Stage 1: Nîmes Team Time Trial, 13.7km
Andale! Andale! Underway!
This is the key graphic to know. I count maybe 18 turns of 90 degrees or more, including six in excess of that, and three approaching a 180. With the race entering the Centre Ville that means this stage will be putting the “Fun!” in “Road Fu(r)n!-iture.” In other words, the opportunities for disaster loom.
Not totally irrelevant? A cat-3 climb of some 40 vertical meters in 2km means a 2% false flat, on relatively straight roads. Can’t see that bothering any of these guys. The descent, if you can call it that, goes into one of those hairpin bends, so they’ll need to control their speed at that point, but they were going to anyway.
What’s It About?
Handing out the jerseys. Last year a slightly longer event (17km) saw gaps of 27 seconds among the top six teams, and closer to a minute (or more) for the rest of the lineup. That’s not nothing, particularly when the winning team will almost certainly contain one of the contenders, but if people can keep their cool and stay within 30 seconds I don’t think they’ll care too much.
Did You Know?
Nîmes is often called the “French Rome,” which is not as weird as it sounds because the Roman Empire covered a pretty good chunk of Gaul, and Nîmes was one of the largest cities in the empire at the time, some 50,000 people strong, and with Roman architectural nuts-and-bolts like an amphitheater, aqueduct and temple, all of which are still around. No word on exactly who is regarded as the French Francesco Totti, though maybe him being named Francesco moots the point.
Slightly weirder is the presence of bullfighting, but it’s maybe not exactly what you think? France has its own bullfighting tradition, centered in Nîmes and nearby Arles, making this more like “French Madrid.” In these places the grotesquely cruel version of bullfighting is practiced to this day (though outlawed everywhere else in France). But there is another indigenous form of French bullfighting, called “course camarguaise,” native to Provence and Languedoc, that does not end in slaughter but in the plucking of a rose from the bull’s headdress. Or the bullfighter getting gored; I’m not sure the bulls get the “no killing” memo. There’s even a third form, called “course landaise,” which is really cowfighting, which is so amazing that I think I’ll just copy the description from Wikipedia:
This is a competition between teams named cuadrillas, which belong to certain breeding estates. A cuadrilla is made up of a teneur de corde, an entraîneur, a sauteur, and six écarteurs. The cows are brought to the arena in crates and then taken out in order. The teneur de corde controls the dangling rope attached to the cow's horns and the entraîneur positions the cow to face and attack the player. The écarteurs will try, at the last possible moment, to dodge around the cow and the sauteur will leap over it. Each team aims to complete a set of at least one hundred dodges and eight leaps. This is the main scheme of the "classic" form, the course landaise formelle. However, different rules may be applied in some competitions. For example, competitions for Coupe Jeannot Lafittau are arranged with cows without ropes.
Pick to Win
Quick Step. Jungels, Lampaert, and Terpstra come from the gold medal winning team from last year’s Worlds, whereas BMC and Orica, while looking good, aren’t as loaded for the Vuelta (e.g. Orica swapping out Durbo for Stevie Chaves). Sky too will be a threat to win, but I think you can forget about Movistar doing its usual top performance here. Anyway, this is Quick Step’s biggest chance to do anything (at least until Enric Mas goes crazy on the steep sections), so on motivation and class I will give them the nod.