Tour de France Stage 1 Preview

The Tour de France starts with a tough opener, don’t call it Tirreno-Adriatico in a day but it is a succession of climbs that’s almost coast to coast. Firenze to Rimini, Michelangelo to beach lounger in a day and the yellow jersey awaits.

The Route: 206km and 3,600m of vertical gain. For comparison last year’s opener in the Basque Country had 3,200m but the big selection happened on the final climb.

Two steady mountain passes feature in the first 100km, the Valico de Tre Faggi and then the Colle del Carnaio, both steady climbs and with some shade in places among the chestnut woodland.

With 76km the climb to Barbotto starts. Labelled the Côte de Barbotto it’s a mountain pass proper, the Colle del Barbotto for locals and at 5.8km at 7.6% tough but it’s anything but a steady climb. Four kilometres into the climb comes corkscrew series of hairpins and the road is 10-13% for half a kilometre here. Harder still for any dropped riders is that the road keeps climbing after the KoM point before a fast descent with some hairpins but they are wide and gentle.

The next climb to San Leo is 4.6km at 7.7% more even but only just some some hairpins and typical of the region, some ramps along the way that just seem to pitch up the slope with no engineering to soften the slope. Here it’s over the climb and straight to the next one.

The Montemaggio climb is still tough, 4km but now below 7% so the climbs are becoming less difficult all while the fatigue is rising.

San Marino is built on the flanks of Monte Titano (“Mount Titan”) and this is the last climb. This is a long climb but never steep, a wide regular road to get people in and out of the principality but by now the last chance to attack.

The Finish: downhill all the way into Rimini and flat for a finish by the sea. It’s big roads and under the flamme rouge for a wide 180° bend and a long finishing straight.

The Contenders: hardly a wide open stage but there must be 30 or more riders in the mix depending on which way the tactical cards fall. Tadej Pogačar (UAE) is a safe pick, he’s got a team to help and can clean up from a group sprint. He’d have liked a climb closer to the finish like we saw in the Giro opener to try and escape the rest. Plus he can always ride away…

Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) is downplaying his form so the test today is how he copes with the climbs but he’s arguably the best of the “sprinters” if we use this label widely. Where there’s WvA there’s Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and both have a virtual finish line in San Marino because if they can stay in contention they can hope to clean up in Rimini. Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) and Magnus Cort (Uno-X) are two similar candidates. Multiple climbs of 4-5km at 7% are a big ask but all the same in a stage that’s open to plenty they’re candidates.

Got Maxim Van Gils (Lotto-Dstny) in mind? You have now because the Belgian is quick from a small group, ice cool and often handles short climbs well. Tom Pidcock (Ineos) can pick his moment, an attack on the climbs, a move downhill or just from the sprint. Matej Mohorič (Bahrain) is added to the contenders too for his ability to float away in the finale.

Alberto Bettiol (EF) is the patriotic pick on a stage that starts in his local city. Resplendent in his new Italian champions kit the trick is to see if he’s donned his TT-style helmet today too where he can try to repeat his Milano-Torino triumph from this year by slipping away although the heat could make this harder. An infrequent winner, he’s always won by barging away solo so not an easy pick for the all or nothing angle. See how he links up with Ben Healy who could move first to open the road.

Longer shots include two new national champs in Paul Lapeira (Decathlon-Ag2r La Mondiale) and Alex Aranburu (Movistar) as two versatile riders with a quick finish and the latter seems to be winning all of a sudden after so often placing but a Tour stage would be a major promotion. Romain Grégoire (Groupama-FDJ) is suited to the opening weekend too.

Van Gils, Pidcock, Matthews, WvA, Lapeira, Bettiol, MvdP, Pedersen

Weather: hot at the start, 35°C but cooling once into the Apennines where there is some shade and more like 30°C at the finish. This could have an impact as summer has hardly started in places and so riders are less accustomed to the heat.

Another factor is the wind, 20-25km/h from the east once off the final climb and on the plains to Rimini and this is borderline bordure or ventagli weather.

TV: the roll-out is at midday and KM0 is at 12.40pm CEST, yes 40 minutes of parade to ensure Florence gets its money worth. The finish is forecast for 5.50pm CEST.

