stage was turned into a scene you’d expect from a Belgian classic as the bunch was split asunder by the crosswinds. Today has the potential for more action thanks to the course and weather forecast.
Stage 1 Wrap: a circuit race on the edge of Parisian suburbia? On paper it didn’t promise much, a kermesse, a mise en jambe to get the legs turning. The wind got up and the riders got to work and if the likes of Velon want exciting racing there’s no need to reinvent the wheel, just make it blow. The bunch split in half and then the second group began to splinter. It was a predictable scenario but as ever there’s only room for a few riders at the front of the bunch and so no matter how many warnings were given in the morning team briefings plenty of riders and whole teams were caught out.
As they approached the finish several sprinters were floundering with Bryan Coquard the first to blow, then Marcel Kittel and then André Greipel. Démare perhaps had an easier ride during the day as five FDJ riders made the front group but that’s not to say Démare was coasting, just that his team were there for him when it mattered. Kittel’s ejection meant Quick Step needed another plan late in the stage and Julian Alaphilippe took off on the final climb. Tony Gallopin tried to chase but couldn’t and then Arnaud Démare rode across. Démare may be more than a sprinter, and his authority on the final climb showed this, but he is still a sprinter and the result in the final 200 metres was inevitable.
Alaphilippe did well but collects yet another runner-up prize. Sergio Henao, Dan Martin and Julian Alaphilippe will all be pleased after putting a minute or more into their rivals by making the front group. Richie Porte and Ilnur Zakarin galloped up the final climb to take time on their rivals in the second group, notably Alberto Contador, Simon Yates. Two thirds of the field came in over 16 minutes down.
Late in the stage Romain Bardet crashed and gave chase but had the help of the team car, excessive help and being right in view of a motorbike commissaire meant he was disqualified upon arrival and sent home. Harsh? Yes but inevitable. The rule (12.1.040) says “Rider holding on to his team’s vehicle” means certain elimination, there’s no debate. Maybe he could have drafted more but the “magic spanner” was too much. The problem here isn’t Bardet but the inconsistent application of the rules, too often riders get away with a tow in plain sight when the rules stipulate any mechanical, real or simulated, needs to be treated when stopped at the roadside rather than at 60km/h. Like many disasters this wasn’t one single failure but the compound effect of several mistakes and mishaps, for starters the wind but also Bardet’s isolation as he had no team mates with him when the group split and then the crash which brought him and others down. Bardet issued an apology via social media, the right thing to do and pure Bardet with its Latin heading and measured words.
The Route: 195km and featureless. You might hope to read of something special along the way – tomorrow’s preview will be more enlightening – but here the terrain is simply unremarkable as the race proceeds past France’s vast cereal fields, the land where all those baguettes begin. But they harvest another thing in this region: the wind. There are wind turbines dotted across the landscape, testimony to the exposed terrain.
The race heads in a general south-east direction but as the map above shows with 61km to go it bends north-north east. There’s a circuit to complete they cross the finish line with 31km to go before continuing a loop on exposed roads.
The Finish: fast and flat, there’s a long run to the finish along the same road, it’s so flat it runs parallel to a canal and the road is of a generous and consistent width. It’s on a road running NW meaning a likely headwind although the forecast says the wind direction will swirl around during the day.
The Contenders: Marcel Kittel is an obvious pick given the flat “dragstrip” approach and he’s a got a strong team around him. The only doubt is whether he’s rinsed from yesterday’s efforts but of course he made the front group when others didn’t so if the wind splits things he’s often in the right place at the right time.
Alexander Kristoff will be near. He was third yesterday which suggests better than his rivals but he was able to sit tight yesterday while Kittel and André Greipel were doing more work in the front group, the latter is still a solid pick.
What can Arnaud Démare do? FDJ will want to defend Démare’s lead given he’s their leader in this race. He’s in great shape but in a straight sprint the quality of the field means his chances of a repeat win are reduced.
Amid the other sprinters Nacer Bouhanni often springs back after a setback and having finished over 16 minutes down his team will expect something better. His low aero position could help into the headwind. The outside pick is Dan McClay because if there’s a headwind sprint maybe he can repeat that finish from the GP de Denain.
|André Greipel, Alexandre Kristoff
|Démare, Bouhanni, Groenewegen
Weather: wet and windy with a top temperature of 9°C. It won’t be as wild as yesterday but the forecast says a NNW wind at 25km/h gusting to 40km/h which is enough, if the peloton is inclined, to split the bunch again.
TV: coverage starts at 3.30pm and the finish is forecast for 4.40pm CET. Tune in to catch the action on the wind-exposed finishing circuit.