Yesterday’s Tour De France opener had everything you could’ve asked for from a sprint stage. There was yet another sickening late crash that left the sprint to a small group – it was much like last year – and it was a great shame that we had to lose Mark Cavendish, although he did admit his guilt in causing a sickening collision against Simon Gerrans that has sadly robbed the race of his presence. Jens Voigt’s superb attack – he put 2 minutes into the breakaway and the Peloton after the intermediate sprint to guarantee the polka dot jersey.
However none of that compared to the incredible turnout. 2 million people lined the route (that’s 10,000 per kilometre) – and the same can be expected today. I could pick any amount of positive adjectives, and all would be true, but this picture below sums it up; There were less people on the Col De Paliheres last year.
And today they’re likely to have plenty of opportunity to get a close look at their heroes in even closer motion (hopefully in a manner as respectful as today’s, given the tight narrow roads that line the route). As much as it provided a great spectacle, yesterday’s stage was notable for the difficulty it provided with short sharp bursts of climbing getting the Peloton out of their saddles on regular occasion while it was clear to see how members of the break – including the noted climber Edet – were also struggling on the three categorised climbs, and there were many lumpy stretches that had riders hard at work; Including the finish where Fabian “I’m not just here for Stage 5” Cancellara launched a big attack.
Yesterday there were just the three categorised climbs but in a parcours with stunning potential there are 9 climbs for the Peloton to deal with in a Yorkshire Classic.
Going through the Pennies and passing North, West, and South Yorkshire while visiting Greater Manchester and Derbyshire, and taking a succession of short sharp climbs that should make for some fantastic racing, we start in York, and after 47 we have the first categorised climb, the fantastically named Cote de Blubbberhouses. Nearly 2km at 6.1%, it’s no small lump. More lumpy parcours – see on the profile how there are 4 or 5 mini peaks after the intermediate sprint at Khelighley – then lead us to the second peak of the day, the Cote d’Oxhope Moor. 3.1km at 6.4%, this may lead us for some more scraps for mountains points. A sharp descent – there are many – leads us to Hedgen Bridged, and into greater Manchester, we have another rise, before a sharp drop leads us to an Ardnesss style double header. The Cotes’ to Ripponden and Greatland are 1.3km and 1.6km respectively, but the climb upto Ripponden has an average of 8.6% and Greatland has 6.7%. This is not a day for anyone off form.
The aptly named “Cote De Holme Moss’, nearly 5km at 7%, is the only category 2 climb, where we’re likely to see Voigt come out to defend his jersey (if he hasn’t gone already), and a many a sprinter ejected, although the climbs to Midhopestones (2.5km at 6.1%), Bradfield (1km at 7.4% and Outbridge (1.5km at 9.1%) are all set to light up the day’s proceedings but it’s Jenkin Road, listed as 800m at 10.8% but with sections at 33% to separate the men from the boys before a fast and furious run in. With just 5km to go from the finish, ejection there can see stage chances drop in the dust – the last 4km are pan flat and wide enough, certainly compared to yesterday.
This is very much the route of a of a spring classic – think Liege Bastone-Liege or Fleche Wallone without the climb to the finish as the closest profiles we’ve seen this year, although this being the Tour De France, tactics are likely to be a little different.
The feature of yesterday was that the yellow jersey as up for grabs but today it’s on offer again and the winner could hold it until at least Wednesday before the cobbles and if then realistically until the weekend; Same goes for the mountain jersey.. This is likely to mean attacks and counter attacks, big team efforts to reel in likely leaders for their own aims, and today could be about endurance as much as anything.
Peter Sagan was one of only four riders to contest the sprint yesterday but he got the white jersey for his efforts and if hanging on in there for long enough, today could take yellow and carry it. The long up and down nature of this stage is not exactly what he’d want – he’d prefer something more regular, like when a category 2 climb saw him able to create a split amongst the sprinters teams’ on the road to Albi last year – but this is a man who’s passed climbers on high mountains before and if he survives he can murder the best for speed.
Simon Gerrans is a prime contender but he took a horrendous crash yesterday and condition has to be a worry for the Liege-Bastone-Liege winner; If on prime form he goes close but take a look at yesterday’s sudden impact and tell me that can be taken on trust.
Alejandro Valverde was second in Liege to Gerrans and also a winner of Fleche Wallone; both ended with climbs but he has a fine sprint on him, is an able tactician, and comes here having won 9 different races alone this season along with a host of placed efforts. An attack at Jenkin Road should not be beyond him – or any of the other main contenders, as happened on the roads to Ajaccio last year, when even Chris Froome was going for it off the late climbs
Fabian Cancellara’s late attack yesterday was smart on a parcours that suited him and shook up affairs but the finish doesn’t have the same drag; But afterwards he said he’s not just here for the cobbles and he’s an expert at putting the pain on and coping with it and a reduced sprint (as looks pretty likely) will suit down to the ground today. Michal Kwiatkowski was second in Wallone and third in Liege, and this is the kind of thing that should really suit him down to the ground although he was a long way back yesterday and that was a worry to see even though his time, like that of Talansky, was corrected.
Michael Alabsini seems to find winning at this level harder than Gerrans but must be given a big shout here after a fine Romandie and Suisse, but the last pick is John Degenkolb. Rumour has it he’s ruled himself out of the running after a course recon but the other big German from Giant Shimano just thrives on terrain like this and with Kittel bowing out of the race lead, he seems an ideal candidate for today. A winner of Gent Welvegem, his top 10 in Flanders confirms stamina and a recent run out in the Tour De Suisse should have him spot on. Back him each/way paying four places.
2 pts win Peter Sagan (5/2 general)
1 pt each/way Alejandro Valverde (12/1 SkyBet)
1 pt each/way John Degenkolb (33/1 Ladbrokes)