Tour de France Stage 1 Preview

The show begins with a 14km time trial around the city of Düsseldorf. Can Tony Martin deliver a home win and das Gelbe Trikot or will his record of close calls continue?

The Route: 14km out and back between Düsseldorf’s tidy Messe conference hall and the city centre including 10km alongside the sleepy river Rhine. It’s so flat the only changes in altitude are bridges over the river Rhine but these will be felt, they’re suspension bridges rather than small bumps. The few technicalities come in nine corners, some require braking, most don’t. Overall this is a fast and flat course on big boulevards. The time check at 8.1km comes in the downturn shopping precinct before heading north back to the start alongside the banks of the Rhine with a four kilometre long finishing straight that will see returning riders pass rivals on their way out in the opposite direction.

The Contenders: Tony Martin carries the weight of a nation and the expectations of his Katusha team. Freshly crowned German TT champion he’ll start in the rainbow bands as world champion. If his wardrobe’s crowded, his trophy cabinet isn’t because he’s not won a World Tour level TT since May 2015. However the absence of rival time trial specialists opens the way for him, the course suits him perfectly but the drought means he’s still not the certainty of the past. He has racked up three second places this season to prove this. If ever there was a day to come first it’s today but unlike football home advantage counts for little in cycling, it just brings added pressure.

Jos Van Emden won the Giro’s final stage, the time trial into Milan and he could win the Tour’s opener. He’s a specialist in short, flat courses and so Düsseldorf is as good as Milan. But where’s his form at? Lotto-Jumbo have a good second shot at the stage win with Primož Roglič (pictured) who almost won the Giro’s opener in 2016 but for Tom Dumoulin pipping him by a fraction of a second. Now the Slovenian has been preparing specifically for the Tour de France and won the Ster ZLM prologue recently.

Rohan Dennis would have been a top pick but while he enjoys the sofa BMC Racing team mate Stefan Küng has a good shot at the win. The Swiss powerhouse was second to Dennis in both stages of the Tour de Suisse showing speed over long and short distances.

Movistar bring two time trial specialists Jasha Sütterlin is the team’s German connection and a promising TT specialist but this would be an upset, a dream come true. Instead Jonathan Castroviejo is more experienced but the course’s big wide roads don’t suit him so well.

Among others Michał Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) has won time trials before but blows hot and cold but he says he’ll try and if you like coincidences the last German grand départ 30 years ago in Berlin saw Lech Piasecki triumph. Stephen Cummings (Dimension Data) hasn’t won a big time trial but his win in the British Championships was convincing. Aussies Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) and Luke Durbridge (Orica-Scott) could place high. Maciej Bodnar (Bora-Hansgrohe) would normally be an outside pick but he lost 90 seconds to Kwiatkowski in the recent Polish championships. Lastly if we’re expecting Tony Martin then Marcel Kittel is another home rider to watch, an unlikely winner today but possibly top-10 and positioning himself nicely for time bonuses in upcoming sprint stages. A few years ago Taylor Phinney would have been a strong pick, now we’ll see, perhaps Cannondale-Drapac team mate Dylan Van Baarle can surprise.

Lastly watch the GC contenders, 14km is enough to put daylight in between the big names and leave some of the climbers looking like fish out of water, as hopeless as Gustave Courbet’s trout. We’ll get an immediate comparison between Richie Porte and Chris Froome plus clues from the others but as good as Porte was in the Dauphiné’s TT which had two climbs he’s unlikely to win today, the course is for the powerful specialists.

Tony Martin
Primož Roglič, Stefan Küng, Jos Van Emden
Kwiatkowski, Matthews, Durbridge, Castroviejo, Van Baarle, Sütterlin, Kittel

Weather: cool and cloudy with a top temperature of 15°C. Early rain is forecast to become more intermittent and a 15km/h breeze from the south-west will help dry the roads and get in the way of the riders because there’s almost nowhere to enjoy a tailwind on the course. It could gust to 30km/h too.

TV: live from start to finish. The first rider, Elie Gesbert (Fortuneo-Oscaro) and the race’s youngest rider leaves at 3.15pm with the finish forecast for 6.50pm CET.