All stages are live from start to finish and this should look scenic. But the Barbotto climb is a good moment to look for action on the climbs starting from around 4.00pm.

Postcard from Florence: Firenze now has a majestic cycling palmarès having hosted the Giro, Worlds and now the Tour. Its greatest cyclist is Gino Bartali who was said to be the second most famous person in Italy after Benito Mussolini.

With Fausto Coppi he formed a cycling rivalry for the ages. Chose your character: Coppi as the modernist sophisticate with Brylcreem versus Bartali as the bald peasant sporting sandals but resilience incarnated. Like France’s Anquetil and Poulidor later much of the difference was caricature, the amplification of small differences. The pair had plenty in common.

Bartali was born in Ponte a Ema, just outside the city. There is a large plaque on the building in question. There’s a cafe downstairs if you want to linger. The family that lives above hears their doorbell ring from time to time with nosy onlookers wanting to see the inside. If you’re visiting go to the nearby Bartali museum instead.

The route today pays tribute to Bartali visiting the Gavinana, the suburb where he spent most of his life. It passes the Piazza Cardinale Elia dalla Costa, named after the former archbishop who was a friend of “Gino the Pious” as one of his nicknames went. Bartali’s house is here too.

Moments later the route passes the Piazza Gino Bartali, a modern square finished a few years ago. You’ll find a bronze statue of Bartali that could have been made by the same person who made that one of Cristiano Ronaldo, or else made from sketches of a manga artist, see for yourself here.

More impressive than any sculpture is Bartali’s palmarès. It is also inviting, to see him winning the Tour de France in 1938 and then again in 1948, and the Giro d’Italia in 1936, 1937 and 1946 is to wonder what could have been in a more peaceful world.

During the war Bartali is credited with ferrying forged identity papers given to to Jews so that they could evade capture if stopped, a feat that earned him “Righteous Among the Nations” honours. Some accounts are contested; while other accounts have him sheltering a family in his cellar, others that he did indeed carry papers in his seat tube. Today’s Le Monde has a fuller version behind the paywall of the debate between historians.

One myth that has been undone is the idea of Bartali saving Italy itself. In July 1948 communist leader Palmiro Togliatti was shot on the streets by a student from the far right. This caused a wave of protest and uprisings, the nascent Republic was on the brink of insurrection, even civil war. Meanwhile on the other side of the Alps in the Tour de France Bartali was 21 minutes down on GC and trailing Louison Bobet. Only the story goes Bartali received a phone call from parliament with the request “to win for Italy” and tasked with patriotic duty he demolished Bobet in the Alps and tensions eased in Italy upon the news. John Foot’s Pedalare! Pedalare! unpicks this story well. Bartali won but it’s a stretch of the imagination that his win had such a soothing political effect.

Perhaps the lesson here is that Bartali was so famous that he was not just a champion but hero and so a figure of projection to whom myths could be ascribed.

31 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 1 Preview”

  1. Shortest day has passed but it is still definitely mid-winter at my location. Looking forward to seeing (if not feeling) some Florentine warmth.

  2. Not convinced that this sort of stage is ideal for the first one of a GT. Much better to have some sort of easy stage, even a prologue, to let a variety of riders wear the leaders jersey. Plenty of time over 3 weeks for the GC competition.

    • I don’t see this as a clear GC stage. 25km from the top of the last relatively moderate climb.

      Probably still enough to separate 20-30 riders from the diminishing peloton, which in turn might calm the usual craziness of the first week a little. Not sure the first stage is ever easy, given there’s a yellow jersey at stake.

      And anything but a prologue or a sprint stage now with GC neutralisation 5km from the finish. Boring or farcical to the concept of racing in equal measure.

  3. I’d looked at the profile and discounted MVDP/Mathews etc, so I’m very intrigued now. Based on recent form and their ability to win out of a small group, I imagine Williams and Gee could also feature, as could Roglic.

