Tour de France Stage 1 Preview

Welcome to the first of the daily previews. The Tour de France starts with a lively stage in the Basque Country that should be lined with fans and offers a finale open to many if they can make the front group over the climbs, through some crosswinds and into Bilbao.

The Route: 182km out and back from Bilbao via the Atlantic coast with 3,200m of vertical gain. There are four categorised climbs but as ever in the Basque Country plenty more hills. The early climb near Laukiz is on a big wide road that snakes up, it can get the mountains competition going here but if an early attacker wants the polka-dot jersey they need to win this, the next climb and then the one after to score five points in total and stay away for the Vivero too otherwise if someone else wins the Vivero, they’re in the polka dots on the podium.

Most of the roads are wide and steady but it’s the Tour de France, the most stressful race of the year and the opening day is the most tense with everyone aware that a split, crash or mishap could spoil things for the three weeks to come and even ruin the season.

The climb of Pike Bidea (pronounced “PK”) is well known to locals and the peloton alike as it’s been a staple of the Circuito de Getxo, a local pro race. Listed as 2km at 10% it’s more like one kilometre at 5% and the second at 15% with steeper moments too. It can be broken down into easy to remember sections for the riders, one or two recon rides will have been plenty. If you’re watching on TV, here’s the breakdown:

  • There’s the run past Bilbao airport and the left turn at the roundabout to start the approach
  • The road funnels into something smaller before it passes under the railway line
  • It’s a regular road past houses and starts climbing, but first like a staircase with a steep section, then flat and so on, but nothing severe
  • There’s a flat pause and then a rise over the motorway bridge and the road heads for a bend from where the road rears up. Gear change time
  • From here on it’s 12-15%, all on a wide road but it gets steeper and twistier, a rider too far behind will find it harder and harder to overtake
  • Round a tight hairpin bend and the road straightens up and keeps rising but the slope is easier now, just and it’s up to the junction at the top
  • Past the official top of the climb there’s 9.6km to the finish and the road keeps rising, just.

There was going to be an eight second time bonus at the top but this has been ditched, presumably the organisers want to coronate the stage winner in Bilbao rather than leave the media explaining how someone who finished second or third is somehow in yellow.

Then comes a descent into Bilbao, all on a wide express road. It’s a fast descent.

The Finish: once in Bilbao it’s along the banks of the Nervion river, past the Guggenheim museum and its titanium cladding, then a left turn and it’s up and away via some hairpin bends, it’s all on a wide road with a steady gradient, 4-5% and nothing more than 6% before it eases just before the line. All road stages have the 10-6-4 second time bonus so a reminder that the stage win and yellow jersey await the winner.

The Contenders: the uphill finish in Bilbao is ideal for the likes of Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck), the former has the advantage on the five minute plus effort of Pike Bidea, the latter for the shorter uphill sprint in Bilbao. Both have to get over the climb of Pike Bidea with the leaders. Others know this and have every interest in a fierce pace on the Vivero and then throwing everything they’ve got at Pike with the hope of detaching the two because the climb is sufficiently hard to cause them problems: they don’t need to be left dangling on the climb, just 20th wheel over the top and the wrong side of a split can spoil things for them. Who could do this? Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal-Quickstep) comes to mind but his one man show into Epernay from 2019 feels long ago now, he may prefer to mark rivals on Pike Bidea before trying to win the sprint. He says his preparation has been perfect but all the same he doesn’t have the same sizzle as then and risks being caught between the “two Vans” and the GC powerhouses, even he says he’s a “small musketeer“. Tom Pidcock (Ineos) as well can count on a decent sprint at the end but he can hope to float over the climb, but he’s more suited to the climb than the big boulevard finish in Bilbao, he’d want a most twisty descent and technical run through Bilbao.

Tadej Pogačar (UAE) can start as he means to go on. He can win a reduced bunch sprint on a good day so a hilly finale and an uphill sprint is even more suitable, he can go on the last climb or wait. Where Pogačar goes, Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) can’t be far but he’s proved much less of a one day racer, he hasn’t done one this year let alone won one, still he’s got to be close.

Pello Bilbao (Bahrain) is the pick for nominative determinism but as a local he has been dreaming of this stage and well suited. He’s a punchy rider and an excellent descender but the run down to Bilbao isn’t so technical and as good as he can be he’s not a world-beating specialist in a particular niche.

