After much hype and build up, the Tour finally starts tomorrow. So no messing about here, let’s get straight into what the riders have to look forward to on the opening day.
An almost pan-flat jaunt along the cause before the road heads inland and towards the finish town.
With the race travelling along the coast I was really hoping that the wind would play ball and offer some potential opening day echelons. Unfortunately it doesn’t look strong enough and it turns into a headwind as they head towards the finish. Which will demotivate anyone wanting to split it.
The Cat-4 climb will offer someone in the early break a chance of stepping onto the podium at the end of the day and claim the KOM jersey. Although with it coming 28km from the finish line, will they still be away by then?
At 13.5km to go, the riders will have the opportunity to chase some bonus seconds in the GC battle at the brand new sprint points that have been added to the race. They offer no points in the Green Jersey classification but they do offer time bonuses. I think the thinking behind it is to entice some of the GC riders to go for them but I’m not entirely sure how they will play out.
As you can see on the image above, the major issues on the run in come at 3km to 1km to go with three roundabouts and a “sharp turn” to be covered. This will string the bunch out and we’ll no doubt see a lot of fighting to get into the first roundabout so that a team can take the head of the bunch and control the pace.
Once through the “sharp turn” which is actually another roundabout, the riders will have just over a kilometre left to go. It will be a fast final kilometre as the road dips down ever so slightly, meaning we will no doubt see some crazy top speeds but it does make it a bit more dangerous.
The final 100m or so do rise up to the line but given the speed that the riders will be carrying then it shouldn’t be an issue. You can see a mock finish line banner in the distance!
Who will be competing for the win though?
The Old Guard vs the New Wave
Are we seeing a shift in power between the sprinters with some of the older riders passing the baton onto the newer generation coming through? Let’s start off by looking at some of the old guard.
What Cav will turn up this year? In 2016 everyone wrote him off (including myself) but he arrived at the race absolutely flying and racked up 4 stage wins to his name. Last year he seemed pretty lively but we never got to see where he was at after he was involved in a crash, partly or mainly caused by himself – that depends on who you ask. Since then he has had pretty terrible luck with illness and crashes hampering the end of 2017 and the majority of this year. Seemingly lacking confidence at the moment, he only has one win to his name in 2018 but with a team almost fully dedicated to him, there will be pressure on him to deliver. On form he doesn’t really have a chance but you can never rule out a guy with 148 wins in his career that includes 30 stage wins at the Tour, can you?
The Gorilla started off this year with a bang by taking two strong stage wins Down Under but back in Europe he has struggled to find his feet in the WT bunch sprints with two podium places the only results to shout home about. He fell (twice) in Milan SanRemo, that #HaugheyCurse striking again, which was a shame as he was climbing as well as I have seen from him in a long time. After his lay off he returned he bullied his way to two stage wins in both Dunkerque and the Belgium Tour. His recent run in Suisse wasn’t great but I think he was using that more for training rather than anything else. With a quite powerful lead-out train, NewLottoSoudal will hope to be one of the teams controlling the run in. The slight kick up to the line is good news for the powerful Greipel and with a potential headwind sprint, he has a chance. Remember the rule?
The second part of that rule, Kristoff unfortunately seems a little past his heyday in the big bunch sprints, he needs a slightly reduced group to shine against the very best. He has no real lead-out to speak of and I just can’t see him winning or finishing on the podium tomorrow. I am ready to eat my hat.
Devoid of confidence, he looks a shell of the man he was at Quick Step last year. With only two wins to his name this year, both at Tirreno Adriatico, his team seem to have lost faith in him too as they only bring a reduced lead-out train with him. Not ideal. There is no doubt he has the talent but he seems to be missing a few watts due to his lack of confidence. For his sake, I hope he bags a result at some point this race and it is not great from a fan’s perspective to see one of the best sprinters struggle.
He’s just never been the same since that crash and he doesn’t have the speed to compete on this type of finish.
Now onto the new guard…
The Colombian sprint sensation arrives here with seven wins to his name so far this season, including a dominant display in California. In his recent outing in Switzerland he was the bridesmaid on three occasions but that won’t have knocked his confidence, it will only make him hungrier. The lack of Keisse is a big loss but Quick Step still bring a strong and powerful lead out and no doubt we’ll see them come to the front in the closing stages. With his trusted pilot fish Richeze, Gaviria should be positioned well in the final kilometre – he just needs to get his timing right.
The most successful sprinter so far this season with 8 wins, the Lotto NL Jumbo man comes into the race full of confidence. Some of his victories this season have seen him almost bully his sprint opposition and he will no doubt be expecting similar results this time. His team have stuck with the short and late lead-out approach this season which has worked in the majority of races but if they get the timing wrong, then it is very difficult for him to make up ground. On a run in like tomorrow expect them to sit a little back until they hit near they come around the final turn and go full gas from there. Sitting further back though does run the risk of being detached from the lead out or getting caught up in a crash. He does start as the favourite given the season he is having though.
Technically Demare is the form sprinter as he has won the most recent bunch sprint and if you read my GC preview yesterday, you will know that I have backed him for the green jersey. I was really impressed with his train in that Suisse stage and they could very easily pull off something similar here and boss the final couple of kilometres Last year at the Tour he was in the Green Jersey for a few stages and well in the running before unfortunately falling ill and having to withdraw. No longer wearing the French champions jersey, I’m sure he won’t mind if he pulls on Yellow tomorrow.
The I couldn’t fit them into a category-ers…
What can the World Champ not do? Win a full bunch sprint at the Tour, that’s what. Well, maybe until this year. Despite having won 8 stages at this event, they have all came in reduced sprint days where some of the fast men have been left behind. Does he have the speed to compete? Most certainly but he will have to ride solo, not that that has stopped him before. He’s very consistently on or around the podium in WT sprints and he might benefit tomorrow from others having some first stage nerves as he will no doubt manage to keep his cool.
Sonny Colbrelli & Michael Matthews.
Very similar riders who will find it difficult on a finish like this, they would prefer a slightly tougher day. Both have little help from their teams so a podium on the stage would be a wonderful result. I would think that Colbrelli would have more of a chance.
I’ve probably missed someone but time is marching on so apologies!
A tough one to call in what will no doubt be a frantic and messy sprint but I think Demare’s lead out will prevail and the Frenchman will kick off the big race with a win.
Groenewegen to come fast and late but just miss out and come second with wily old Greipel coming home in third.
1pt WIN Demare at 8/1 (with Skybet although you can get better odds on BF Exchange)
0.5pt EW Greipel at 18/1 (with Bet365 and others)
Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.