And lo, it did come to July, and though the kicking of an acrylic bladder did delay proceedings, ye Grandest of Departs did come upon the land. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, as the King of the Land received quarter from the overlords. And so, saith thy loyal previewer, it’s about bloody time we kicked off proceedings. This is stage one of the 2018 Tour de France.
The organisers of this race used to love the Passage du Gois. Crashes are now apparently out of fashion, however, so we’re coming back to the mainland from the start town, Normoutier-en-L’Île, on a safer route.
The stage, of course, takes place mostly along the Atlantic coast which up until very recently led to optimism that there would be a good chance of crosswinds. However, no matter how much optimistic scouring of different weather websites one reads, the wind will be light enough that it should be no obstacle to the riders. Nor, indeed, should be the elevation of the route, on which we encounter just one categorised climb purely for the purpose of handing out the race’s first maillot du pois rouges. In short, without wind this becomes a simple flat opening stage of the Tour, which is fine, if just a tiny bit disappointing. The first flat stage is always the most tolerable anyway. A crash on this stage looks no more likely than on any other — the finish is reasonably safe-looking, with a couple of roundabouts and a ninety-degree bend before the straight last 1100 metres.
So who’s going to win it then? Well, this sprint field is more competitive than it has ever been, so it’s one of the hardest stages in the race to predict. I’m hearing a lot of positivity about Dylan Groenewegen, which I would really love to believe. I don’t, just yet. He’s got a lot of results this year which are on paper impressive, but which become a little less so when you look at who he beat — his best win in this context was stage two of Paris-Nice, in which he beat Viviani, Greipel and Démare. Matteo Pelucchi was second in two of his victories. So. Yeah. I’m not ruling him out, I’m just yet to be convinced.
Gaviria, also, is yet to quite win me over. He finished second to Sagan, Colbrelli and Démare in the Tour de Suisse. Losing to Démare is reasonable for someone aiming for yellow on the opening day of the Tour. Colbrelli...eh. I’m holding my peace. All the talk of Gaviria having won four stages of the Giro surely has to be caveated because he was sprinting against Sam Bennett. Now, Bennett is Irish, and even I don’t think he’s the messiah. I don’t quite believe in Gaviria just yet.
So what about Mark Cavendish? I’ll be honest, his comeback in 2016 really surprised me. I’ll be surprised if he does it again, but the possibility has to be considered. He’s been there or thereabouts this season, but I reckon this stage might be a step too far.
Peter Sagan will be close to the front too, but he lacks the top-end speed to win it.
And so I come to my prediction for the stage — one which might seem contradictory given how little he has shown this season, but one I’m confident with. I pick Marcel Kittel to take the spoils. He’s gone under the radar this season, but he has what it takes to win at the Tour and I think that’s going to be apparent on day one. He’s the best sprinter in the world. He’ll find the form.