Start times CET:
18h00 Daniel Martin (IRL/Quick-Step Floors)
18h02 Esteban Chaves (COL/Orica-Scott)
18h06 Richie Porte (AUS/BMC)
18h08 Alejandro Valverde (ESP/Movistar)
18h15 Sylvain Chavanel (FRA/Direct Energie)
18h16 Primož Roglič (SLO/LottoNL-Jumbo)
18h19 André Greipel (ALL/Lotto-Soudal)
18h20 Tony Martin (ALL/Katusha-Alpecin)
18h22 Marcel Kittel (ALL/Quick-Step Floors)
18h24 Luke Durbridge (AUS/Orica-Scott)
18h25 Arnaud Démare (FRA/FDJ)
18h26 Louis Meintjes (AFS/UAE Emirates)
18h27 Fabio Aru (ITA/Astana)
18h28 Stefan Küng (SUI/BMC)
18h29 Alberto Contador (ESP/Trek-Segafredo)
18h30 Nairo Quintana (COL/Movistar)
18h31 Pierre Latour (FRA/AG2R La Mondiale)
18h32 Chris Froome (GBR/Sky)

50 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 1 Preview”

  1. I have Tony Martin for the home win or Primoz Roglic. They’re both in my fantasy team so more important things than a yellow jersey are at stake! Can the likes of Porte and Froome also already put 30-45 seconds of a gap into Quintana on day one? I think so.

    • I agree that unlike a prologue this route is long enough for some significant gaps to open up in the GC. Not sure the wind will be an issue but if it is Nairo Quintana will struggle, he and other lightweight riders (Dan Martin, Louis Meintjes?) tend to be affected more by the wind than some of the TT specialists. It will be interesting to see if Chris Froome can cast aside his relatively poor TT performances and not sure if this route really suits Richie Porte. It looks ideal for Tom Dumoulin!

      • Porte’s TT form seems subject to strange swings. Great in the recent Dauphine but in the Tour last year, when he was making a GC run, he was 2 minutes off Froome in the Ardeche ITT. In a previous Australian champs he beat Rohan Dennis. All this tells me Porte can be inconsistent.

  2. Glad to see someone mention Van Emden and Roglic! Most other media only mention proven tour riders – but it’s not exactly a different sport just because it is the tour is it.
    Also It will be exciting to follow Matthews and other sprinters who might have a yellow jersey waiting with the bonus seconds.

  3. My hunch: Froome to be first of the genuine GC riders. I have a sense that his top end is there but he can’t utilise as much of it in the longer durations. Which is why he lost so much time to ‘Fugsland’ last month. But in a short test he might be able to mask the deficit. Whether his form broadens in the next three weeks is an important facet of this tour.

  4. Froome obviously starts last as defending champion, but how did they decide on the starting order for the rest of the field? Also the country code for the German riders are listed as ALL, what does that mean…

    • The organization gives repeated individual spots to the teams based on the inverse last year’s overall (e.g. Sky last spot, ag2r second last spot, then Movistar, trek, etc) but the teams can choose the riders to fill the spots (e.g. Ag2r sent bardet much before their second last spot ahead of of froome). hope this helps.

  5. That was unexpected. After all the planning its back to the men in white leading the peloton around France (in fact Germany and Belgium……). Well done G and not good news about Alejandro Valverde. Big advantage to Chris Froome and Team Sky and the race hasnt even left Düsseldorf……..

  6. Out of interest how many GT Timetrials have been won recently when INRNG hasn’t given a chainring to the winner? Has there even been one? Sign of unpredictable tour to come?

  7. Sky DS Nico Portal has said after the stage (to Eurosport’s Laura Meseguer) he thinks Sky can keep the jersey at least until Planches des Belles Filles (stage 5, first mountain top finish). Kittel is currently 16 seconds down, Matthews 20 seconds and Sagan 25 seconds. Of course, if they manage to do that the mountain will mean that sprinters are out of the frame for yellow for the rest of the race. Given Froome has a minimum 35 second advantage over his main rivals what are the chances Sky have yellow all the way to Paris? (This is a question not an assertion)

    • My thoughts exactly. No sprinter is close enough, unless they grab bonus points and there’s a split in the bunch, but I don’t think there are echelon stages this year (ie not classic ones across the northern coast etc)? So unlikely to have splits. Therefore wouldn’t be surprised to see sky hold the Jersey all tour – with Froome grabbing it either on planche or a few days later.

      I hope not however, for the good of an unpredictable race!