There’s a long tail of riders who have a chance today but faced with the “two Vans” they’re all outsiders. Steep climbs, an uphill sprint? Benoît Cosnefroy (Ag2r Citroën), but like many if he’s still around for the sprint in Bilbao then he’s got to find a way past WvA and MvdP but he can pop up for a big win now and then, ditto local Alex Aranburu (Movistar) with the latter causing an upset if he wins. Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty) is a great rider and after a slow start to the season has started winning but has he got the range for today’s stage, we’ll see. Alexey Lutsenko (Astana), Simon Yates (Jayco-Al Ula), Dylan Teuns (Israel-PremierTech), Giulio Ciccone (Lidl-Trek), Magnus Cort (EF Education-Easypost) all fit the bill.

Van Aert, Van der Poel
Pogačar, Alaphilippe
Pidcock, Vingegaard, Bilbao, Girmay, Cosnefroy, Teuns, Aranburu, S Yates


Weather: cloudy and overcast, 21°C at most. Rain for the start could clear and a 20km/h NW wind will help dry out the roads for the finish but could gust stronger and there are many exposed sections over the top of the climbs today. It’s not red alert for crosswinds, more one of those self-reinforcing moments were the risk stresses teams so they crowd to be at the front and so on.

The NW wind might reduce hopes of a Pike Bidea attack as the section over the top and across to the descent will face a pesky headwind… but it means a light tailwind for the finale through Bilbao.

TV: KMO is at 12.55pm and the finish is forecast for 5.20pm CEST. Tune in early to see who goes in the breakaway and to see if the wind gets up, be sure to see the final hour to watch the attritional process.

36 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 1 Preview”

  1. You almost expect a race like this in a 3 week tour to bw decided on the final climb but one day races often get decided from further out and i can easily see that happening here. In a one day race every team wants to win that day. But in this race many teams might prefer there is no end game from the main peloton so less stress. So the one or 2 teams chasing may have a lot to do (MvDP and Alaphilippe team). I expect a stronger than normal day 1 starting break and maybe strong moves from roughly 50 km out.
    If the right move goes in the last 60 km (or even the right move from the start) then i can see Jumbo and UAE not chasing and the break away wins by default with no one chasing. I expect jumbo to help WVA at the end if in contention but i don’t expect them to chase for long to set it up. On reason being that POG is more likely to take time bonuses so chasing to set up WVA could easily back fire.

    Side note – As an aussie with little euro name exposure i find Alaphilippe an impossible name to remember the spelling. Way to many letters for a poor aussie to get a handle on.

  2. A fantastic city and one making the most of the surrounding landscape for an entertaining grand depart. I can’t abide first day time trials at grand tours.

  3. Skjelmose is flying right now and this year he has developed into one of the world’s best on steep, short climbs (second in Flèche, top ten all Ardennes week). At least in the beginning of stage races or in one day races. He will be there the first two days, perhaps in yellow, I think. And hope – I’m Danish and hopelessly biased.

  4. Love the route. Is the idea to make sure any new Netflix cycling fans have something to hook them in first off? Imagine punishing them with a day of ITT (which are dull and make even worse TV). Good to see joined up thinking.

    • The Christian Prudhomme era is typical of this, a made-for-TV route. The opening prologue/TT is rare these days, especially if there’s a route with some hills within reach for the opening Saturday. The idea is to have action and variety as often as possible, and shorter stages. Much like the Vuelta, but with the longer climbs of the Pyrenees and Alps.

  5. Let’s hope there’s not any rain as it will be stressful enough – thanks again for these daily previews.
    Will UAE & Jumbo get involved or will neither of them want the yellow jersey yet? Maybe let Alaphilippe, MvdP etc fight it out and make sure everyone comes home together and see how Pogacar’s wrist is.

  6. I will go for a walk and watch “as live” a few hours. I like Inrng for the informed writing which is seconds to none. I hope for Pidcock and I hope Ineos has a game plan (I am not convinced). Wout and MVDP are favourites but Pogacar is maybe the same. I can a break but I hope for a battle without it. Let’s have no crashes. Vive La Tour 😊❤️.

