The Tour starts today and the yellow jersey awaits today’s winner. As well as the Tour’s opening stage there’s La Course to enjoy in the morning on the same roads.
The Route: the first of two days to showcase the city of Nice and its surroundings. If you want a visual preview of today’s Tour stage, tune into La Course in the morning which shares many of the same roads with the categorised climb to Rimiez which is about 6km at 5%, all on a wide road, the narrowest part has a tight hairpin 800m before the mountains point in Rimiez and there’s some 6-7% slopes here. After this the climbing isn’t done, there’s the climb to Aspremont which is 6km at nearly 5% too meaning an uncategorised climb that’s similar but sans points. It’s chased by a fast, twisty descent back down to the Var valley floor. From here it’s flat and the road widens allowing riders to move up. After crossing the finish line for the second time they climb to Aspremont again but this time turn off to Tourette and Levens to extend the inland loop, there’s a drag up here but 3-4% and then it’s another fast descent through the olive groves and less technical than the one from Aspremont down to the Var valley. From here it’s 28km to the finish.
The Finish: after passing the airport and negotiating some street furniture it’s onto the Promenade des Anglais, the big boulevard is 6km long and as a flat as a slice of socca.
The Contenders: a day for the sprinters but not the le sprint royal we get in the Tour as several of the best sprinters aren’t here. Today’s course is hilly but there’s a long run from Levens to the finish, an attack on the climb here would do well to take a minute but should need treble this to stay away. It’ll be a hectic day, an oblique way of saying crashes are likely but the course isn’t wild, it’s just the pressure among riders not to give ground, not to lose a metre or a second.
Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) is the obvious pick, he’s fast, he’s got his leadout train and he won three stages last year, trouncing Groenwegen and Viviani in their pomp. So far so good but he was dropped on the Cipressa in Milan-Sanremo and yes it was ho,t but he had a mixed time in the Tour de Wallonie, one stage win but dropped on a damp day on the Côte de Cherate when other sprinters weren’t. Rivals have an interest to put him under pressure here, if not to drop him then at least to make him tired.
Sam Bennett starts the Tour, it’s one reason he moved to Deceuninck-Quickstep as he got squeezed out at Bora-Hansgrohe each year. Yes he’s versatile and can win uphill sprints but he’s taken flat, fast and furious finishes too.
Elia Viviani (Cofidis) won a stage last year and is capable of winning again. His team is a touch weaker this year and he’s not landed a win this year when, Covid or not, he usually does.
Giacomo Nizzolo (NTT) is the form pick. He’s changing jerseys each time he races: he won the Italian championship last Sunday, then the European championships on Wednesday and at this rate he ought to collct the yellow jersey, right? Why not but he’s better at hard sprints after tough races, today’s 156km course is short and the dragstrip finish suits others and whisper it but his Italian team last Wednesday is better than NTT.
Cees Bol (Sunweb) has a great chance today, the long flat finish is ideal; by contrast weighing 25 kilos less than him is Bryan Coquard (B&B Hotels-Vital Concept) who is in great shape but today’s flat finish isn’t ideal. Matteo Trentin (CCC), Sonny Colbrelli, Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) all want hillier, spicier finishes too. Luka Mezgec (Mitchelton-Scott) is quick but an infrequent winner. Alexander Kristoff (UAE Emirates) has the pedigree but is last World Tour-level bunch sprint was the Champs Elysée in 2018.
What of Wout van Aert‘s chances? He can win bunch sprints but his successes have come on uphill finishes. Crucially though he’s likely to be on team duty and leading out Roglič and Dumoulin, not to the win but just to the line without mishap and having an ersatz sprint train is a good way to shield them. Still just in case, he gets a chainring…
|Sam Bennett, Elia Viviani
|Nizzolo, Sagan, Bol, Mezgec, Kristoff, WvA
Weather: not hot and with a good chance of rain in the afternoon, a top temperature of 27°C in Nice. A light onshore sea breeze means a slight headwind on the Var valley run back to the finish, to advantage the bunch.
TV: tune in to La Course first for live coverage from 10am-12.30pm CEST and then the Tour de France starts at 2pm with the finish forecast for 6.00pm Euro time.