Stage Previews of the 100th Tour de France By USCR's Scott Dueker
-Text by Scott Dueker
Depending on how you count it, this is either the 100th running of the Tour de France or the 110th edition. Regardless of the semantics, this course is billed as one for the climbers. Mountains figure into the strategy early and often throughout each week. Unlike other editions, mountain and sprint stages aren’t divided by weeks; there are both in every week. If Cavendish or Sagan hope to bring home a green jersey, they must endure the high mountains to get the points necessary. General classification riders like Froome, Evans, Contador, and Schleck will need to stay out of trouble during the intermediate stages because any mishap can lead to disaster. The balance of the stages throughout will definitely make for an interesting race to watch. Let’s break it down by week.
Tour de France Stage Preview
The organizers opted for a firecracker finish on the first stage of this year’s race. Go ahead and get the battle for the green jersey started off right. This 213km flat stage is the perfect way to see who is ready to compete for that coveted jersey. The peloton will traverse the east coast of the island of Corsica from a quick loop around the southern tip from Porto-Vecchio to the northern point of Bastia. As long as the coastal winds remain calm, the sprinters’ teams will keep any break from staying away.
Staying on Corsica for a second day, the profile goes vertical. With three Category 3 climbs, including a short 1km climb just 12km from the finish, and a Category 2 climb, this stage will test the sprinters some. While the climbs are short and occur for the most part in the middle of the stage, they will likely dictate how this stage finishes. The approximately 20km climb to the top of the Col de Vizzavona should give the general classification hopefuls the chance to size each other up. It would not be surprising to see a small group escape on the way up and try to hold off to the end. A sprint finish seems unlikely.
The final day in Corsica is a short one. But that doesn’t mean it will be easy. A winding route along the eastern coast of the island includes four categorized climbs, the steepest of which, the Category 2 Col de Marsolino, comes just 12km from the finish. This 145.5km stage is perfect for a small group of riders trying to make a name for themselves.
Don’t let the flat profile of this Team Time Trial fool you. The 25km course is an out-and-back loop through Nice and includes many corners to test the skill of each team. Well organized teams will have an advantage in those corners as well as the long straights this course provides. The short distance will keep the time gaps between the teams small, so GC contenders with weaker teams should not lose too much time.
Stage 5 offers a little bit for everyone. The sprinters will look at the moderately flat profile and hope that they can use the downhill run to the finish for a bunch sprint. The only issue is the four categorized climbs. If history holds, a breakaway will form early and stay away for most of the stage. If the sprinters’ teams have adequately recovered from the previous day’s team time trial, they should be able to pull back the break before the finish.
If the sprinters aren’t successful in pulling back the break the previous day, this sixth stage should more than make up for it. With almost no vertical change from the 68km mark, the only possible hindrance would be the elements. The south of France in early July can be hot and this region does have a history of wind affecting stages. If the wind kicks up, teams that are aware of position will have an advantage. General classification riders should be nestled safely in the peloton at the finish.
The last stage of the first week looks more difficult that it will turn out to be. A breakaway could use the flat run-in to the first climb at 80km to gain a few minutes advantage. However, it probably will not be enough to stay away for the rest of the day as the sprinters will be looking to use the more than 30 downhill kilometers after the final climb to position for a bunch finish. This might be the last chance for the sprinters for a long time as the focus shifts to the climbers and general classification in the second week.
Be sure to check back tomorrow for Scott's analysis of Week 2 of Le Grand Boucle!