  7. This is an amazing start of the Tour. It’s a one day race in an Grand Tour, especcially as the yellow jersey is at stake. Curious to see how it plays out. It’s going to be a small group sprinting for the win logically, but will Van der Poel, Van Aert, Girmay, Aranburu and Coquard still be there? I’ve doubt it as Bahrain will probably set an insane pace for Bilbao to win in his home region.

  8. Now its summer and this isn’t a monument I’m saying its a win for WvA. The finale should be spectacular though and open to quite a few.

  9. Well, we are back. Today I can’t see past MVDP, ruling out WVA as his duties will, I think, be down the line and Alaphilippe as he is yet to return the man of old.

    Although the peloton has plenty of Basque riders who will know the roads and know that today will make their life, if they can win. But that is true of the whole peloton.

    The Basque country is hard, hard cycling and the next three days will be fantastically hard and busy. I am super disappointed that Euskaltel did’t get a wild card. I suspect my memory is longer than others but the ‘La Marea Naranja’ has provided me with so many sporting moments.

    So Aupa Euskal Herria!

  10. Marc Soler to launch an unplanned all-guns-blazing attack at 20k while Pogacar is having a mechanical, then get reeled in like a flaming yo-yo at 500m?

    • That would make a perfect start for an unforgettable Tour… and a perfect Netflixesque stage (well, I’m not sure, there would be too much swearing in the cars). Soler would also have to look back and shake his arms a lot of times to make good TV. And WVA blocking Vingegaard in the sprint and making him lose the bonus seconds.

    • Vive la yournée (with Delgado accent) ? la yourte ? 🙂
      Tour is masculine in French, it’s LE Tour (but la tournée, if you’re in a pub)

  11. Thank you for the ‘Welcome’, INRNG. It’s always a pleasure to read you writings/predictions and the comments of the world’s most qualified cycling-experts audience ….. hehe. Welcome to you all.
    Watch out for Skelmose today – he’s young, fast and on fire!!

  12. So excited , the highlight of the sporting summer!

    Looking forward to the daily morning read up too, so thanks in advance, Diamond Ring.

  13. Why do the route preview graphics always show the distance counting up from the start, when tv coverage shows the distance to the finish? Makes it so much harder to relate what is coming up.

  14. I just hope not to have a repeat of the Giro… I see a very hard route, another Jumbo Visma this year compared to last one (no Roglic, wva probably not ending the race for the birth of his 2nd child) and the worlds in the minds of the classic contenders.
    Not directly the best ingredients.

  15. Feeling very (and perhaps inevitably) underwhelmed with that stage after all the anticipation. Slow grind until the finish, all the big entertainers dropped and then the two brothers get away. Did they even contest the finish? Congrats Adam. Bring on stage 2.

    • The result was nice, though, wasn’t it? Twin brothers winning the stage. Mas and Carapaz crashing wasn’t ideal, of course. Other than that…

      In the end it looked easy. The first attackers who actualy continued their attack distanced the uninterested J-V led group and won. It felt bit weird.

  16. If this was the support Jumbo-Visma could give Jonas Vingegaard – on only cat.4/2/3 mountains the last 20 km – then Vingegaard won’t have ‘a chinamans chance’ (danish saying) of getting near the yellow jersey. It was a disgrace Jumbo-Visma – get real!!!

    • Three of them brought Vingegaard to the finish line while cancelling every UAE attempt of outlining the pace on two last climbs. Vingegaard shadowed Pogacar up the Pike ramps seemingly without any particular effort. J-V let Yates brothers to steal the show, which probably fits their plans perfectly – Pogačar gained few bonus seconds for the third place, but that’s surely better than letting him actualy win the stage.

    • This stage certainly seemed a reversal-of-fortune from last year, pretty much as many had predicted. How J-V will deal with the same type of tag-team tactics they used so well last year with Roglic will be interesting when/if they get used on them by UAE.

  17. Glad to be reading the best TDF coverage I’ve found. Just wish that the stage end updates weren’t in the Twitter feed. Recent changes in Twitter mean that I can’t see the full feed without signing up for a Twitter account( that’s never gonna happen) , or logging on with Google ( have one of those accounts, use it as little as possible). Will have to make do with what I can see in the thumbnail.

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