A demanding week for sprinters
Even by the standards of modern editions of the Tour de France, which have long gone from the massive sprint openings of the 1990s and early 2000s, it’s not a first week that’s kind to sprinters.Each stage that could end with a group finish is immediately followed by a stage that certainly won’t, so that by the time the race reaches the Pyrenees this weekend, they will only have had a maximum four chances to win stage victories. .
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And even those four stages are fraught with difficulties that could derail their plans, whether it is climbs difficult enough to drop before the finish (first stage), hilly terrain that will facilitate early breakaways ( third stage), climbs near the finish and dragging climbs. to the line to encourage hard-hitting late attacks (stage five), or even crosswinds that tear the peloton apart (stage seven).
On the positive side, they will at least have the chance to compete against each other for the chance to wear the first yellow jersey of the race, provided the first leg in Nice and the rear ends in a sprint.
But, even in the event of a sprint, whoever wins will only have the jersey for one day, because the next day – very unusual for a stage so early in the race – includes two category 1 climbs.
Cruelly, at the exit of Nice, the route diverts again into the fringes of the Alps for what is an arrival at the top of the mountain, a ski resort and all, on the fourth stage, before finally heading towards the west towards the Pyrenees – and even then more climbs await en route in the Massif Central.
There are winning opportunities in the first week for the sprinters, but they will have to work harder than usual for them.
The seventh edition of La Course
After a few years of more adventurous runs, including some experiments with a multi-day format, this year’s Race (held on August 29, the day of the Men’s Grand Départ) is a much simpler affair, and should be one for sprinters. .
In other words, unless Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) succeeds. The reigning world champion has seemed almost able to bend physics to her will since adorning the rainbow stripes, winning six of the eight races she has competed in this season.
She will probably try to force a selection and / or break free on the only climb of the course, the Côte de Rimiez, a modest effort of 5.8 km at 5.1%, twice at 88 km and 31.5 km of the arrival.
However, even a runner as strong as Van Vleuten (who expressed frustration with the length (only 96km) and lack of climbs on the course) might not be able to prevent a tuck finish, in which case the Sprinters like Marta Bastianelli (Ale BTC Ljubljana), Chloe Hosking (Rally cyclist) and defending champion Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv) should be highlighted.
And for those who believe in omens, the name of the finish straight, Promenade des Anglais, could be a good sign for the British, among which Hannah Barnes (Canyon / SRAM) and GP Plouay winner Lizzie Deignan (Trek -Segafredo).
In truth, the course doesn’t appear to be the best showcase for women’s cycling, especially compared to the two thrilling races in Brittany that took place earlier this week. A real women’s Tour de France, which UCI President David Lappartient has promised this week would be in place for 2022, cannot come soon enough.
A fight for the yellow jersey
Anyone hoping to be in yellow in Paris might be wary of inheriting the jersey so early in the race, but for those with less long-term ambitions, opening week offers plenty of chances to take custody of the outfit at the moment. most famous of cycling.
After the probable sprinter stage on day one, more impactful runners have a chance to claim race leadership on stage two. The beginnings of the Côte de la Colmiane and the Col de Turini will eliminate anyone who cannot climb, while the Col d’Eze at 34 km from the finish, plus another unrestricted climb afterwards, seems ideal for a puncher to start a winning race. and winning attack of the yellow jersey.
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A puncher like, for example, Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step). It’s hard to believe that the organizers didn’t have the French favorite in mind when designing this stage, and they are probably hoping for a repeat of last year when he won the jersey in stage three and defended almost all the way to Paris.
Whoever takes the jersey will however find it difficult to defend himself in the coming days. Only the best climbers will remain in the lead at the finish of the fourth stage at the top of the category one Orcières-Merlette, and the sixth stage launches another difficult finish, in which most of the last 34 kilometers take an upward trajectory. , including the climb of category one Col de la Lusette.
And if a GC candidate like Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) or Egan Bernal (Ineos) ends up in yellow earlier than expected, he might want to give it away temporarily to give his teammates rest – in which case he could be a chance for a crafty breakaway specialist to pick the right shot.
Wearing the yellow jersey for even just one day is one of the sport’s greatest honors, and anyone with brains, muscles and ambition should imagine their chances of doing so this week.
