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.