Tour de France Stage 1 Preview

The Tour de France starts with a hilly stage in Brittany, the region of France where cycling is really embraced by the public. That public should be out in force today as the weather looks clement and the sanitary situation in France means people have the OK to enjoy the Tour from the roadside.

The Route: 198km and the best part of 3,000m of vertical gain, plenty for course that stays between sea level and 300m. There’s a bit of everything with cities, towns, coastal roads, farmland and parks. There are five categorised climbs to encourage a breakaway as the mountains jersey is up for grabs but they’re only the marked climbs, this is Brittany. The roads constantly dip, dive, twist and turn and to race here is to finish the day with sore legs from the repeat efforts. The climb through Locronan is cobbled, a postcard moment.

The Finish: a downhill run into town on a big road and across the river and into a narrow road that kicks up, this is a pinch point. Then a quick tour around town and back over the river again and then in short succession and right turn and a left turn, almost a chicane, to line out the field with the left turn leading on to the climb. Positioning counts for so much here as anyone starting far back has to do a lot more work just to get level with others ahead.

The Fosse Aux Loups climbs immediately on a narrow road at 5% and then comes into the 10-12% sections, before reaching a wider road, a level crossing and from here on the road is a steadier ascent at 7% and then after 1.5km the slope eases off towards the flamme rouge. It’s a wide road so lack of space as it’s back to a 3-4% rise to the line before easing in the final 250 metres. Altogether it makes for a tricky climb that demands a lot of effort at the start and then keeps sapping away for 1,800m.

The Contenders: we should see a bunch sprint of sorts, the peloton coming into the finish because so many teams can benefit from this. Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) is the obvious pick, he’s got the speed to win bunch sprints but has the explosivity to cope with a sharp climb like this and he was strolling around Switzerland picking off the wins a couple of weeks ago. But he got ill, packed in the Dutch champs and so a little doubt is there, plus he’s the rider to watch today, there will be a queue on his wheel.

Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) can do almost everything his long term rival van der Poel can, plus he’s a better climber and time triallist. The new Belgian champion is an obvious contender but short on racing after appendicitis last month and his team mate Primož Roglič has to be an outsider too, he won the Paris-Nice stage with the uphill finish in Biot earlier this year ahead of some sprinters.

Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quickstep) is the third of a trio and a different rider, he might prefer to pre-empt the sprint with a late attack and he’ll certainly need his team to hit the climb hard in order to soften up the others. In a straight sprint he’s less quick but if it’s tactical he can find a way through too.

Sonny Colbrelli doesn’t have the star profile of the three names above but he demolished the field to win the Italian championships and the tricolore jersey should give him some lustre, he’s a powerful sprinter who can float over climbs.

Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) would be the pick five years ago and is winning less but still one to watch, his team mate Ide Schelling maybe too. Can any sprinters make it? The final climb is hard but so is the whole day, the risk having heavy legs before tackling the final climb but both Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) and Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) have won athletic uphill finishes before. More outside picks are Christophe Laporte (Cofidis) and Benoît Cosnefroy (Ag2r Citroën) but a win would be a huge result for them. Ivan Garcia Cortina (Movistar) and Michael Matthews (Bike Exchange) can figure too but how to beat all the names above? Today’s stage is open to many and so we could list more names but if they end up beating van der Poel, van Aert, Alaphilippe and Colbrelli then something unusual surely happened.

Mathieu van der Poel
Wout van Aert, Sonny Colbrelli, Julian Alaphilippe
Roglič, Laporte, Cosnefroy, Matthews, Ewan, Aranburu, Démare

Weather: a relatively calm day, dry and 17°C

TV: live from 12.10 CEST and the finish is forecast for 5.15pm CEST. Tune in to see Brittany but parts of the coast are nature reserves and the TV helicopters can’t fly for fear of upsetting the bird life.

La Course is earlier and also live from the start at 8.20am until the finish around 11.30am CEST, it features a finish circuit on the Fosse aux Loups climb and the finish

Off on a tangent: “Fosse aux Loups”? It means wolf trap, watch out Julian Alaphilippe and his “wolfpack” team mates. A trap was a pit dug and lined with stones and then covered with foliage so the wolf would walk onto it and fall in. Did it work? Traps and poison were also used, and especially hunting with generous primes paid by the government although many local farmers needed little encouragement to protect their livestock. Wolves disappeared from Brittany about 120 years ago, the regional press occaisonally says they’re back but scientists say these are… dog sightings. They live elsewhere in France, mostly in the Alps and they’re a gradually making a comeback with parks and preservation, although it is a fraught political topic for livestock farmers in these areas.

48 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 1 Preview”

  1. No love for Marc Hirschi? Admittedly he’s had a pretty ordinary year so far, but if the terrain suits Alaphillepe, then Hirschi should be in the frame if he has the legs.

  2. “…parts of the coast are nature reserves and the TV helicopters can’t fly for fear of upsetting the bird life.”
    Will we read editorial about what a dumb idea it is to have a race in a place where ‘copters can’t fly to capture the images for TV? It’s LeTour so probably not, complaints like those are saved for Il Giro and the weather.
    LouLou for the win today? My fantasy would be Colbrelli, but I wouldn’t bet a dime on him even if Mr. Inrng puts gives him 2 chainrings like LouLou.

