A day in and the the team time trial, an important rendez-vous for those with hopes for the win in Paris.
Stage 1 Review: we expected Dylan Groenewegen, we got Mike Teunissen. A crash in the finale took out Groenewegen and disrupted the sprint trains and without his sprinter, Mike Teunissen bided his time and then rounded Sonny Colbrelli to win by a bike throw ahead of Peter Sagan. A surprise result but no fantasy, he was imperious in the uphill sprints at the Four Days of Dunkerque and it’s a jackpot for Jumbo, the Dutch supermarket chain that’s expanding into Belgium who are guaranteed coverage in the media, as the first Dutchman in the maillot jaune for 30 years Teunissen. Caleb Ewan was close, possibly the fastest, but like a commuter rushing towards a subway train, found the doors closing in his face.
Earlier a break of four went clear with Greg Van Avermaet taking the mountains jersey on the Kapelmuur and then sitting up, to leaving a trio to be swept up by an enterprising Bora-Hansgrohe team who accelerated on the day’s cobbled sector, splitting the field and allowing Peter Sagan to win the intermediate sprint with ease. Jacob Fuglsang had a nasty crash with 18km to go, precious blood streaming down his face and if no bones are broken he has “muscle contusions around his knee” according to his team.
The Route: 27.6km and heading out of Brussels to the suburb of Woluwe Saint Pierre where, once upon a time, the Merckx family ran a small grocery store and now there are schools and squares named after him before heading back into Brussels… where there’s a metro station named after him too. The course isn’t too technical, it’s got long boulevards – beware the tram lines – and bridges, just 200m of vertical gain but the corners and slopes have to be managed carefully by teams, to know where to swap the lead and how to pace it. The time is taken on the fourth rider of the team across the line.
The Contenders: Team Ineos have a strong roster with engines like Geraint Thomas and Michał Kwiatkowski who can win a solo TT on their day, plus the likes of Gianni Moscon, Luke Rowe and Dylan van Baarle who’ll be strong too.
Mitchelton-Scott come with two specialists in Michael Hepburn and Luke Durbridge and strong riders like Matteo Trentin and Daryl Impey plus the Yates brothers are good but small, offering less shelter to those behind.
Jumbo-Visma have a strong squad, one reason Wout van Aert was called up was for today, the Dauphiné TT winner will be a big engine today along with Tony Martin and Mike Teunissen can stay in yellow.
Deceuninck-Quickstep were third in last year’s TTT but have a couple of powerhouses less compared to the squad they had a year ago.
EF Education First won the TTT in Colombia earlier this year, a surprise but testimony to work done and added budget affording more aero testing and they have a good squad with Tejay van Garderen a regular with BMC’s world champion squad.
Sunweb and Katusha both have strong, homogenous squads and CCC are running on a fraction of the budget of the old BMC days, their eight riders here are also very complementary.
|Mitchelton-Scott, Sunweb, EF Education First|
Yellow story: since we’re in Brussels and celebrating Eddy Merckx, he wore the yellow jersey for 97 days, a record of course. Winning five tours helps but he’d win the yellow jersey across all terrains, he could win the opening prologue and enjoy a spell in the jersey before a sprinter “borrowed” it only for Merckx to triumph in the mountains and reclaim it; he could win bunch sprints too. This all round ability extended to winning all three distinctive jerseys in the 1969 Tour and three times he won the green jersey and the race overall. He is the greatest of all time and always will be given the sport today rewards specialisation, even the most complete rouleur-grimpeur capable of winning the Tour de France today is unlikely to win the green jersey once, let alone several times and then bag Paris-Roubaix, the Giro, the Worlds and more. Perhaps it’s for the better as the Merckx era must have had its frustrations for viewers given the repeat wins.
Weather: sunshine and clouds and a cool 21°C, ideal weather to wear an aero helmet. There’s a slight headwind for final 10km which will build from 10km/h to 15km/h for the final teams.
TV: the stage starts at 2.30pm CEST and finish is forecast for 4.45pm CEST / Euro time. Teams go off at five minute intervals in reverse team classification order with Ineos the first to start, not ideal for them but they might have designs about catching Arkéa up ahead. Jumbo-Visma go last.