    • 2 stage wins by Kittel and he is in yellow. A combo of wins and podium places for Sagan as well. Those scenarios are conceivable before stage 5. After that the GC men will rule. Not sure Sky want the jersey for the full 21 days as well…

  8. RonDe. Since their inception, Sky have always ridden the Tour according to a plan. I don’t think riding to keep a jersey for any team member, other than the nominated leader has ever been part of this approach. Sometimes it is good practice to keep opponents guessing. I would submit that Portal is simply keeping everybody unsure as to how SKY might react in circumstances when Gs jersey is under threat. Three weeks, a winning formula and one leader is probable the clue, even if G is backup. No one is going to know for sure, because Brailsford is not talking to the press.

  9. safety, safety, safety, 3km rule, 3 seconds split rule, 8 men teams rule and they dont put shock absorbers on 13km course corners when it rains, shall we ever learn to anticipate???

    • My thoughts exactly.
      But did any rider complain before the race and asked for added protection in those turns? I would really like to know that. Because those guys are the best experts for their own security and I would assume they have ridden the course not only today but also earlier. So there would have been enough time to react and put at least some kind of cushioning material in front of those barriers.

      Such a shame for Valverde that he couldn’t tame his temper. I already saw his eagerness when he was still on the ramp and thought: Play it safe boy, stay on your bike. But he obviously wanted to get as much of an advantage as possible. Definitely not according to his 100% for Nairo statement from a few days ago. But I didn’t expect anything else from him. You don’t win so many races at 37 if you’re not very, very ambitious.

      • Astonishing letdown. For fans of Spanish cycling maybe not as sordid as the 2013 World Championship race, but there were high hopes for the entertainment value of Movistar’s “hide the leader” approach this year. In his favor, Valverde was right that Froome would take real time on anyone who didn’t hurry along. This was not quite what Dusseldorf had in mind…

    • I disagree. There was no failure of safety or course design. Valverde was simply going to fast, something organisers cannot control at all. In this instance he paid the price for his lack of judgment.

  10. The parcours had 9 corners, maybe 3 of them were tricky. And still they didnt manage to put some proctection in these? It looked really painful how the riders slided into the barriers.

    • There were corners with yellow cushion protectors, the narrow ones. But this one was wide enough. It’s not like Valverde and Izagirre are inexperienced newbies and 200 others made it through that corner.
      But yeah, in hindsight, they should’ve been everywhere. But tell me a race where you ever saw full protection in every corner.

    • If Porte climbing beyond Froome as he was in the Dauphine – 35secs is nothing. Porte’s confidence in his ability might define this tour one way or the other.

  11. Sad reality is that if you went back in history of teams as strong as Sky at Tdf’s.. the only ones close ring bad omens.

    But as was said..

    “I’m sorry for you. I’m sorry you can’t believe in miracles/marginal gains.”

    • What are you talking about SArover….

      Are you saying La Vie Claire were all at it? Z team with Greg Lemond?
      There have been strong teams before Postal/Discovery, and Banesto if you’re including them… but you’re posting with a vague insinuation assuming everyone on here doesn’t have an indepth knowledge of cycling and it’s history so they’ll lap up your uninformed idiocy.

      Sky may be at it, but their strength and a team like HTC before them (in a different discipline) is far more complex than just assuming their on the sauce… please post with actual proof/info if you’re coming here with a need to push the Sky doping angle. We all know the issues and we all realise comments are useless till we know more, so let’s just stick to the facts… once we know them and be quiet when we don’t. Insinuations without proof are stupid and unfair.

      Seems like TDF silly time is upon us again.

      • None of the Sky riders being in the top five is a surprise, it’s not like it’s Nieve or Rowe… come on, use your noggin SArover. Whether or not Sky turn out to be PostalMKII, it’s a reasonable explanation for today at least that they are rich and can afford four top riders to get into the top 10.

    • I suspect your cycling knowledge only goes back to the year 2000. Because if it doesn’t then your knowledge of “strong teams” is sadly lacking… as is your reasoning that “strong team” = cheat.

  12. Dear Inrng, Please continue to sprinkle your columns with delicacies like Gustav Courbet’s Trout. I appreciate and enjoy your cycling expertise and thoughtful analysis, but it’s the extras that put you far above the rest. Thank you.

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