Tour de France 2018 | Week 1 Preview

 Photo: Twila Federica Muzzi

Photo: Twila Federica Muzzi

This year’s tour starts on the Island of Noirmoutier-en-lille. Found on France’s west coast, its connected to the mainland by the iconic Passage-du-gois. That road’s hosted the TDF twice before; once in 1998 when an enormous crash occurred, and several riders lost six minutes on stage 2, and it also held the Grand Depart in 2011, but this year the race will stick to the far less chaotic bridge that connects the island to France proper. As the island’s main claim to fame, you’d think they’d use it; it seems a bit like going to Queensland and not checking out the Big Banana. Ludicrous!

 

The rest of the stage races along the coast on a super flat route; the highest point of the day is at 31m above sea level. The finish occurs inland at Fontenay-le-Comte, a town that’s never hosted Le Tour before, and it’s a power sprint to kick off proceedings. A big right hander at 1400m to go, then a straight drag to the line. The final 800m are on a false flat, which means you’ll want to hold your effort for late. The first man to cross the line will take the Yellow Jersey.

 

Stage 2 could see a big race for the break; a sole Cat 4 climb 28 kilometres into the stage will crown the race’s first wearer of the KOM jersey. The Coye de Pouzauges is only a kilometre long at 3.9%, but there’s quite the reward for whoever crests it first. This is another flat day on the whole though; after the 182.5 km stage, we’ll likely see another sprint. Again, it’s on a false flat, with the finishing road in La Roche-Sur-Yon rising at 2%.

 

Stage 3 sees the riders swap bikes for a Team Time Trial. After all those heavily contested Hammer Serieses, and TTTs at Dauphine and Suisse, everyone should be well prepared in this discipline, and it’s going to be a key stage. 35.5km on the roads around Cholet will test the teams, and be prepared to see a couple of GC contenders lose a minute to the TTT experts like BMC and Sky. It’s a tough course with some undulations and some twisty roads, so this should see the first shakeout of the Tour.

 

Stage 4 is likely another sprint; we have just the one climb of the day, the Cat 4 Cote de Saint-Jean-la-Poterie, which the riders tackle with 60km left. Fun fact about the finishing town Sarzeau; new UCI President David Lappartient is the Town Mayor (you can do whatever you like with that). There’s another false flat sprint here too; apparently false flats are the new black.

 

Stage 5 is our first rolling stage, as we see five categorised climbs in the final 92 kilometres. The profile looks rather Ardennesey, with several other little climbs that aren’t catgeorised. Even the last kilometre rises at 5%, so look out for your Alaphilippes and Matthewses here.

 

Stage 6 finishes atop a climb that we see pretty frequently when the race enters this part of the country. The kilometre long Mur-de-Bretagne climb has been visited twice recently; on his way to winning the race in 2011, Evans won atop the Mur De Bretagne, and Alexis Vuillermoz won here in 2015. The climb is covered twice; the riders pass the line once with 26km to go, and the heads out on a finishing loop.

 

Stage 7 is the longest day of the race, and finishing in Chartres, it looks like another sprint finish, after a reasonably flat day. It’s another interesting sprint, as there’s a small dip with 2km to go; the riders will descend down, and then climb up for 500m at 4%, before a final flat few hundred metres.

 

Stage 8 is Bastille Day, and there’s going to be action with a hectic sprint planned. There’s five right-angle corners in the final 4km, along with a 2km descent, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a few crashes.

 Photo: Twila Federica Muzzi

Photo: Twila Federica Muzzi

Stage 9 is going to be one of the biggest days of this Tour, as the race runs (bounces) across the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix. We’ve seen massive drama when the race has covered cobbles in recent years and this year won’t be any different. While five or so sectors are usually thrown into the race if the organisers include any cobbles, this year has fifteen sectors, making for a prolonged day of stress for GC riders. The stage is only 157 kilometres long, but the first sector comes with 114km to go, meaning it’s genuinely going to be a whole day of craziness. All in all, we have 21.7km of pave in the stage. There’s some proper hard sections in there too, inlcluding the five star Mons-en-Pevele (but only 900m of it), and Camphin-en-Pevele well as a few sections almost 3km long, including d’Auchy a Bersee.  The race then finishes inside the town of Roubaix, just outside the Velodrome, after an epic day, and epic first week.

 

It’s going to be a dramatic first week, with not many days that don’t come without stress. In this part of France along the coast, the wind is ALWAYS a worry; it would be surprising if we didn’t have one day at least where the race gets blown apart. Kudos to the organisers for including some interesting sprints too; they all look quite tactical or come on slight uphill runs, they should hopefully provide some interesting sprints. The TTT will be crucial, as will the punchy days, but it’s all about that pave on stage 9.

 

Alex Clements