    • Don’t start the Giro/Tour polemica on stage 1, Larry ! You can’t really compare the amateurism of italian production as soon as it’s raining and their plane has to land, and the fact that some protected areas are crossed today (but we still should have moto images…) Don’t you like little birds, Larry ?

      • You are correct – I can’t. Your comment makes that pretty clear. Next we can go into the rabid, uncontrolled “tifosi” at the Giro and how they cause those devastating crashes…unlike…today in France.

  3. I remember Carapaz outsmarting sprinters, including Ewan, on a fairly similar finish in the Giro a few years ago. As @Inrng notes, Roglic can also win this kind of thing. I won’t be surprised if at least one GC contender is on the podium today. I think it’s worth looking out for Dan Martin/Mike Woods too! Really looking forward to it….

    • They’re good shouts and worth a chainring, especially if the climb is a little tougher than the profile suggests.

      If I was going for a total long shot it’d be Mohorič but it’s hard to see past the big names on this type of finish.

    • Let’s not forget Thomas’ win in the Dauphine. Not quite as sinuous as this sounds, but if there’s a lot of waiting and watching of favourites then there will be opportunities. In my head this stage seems awesome, with great possibilities of a spring classic in summer. But I figure a fresh field and lots of enthusiasm will likely mean a hotly contested finale and probably crashes.

      • It’s more of an Ardennes climb, it seems. I would pick the snappy GC riders, including Alaphilippe over the classics puncheurs. Roglic could win this one and tomorrow.

        • It’s a really hard one to predict having just watched La Course. If the elastic doesn’t snap in the first 500m-1km it gets very draggy after that and could imagine the Classics riders hauling in a Michael Woods / Dan Martin type rider. The real GC favourites might just sit in as the steepest part of the slope is still a long way from the finish.

    • Every year I spend an hour or two searching for an English radio commentary stream to listen to while out riding, but I’ve never managed to find one. Which I find strange… there must be one out there somewhere! If you do find one please post it!

  4. And there’s sure to be a GC hopeful out of the reckoning before the Tour leaves Brittany. Who will it be? Any rider without the JV or Ineos team support caught up in a late accident, mechanical or puncture. There’s the stage to dispute but the whittling down starts too.

  5. This is the kind of day that Sky / Ineos used to sock it to Quintana et al, and Lady Luck often nipped out down town and out of Richie Porte’s life for a brief but crucial while.
    It’s tough to look beyond van der Poel if he’s fit and well but the GC back story will be interesting.
    I have a feeling that at least one of the contenders will lose time and, ironically, I think he’ll be wearing the dark blue of Team Ineos – Carapaz or Porte?

  6. The climb looks tougher than the Cauberg and the day as a whole looks a bit “Amstel light”, to use an INRNG term. Is it tough enough for Valverde to be thereabouts at the finish too? Seems like a great opening stage – cycling mad corner of France and a course that could suit anyone from the sprinters to the GC guys.

  7. I’ll take Sagan’s chances over pretty much all the one-chain ring names, except perhaps Roglic. I think he’s been off training for this and is going to surprise a lot of people. Not his fans – I think on the betting sites he’s the number five favorite – but I look for him to be much stronger than many are expecting.

  8. First stages often through up a surprise; Kristoff last year and Teunissen the year before so I fancy a bit of an outsider. Maybe Arunburu?

  9. I wonder if MvdP’s tendency for poor positioning will cost him today…he seems to linger a little too far back at key moments (20-30 wheels behind, where WvA, Alaphillipe etc will be top 5-10) which might just cost him in the narrow lead in and leave him having to expend too much energy before the sprint…

    • The guy has excellent positioning skills. Every top rider has examples of what seems to be poor positioning, because with riders like vdP, WvA and Alaphilipe, you have to be in excellent shape to even be in the front, let alone attack. Usually, a less than stellar day translates to a not optimal position. You can see that in races like RvV, vdP has no lack of dare or instinct for where he needs to be. It seems that in some races, he doesn’t care and hangs around in the back, or he’s really confident that he can move up when he has to.

  10. What about GC gaps today? Sounds like there are some tight spots but also wider roads and lesser gradients to recover on….. maybe we’ll see some 10 second GC gaps, something like that?

  11. The way the finish gradient lessons off i think this will be less predictable. Anyone who goes on the steep part will probably burn out.
    so it will be very tactical and team mates who can push the pace from the bottom will be ultra important for those with the lower sprinting speed. Watch not just for the big names coming to the finish but also witch teams are organised.
    If no team can really push it those like Caleb, Colbrelli or matthews will really come into calculation.

    Love the photo. when VDP took off it was one of the most astonishing accelerations on such a steep road imaginable.

  12. Just watched La Course, it’s a tough finish. Steep kick, then flattens slightly before another steep kick where the likes of Woods or Dan Martin would have to go. After that it’s very draggy and even a slight downhill before a sprint finish. Wouldn’t be surprised to see Roglic take it, although MVDP / Colbrelli would be my favourites.

    • To add – the big problem for the more GC focused riders is that the ideal point for them to attack is still more than 2.5km to the finish. Plenty time for MVDP etc to pull it back on the draggy section.

Comments are closed.