Despite there being a Category 4 climb, 20km from the finish, this stage is expected to be a bunch sprint between the best sprinters in the world. With that said, the roads are rolling and on the first sprint stage in every Grand Tour, particularly the Tour de France, nerves will be up and there’s potential for crashes.
Speaking of crashes, it is confirmed that Alejandro Valverde is out of the race with fractures to his leg and kneecap as well as Ion Izaguirre. It’s a big blow for Nairo Quintana and for Bahrain-Merida respectively.
Onto this stage now. Having the first Polka Dot jersey in the race will be a big deal for some riders so expect the usual suspects in the break such as Thomas de Gendt, Perrig Quemeneur, Thomas Degand, Axel Domont, Florian Vachon and Pierre Luc Perichon among others. (Yes, I wanted to name a few riders and see how many I get in the break). The break stands no chance though and will be brought back, but will they be brought back after the cat 4 climb or before?
When they are brought back the sprint trains will be in action and then a battle of the sprinters will arise.
Marcel Kittel ($2.10/$1.30) is the big favourite and it’s easy to see why. Apart from Cavendish in flying form, Kittel is the fastest man in the world. He has a solid team to support him and he should find himself winning this stage barring any incident.
Arnaud Demare ($5/$1.70) is second favourite. It’s weird having him as second favourite in a pure sprint stage because he’s not a pure sprinter. He’s someone that needs it challenging and needs a finishing incline to use his power to win. With that said, he doesn’t need to be the fastest here to win this stage because he has the best lead-out in the race. He has 8 riders dedicated to putting him into the right position. No other team has that advantage. I think Demare will win a stage this race, but not today.
Dylan Groenewegan ($8/$2.40) should be up there. He has a team around him, and he challenged a few times last year. This year, however, I’m unsure of him. I can’t see him winning but top 3 is a possibility.
Peter Sagan ($9/$2) shouldn’t be one of the favourites for this stage. He won’t be outkicking the faster sprinters here. He’ll be looking towards stage 3.
Mark Cavendish ($9/$3) has had Glandular Fever the last two months. He only returned to racing a few weeks ago. That alone says he shouldn’t be challenging for a win yet and that he will need another week or so, then he will be at full force. With that said, this is Mark Cavendish. The Manx Missile can never be written off.
Andre Greipel ($10/$3.25) is fast but he needs a clear path to the line. Greipel tends to get lost a lot without team-mates. I can’t see him winning this stage.
Nacer Bouhanni ($13/$3.25) is France’s other hope of a stage victory. He’s fast, but he does tend to get lost and crash a bit. In a stage as nervous as this one, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him hit the tarmac. For that reason, I can’t see him challenging.
Alexander Kristoff ($21/$5) has a poor team around him. Can’t see him challenge on flat stage as this one. Needs a harder one.
Michael Matthews ($41/$10) is nice value if you are a betting man, particularly the place price. Unlike sprinters above, Matthews does have nearly a full team to guide him. That is going to help big time. He may need a harder stage, but you can’t count him out of today’s stage.
Other sprinters not mentioned include John Degenkolb who needs a harder stage and also Daniel McLay, Sonny Colbrelli, Tomas Boudat and Edvald Boasson-Hagen.
Going for Kittel is the safest, easiest prediction, and I’m not a safe sort of person. People may think I’m crazy, but I think Cavendish will take this stage. Yes he’s probably not in top form at the moment, but maybe he has recovered well enough to be? He’s certainly down playing his chances but I know better than to underestimate the Manx Missile.
- Mark Cavendish
- Marcel Kittel
- Arnaud Demare
- Michael Matthews
- Peter Sagan