Stage 1: Mont-Saint-Michel - Utah Beach Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, 188km
The Tour begins in La Manche.
What's It About?
Instead of a prologue, team time trial, or any other excuse to wheel out the TT bikes, it's about getting the peloton as quickly as possible from one windswept (fingers crossed!) bit of northern-French coast to another. This is especially important, because of the lack of topography in the stage makes this a rare jewel for the Tour de France — a chance for a sprinter to get his hands on the yellow jersey.
The stage begins at Mont-Saint-Michel, which I'm not going to treat you to a photograph of, because I know as well as you do that you've seen plenty already. It also ends in a well-known location, Utah Beach, and because of that. you should just be grateful that I haven't made any references to D-Day yet in this preview.
AmyBC's Food and Wine Pairings
Each stage we bring you suggestions regarding the local fare from AmyBC. Check out her blog Winebookgirl for more.
Normandy? It must be cidertime! Domaine de la Minotiere Brut: Domaine de la Minotiere is a small 15-hectare single domaine of cidre orchards cultivated under 100% organic certification. The Domaine de la Minotiere owns a long tradition and elaboration of farmhouse cider coming from the fruit of its orchards, in a place called the "Golden Triangle" - known to be the best area to produce cider. The orchards contains a variety of apple trees (Binet rouge, Bisquet, Noeldes champs, Clos renaux, Petit jaune, Peau de chien) producing multiple kinds of fruit flavors such as sweet, bitter or acidulous.
Some ciders make me think of wine, some of beer. This falls in the beer camp
Food: Teurguole. Rice pudding! The name apparently comes from the Norman language and means twist mouth, a reference to the faces supposedly pulled by someone tasting it due to the spiciness of the dish. There is even a regional brotherhood. It is a very simple dish: rice, milk, cream, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla, baked in an a relatively low oven for many hours. We used this recipe. The crust darkens, while the interior remains creamy.
Considering that the stage starts in an area famous for water, and purports to end on a beach, this stage has rather fewer features than one might hope. Here's your map:
I don’t know what that says to you, but to me, after checking if it's vulnerable to winds coming in from the ocean, it says "vulnerable to winds coming in from the ocean," and what do you know, I'd be right to think that. Strong breezes are expected to come in from the west, and, I dunno, put paid to some poor sprinter's ambitions of yellow.
If you look at the profile...
You will learn of course that it is predominantly flat, with two early categorised climbs. But I'm sure that no French pro continental team will be too enthusiastic about getting in the break to show off the fabulous wares of Fortuneo or the powers of Direct Energie while beautifully bedecked in a suit of polkadots. No siree, they'll be very calm about the occasion.
Assuming all the sprinters, with trains intact, do survive the crosswinds (and wouldn't that be fantastic), they won't have much to contend with in the last few kilometres, they're mostly straight, with a slight tailwind likely.
Riders to Watch
Crosswinds or no crosswinds, the team to watch is always going to be Etixx-Quickstep. Etixx have the team to watch in classics conditions, and by this stage, do I really have to mention how good Marcel Kittel is at sprinting? It'll actually be interesting to watch Etixx' tactics for this stage if it really does turn into a mess — they can afford to wait for a sprint with Kittel, or cause their own chaos. The same goes for Lotto-Soudal. Bak, Debusschere, Roelandts and Greipel are a very formidable team too, for crosswinds and for a leadout.
Those two have the best teams for crosswinds and sprinting, so they're the top favourites, but is there anyone else who can take the day? Well, maybe three or four people want me to mention Mark Cavendish. His team certainly isn't inadequate for these conditions, but if you hear a scuffing sound, that's me rolling out the stat that he's never beaten Kittel in a sprint. The tougher the conditions, the better for certain riders, and Alexander Kristoff is undoubtedly one of those, so if it's a really tough stage, it could fall to him.
This section is called riders to watch, so you'll also want to watch the GC contenders. I think we can probably agree, based on past events, that Froome and Contador are probably unlikely to be left behind if anything does happen. Van Garderen should probably be safe too. Quintana lost out in the crosswinds last year when he probably could have avoided it, so he'll be making sure to steer clear of any problems, but that won't stop him being the guy we'll all be wondering about.
Pick to Win
Kittel. I mean, c'mon.