    By the way, what’s the stated purpose of an Italian Grand Depart? Germany/UK/Netherlands/Denmark etc make sense as there’s no similarly prestigious stage race so it’s always a big deal for a host country, but we’re barely a month after the Giro. Is there a desire to increase viewers/interest in Italy? Is their any conflict with the Giro organisers for being on their patch, with arguably a much more interesting opening few days than the Giro has had in recent years?

    • I can’t imagine the Giro organisers being too happy with this but maybe Italy is and certainly their tourist board!

      Maybe Larry can give his views and some insight into what Italians are thinking?

      • The Giro is big… in Italy but audience numbers outside Italy are niche compared to the Tour enjoys (live audiences for the Tour are not huge either but there’s a good chance it has some wider reach, eg a news bulletin).

        Not that Firenze needs fame, many locals would ask for the contrary.

        • As I already wrote, Firenze as the starting city was asked for by ASO and it helped to smooth out the deal which was fostered and focussed by Emilia Romagna organisers.

          The Giro had live audience figures abroad which were a frankly decent percentage (40%-60% or so) of the TDF’s in most core countries as long as it was broadcast nationally and for free as the TDF was, be it only on a minor channel as L’Equipe’s.
          Of course, as soon as it went exclusive and pay on ES, it got ES’s figures, which are conceptually niche.

          The TDF’s audience are (or were) pretty good actually, esp. when you think it’s 21 days in a row, but apparently it’s following – albeit in a much much softer way – a similar strategy to the Giro, i.e. trying to go pop & massive where you’re raced (as part of the show, too) while going specialised elsewhere. My 2 cents is that it doesn’t work, less so for the Giro, but who knows… bringing Pogačar in Italy was actually a huge success and it’s due to the above strategy, directly or not.

          100% agree on the broader exposition in news and such, not sure how much is that worth for most sponsors (it’s great for the TDF brand and the athletes’, while the rest of sponsor are barely named, if at all, and appear so shortly you’d struggle to identify them)

          • Also there is quite a big event taking place in France, specifically Paris, called the Olympics, so eternally corrupt that ASO can only genuflect in wonder.

    • These stages are pretty much beyond any comparison with what has been seen in any GT, as my personal direct memory goes, but the Giro has been offering repeatedly interesting openers in, ahem, 2024, then 2022, 2020, 2019 etc.
      This TDF start is actually favourable for the Giro because it’s a strong “richiamo” as you’d say in training, strengthening the Pogi effect and precisely the aspect on which Italy has slowly begun to be lacking in the last couple of decades, i.e., mass support by the general public uninterested in the sport as such.
      As Margulis taught us, evolution in ecosystems is more about synergy and cooperation rather than competition (I just hope the Giro won’t end up being the mithocondria within the ASO cell…).

      All the above aside, unluckily – despite some rather poor mutual attempts of flirting between the government and cycling institutions (asinus asinum fricat) – there’s nothing here like a national cycling strategy, neither formally nor informally. Local powers in Turin and Emilia Romagna decided that cycling was going to be part of their mobility/tourism/identity policies and invested in the sport, again and again. This is part of a middle term process, of course, which the Giro, and other races, is also part of, as you might have noticed.

  4. I think and hope UAE will drive this hard and test a few (two in particular) legs out. As such I don’t think any if the semi sprinters (Vans included) will make the final cut. I’m going to say Pogacar to strike while the iron is hot and take this one.

    • Surely UAE are going to go hard and fast straight out of the blocks? Test Vinny or blow him away while he’s still getting back into the swing of racing, especially as Pog is saying he’s never felt better (although his very recent bout of Covid may suggest that’s not quite the case).

  5. Happy to see that athletes now don’t consider a circus anymore to parade 40 minutes at noon under very hot weather ^___^
    I guess those >35°C feel just more normal for our Aussie, so no need of making a case!

  6. GC action on day one? I find that a bit hard to assimilate – inrng certainly knows the form and seems to believe Pagačar can take the yellow jersey today. Could he possibly keep it all the way to Nice? That would be truly legendary dominance.

    Wishing all the riders well and looking fwd to a grand circuit.

    Great preview – as always – many thanks from wet and cloudy North Wales.

    Vive Le Tour!!

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