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Romandie Stage 1: Over the Jaunpass [Update: not!]

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Update -- Stage shortened due to snow; no Jaunpass.

The more I think about this stage, the more I wonder if the race isn't going to be made right out of the gate. Stage 1 didn't jump out as a massive one when I first looked at it, but here are a few things to consider. First, it's the longest stage of the race, although 176km isn't going to set any records. Secondly, though the climb comes 70km from the line and the remainder of the race is a net descent, there is a strong possibility that the race won't simply come back together. Take a gander:

Profile1_medium

Mountains may not decide the race if they come in the middle and are followed by flats. If the pack came off the Jaunpass in splinters, then did 40km of flat roads, whatever large peloton behind would probably pin back much of the gaps. A small, elite bunch of climbers grinding away on the flats would probably spend too much time looking at each other to make the most of their advantage.

But that's not the case here. However unreadable profiles may be, we can see that there is maybe 10km of serious descending, followed by some rolling roads for a while, before the climbing starts again. These aren't optimal conditions for a large group to chase back the stage leaders, particularly if the former couldn't hang with the latter on the climbs to begin with. The right group of climbers, with some workers in tow, can get away and stay there.

The first place to look is Caisse d'Epargne. Alejandro Valverde won't be dropped on this climb, it's not that steep (from what I gather), and Valverde will undoubtedly bring a teammate or two along from his gang of veteran helpers. Next, Cadel Evans will likely be there, and can count on Jurgen Van Den Broeck for help. Liquigas should have Roman Kreuziger involved, and maybe Szmyd or Zaugg to help. Euskaltel could have half a dozen guys in there. FdJ another four. You get the picture.

Chances are, the non-climbers will see their chances disappear tomorrow. Whether the climbers whittle down things more seriously depends on how hard they make the race. There's a fair chance that the final selection will be really, really small. One thing I can say: CN's mention that Robbie McEwen will be looking to win here again sounds patently ridiculous. But I agree with one thing they said, that the random breakaways won't be allowed to capture the GC. The big boys will come out, methinks.

Use this as the live race thread, at least the first one. Should be fun!