Perhaps disheartened by the relative scarcity of chances on this Tour, some of the best sprinters in the world like Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma), Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) and the over-form Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) will skip the Tour, but there are still plenty of talented sprinters ready to fight for victory whenever a stage ends in a massive sprint this week.
Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) hopes to pick up where he left off from last year’s race, which he ended with a glorious third stage victory on the Champs-Élysées. Still 26 years old and improving year on year, the Australian would make a convincing case of being the world’s best sprinter with another winning streak this week.
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His main rival will likely be Sam Bennett, who is finally returning to the Tour after a four-year absence. During this time he has improved considerably to become one of the best in the world in a peloton, but it is only now, having signed for Deceuninck-Quick-Step, that the Irishman will be able to show what he can do at the highest stage. He will be determined to make the most of this opportunity.
He replaces Elia Viviani as the Deceuninck-Quick-Step man for the sprints, who scored a victory in last year’s race and has now switched to Cofidis. He’s yet to score a win for his new team, but, at his best, has the speed to push both Ewan and Bennett.
These three are all part of the sprint establishment and have several Grand Tour victories to their name, but other less established names could make a breakthrough. Don’t miss the young Italian Clement Venturini (Ag2r La Mondiale), the winner of the Paris-Nice stage Niccolo Bonifazio (Total Direct Energie) and, above all, the 25-year-old Dutchman Cees Bol (Sunweb).
Challengers in defense of Peter Sagan’s green jersey
With such a diverse range of stages, some of which may prove too important for pure sprinters but not knock out the most versatile sprinters, this week will reveal who, if any, is capable of challenging Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe ) in the classification by points.
As anyone who has followed the Tour in recent years knows, the Slovakian seems virtually unbeatable in this competition, and last year broke the all-time record by winning an unprecedented seventh title. Sprinters like Ewan and Bennett could beat him in a one-on-one, but can’t match Sagan’s consistency and ability to score points on any terrain outside of the high mountains.
Now, however, has he finally met his match at Wout van Aert? The Belgian’s form this season certainly suggests that he is perhaps the only rider who can match Sagan’s versatility, having recorded wins in group finishes (at the Dauphiné), time trials (at the National Championships of Belgium) and attacks (Strade Bianche and Milan-San Remo). But we may have to wait for a future Tour for a showdown between the two, as Van Aert will be busy with household chores serving Jumbo-Visma’s bid for the yellow jersey.
Instead, it’s up to Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-McLaren), Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), Matteo Trentin (CCC) and Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) to take the race to Sagan, who all chased the green jersey before, and all of which were left in Sagan’s shadow.
The seven-time winner may want to pay special attention to Giacomo Nizzolo (NTT), who is in the shape of his life after winning the European and Italian championships, and has in the past won the points classification of the Giro d’Italia twice. (in 2015 and 2016).
Two top arrivals and a weekend in the Pyrenees
The Covid pandemic will cast a worrying shadow over the race, and from day to day we cannot be sure how long the race will last. So it’s just as good that the route has a total of four key GC stages even before the first day of rest.
The race for the yellow will begin in earnest at the finish of the fourth stage at Orcières-Merlette, a climb that is neither too long (7.1 km) nor too steep (6.7%) to cause havoc, but which is difficult enough to narrow the race down to a few selected favorites. The same can be said of the final of the sixth stage.
The eighth and nine stages and the finish of the race in the Pyrenees will be the first taste of the runners at real mountain stages. On Saturday, they will be sent successively on three famous Pyrenean climbs, the Col de Mente, the Port de Bales and the Col de Peyresourde with little respite between each. Then, four other climbs await you on Sunday, including the Col de Marie Blanque, which has a double-digit percentage slope for its last four kilometers.
No stage ends at the top of a climb – the Peyresourde and Marie Blanque are crested 10.5 km and 19 km from their respective arrivals at Loudenvielle and Lanus – but the fatigue accumulated by the total amount of the climb should nevertheless see the race in pieces.
Having so many mountains so early in the race is unprecedented in contemporary Tours de France and could derail the hopes of anyone not yet in peak physical shape.
With so many favorites (including Egan Bernal (Ineos), Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) and Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe)), all are still treating recent injuries, and have not the usual luxury of simpler stages to get started, some very big names were able to see their chances fly away very early.