Tour de France 2021 – Stage 1 preview

By David Hunter

Brest > Landerneau 198km

Strap yourself in, this is a crazy way to start the Tour de France.

Up and down all day long, but that’s not the main issue. There is 3158m of climbing, which is quite a lot for the opening stage, but it’s well within the capabilities of all riders in the bunch. Here are the problems:

  1. The narrow roads of Brittany.
  2. A nervous bunch, it is the opening stage of the Tour de France after all.
  3. No 3km rule. Bad news if you crash.
  4. No 3 second rule at the finish. GC riders can’t afford to get stuck the wrong side of a gap.
  5. The tough uphill finish.
  6. The weather.
  7. A technical finish with lots of road furniture.
  8. A very narrow entrance to the final climb.
  9. GC and sprint teams all fighting for the same road position.
  10. All DSs demanding their team gets to the front.
  11. Unfortunately, all of the above will inevitably lead to crashes.

Weather

A grey day, but current forecasts suggest it will stay dry. The wind is coming from the north, which means a tailwind for the final climb.

Finale

With 10km to go the bunch reach the peak of an unclassified climb, after this we have a fast downhill that brings the peloton to the final climb. This downhill section is going to be crazy, with everyone wanting to be at the front of the bunch for the finale.

Here comes the first of the issues. With 5.7km to go we have a roundabout; the right-hand side seems the fastest way round.

With 5.4km to go the bunch will be forced down the right-hand side of the central reservation. You can see that means a massive narrowing of the bunch, almost forcing them into single file.

Then comes a roundabout with 5km to go, where both sides are open. Going right is the shorter side, if you go left, I don’t think you’ll win the stage.

On exiting the roundabout, the bunch continue on a narrow road and go up a little kicker which lasts around 200m, before taking a right and heading onto a wider road. The next kilometre isn’t technical, this is where we’ll see a big rush as teams try to move back up the bunch and get to the front.

With 3.4km to go the bunch go straight over this roundabout with both sides open. You can see that it doesn’t matter which side you go round, but there is a tight right-hand corner just up ahead, so teams will probably want to be on the left.

Right hand corner with 3.2km to go.

Immediately followed by a tight left-hand corner which marks the start of the climb. It’s narrow, you must start near the front if you want to win the stage.

Then the climbing begins. The final 3km averages 5.7%, but that doesn’t tell the full picture. The hardest section of the climb comes right at the start, we’re talking 1.4km at 8%, including some double-digit ramps. With 1.5km to go things start to get much easier and the final 400m is false flat. Given the speed of the bunch, this finish will be much more selective than the numbers suggest.

Tactics

When will the finale begin? We have a nervous bunch, potential rain and a hectic finish. I think we’ll see a huge battle starting with around 20km to go. To win the stage you need to start the final climb in a good position, to get this good position you need to be near the front of the bunch from 10km to go. To stay at the head of the bunch you need a strong team, with riders who can sustain a high speed for a long period. The GC teams will look to control the end of the stage, they’ll be very worried about crashes and the thought of losing the yellow jersey in the first day.

Both Ineos and Deceuninck – Quick Step would normally be the best in this situation. The Belgians can throw their whole team behind Alaphilippe, and they have lots of big engines. Ineos have less man, but Rowe, Van Baarle, Castroviejo and Kwiatkowski always seem to get in the right place, at the right time. The fight for position won’t suit the little climbers, it’s much better for classics riders who don’t mind a little bit of shoulder action.

Once on the climb those that don’t want a sprint need to go early. The difficult section lasts for 1.5km, normally we’d see Devenyns hit the front and rip it for 500m, then Alaphilippe attacks. The difference needs to be made on the steep section of the climb; it will be hard to get away in the final kilometre. Whoever is at the front at the foot of the hill has a chance of attacking and upsetting the fast men. That could be Alaphilippe, maybe Van Aert, possibly van der Poel. I can’t wait!

DS Cycling Mole

Stage 1 and I’m with the Wolf Pack.

Position, position, position. That’s what it’s all about boys. El Tractor, you get on the front in the neutral zone, that will scare the shit out of the breakaway riders. You can let a small break get away and then do your thing. The rest of you can save some energy for the final 30km, you’ll need it. Cav and Killer (Mørkøv) you get us good position coming into the final 10km, then pass over to The Cat and Kasper the Ghost. It is vital we stay at the front of the bunch; you boys need to smash it. In the final 5km it gets a little technical, that’s when Ballero can come into his own. Get those big shoulders working and make space for Julian. Once we hit the climb Devo will do his thing. Let it rip, put them into trouble and then Julian launches his attack. Don’t look back, head down and fly my little musketeer. Now get out there and bring me back a yellow jersey and one of those cute little lions.

Contenders

Mathieu van der Poel – the big man starts as the favourite to win the stage and take the yellow jersey. He has the punch required to win this stage, but can his team position him at the head of the bunch for the final climb? If he does have a good position, I don’t think he’ll wait for the sprint, I think he’ll go on the attack and take matters into his own hands. Waiting for the sprint brings some risk, he won’t have a rider to control the final kilometre. If he starts the climb further back, he won’t have an option, he’ll need to try and move up the bunch and hope it ends in a sprint.

Wout Van Aert – his preparation for the Tour was interrupted by appendicitis, which had an impact on his training load. Most predicted that he would start the race not in peak form, but he didn’t look too bad winning the Belgian championship on Sunday! Jumbo-Visma will be protecting Roglič, that is their number one priority, but Van Aert will also have some freedom if all is well. This is the same position he was in last year, but he still managed to win two stages.

Julian Alaphilippe – the stage is set for the world champion to take the yellow jersey. This is a good finish for Alaphilippe, but I think he’d prefer the climb to finish with the harder section. He has the team who will likely control the run for home, he has riders to make the initial slopes very hard, he has the kick to attack and take a solo win. He knows the problem is van der Poel, but he’ll just have to hope that when he launches his move the Dutchman isn’t on his wheel.

Peter Sagan – if it was 2018, he would win this stage, but it’s not. Sagan is no longer the fastest in this type of finish, but he should still be challenging for the podium.

Sonny Colbrelli – he’s in the form of his life, but unfortunately, I don’t think that’s good enough to win the stage.

Benoît Cosnefroy – this day has long been marked in his calendar. Injury over the winter had a big impact on his early season, but he still impressed in the Ardennes. His recent performance in the Tour de Suisse was a disappointment, but he did look good in the French road race last week. The AG2R man will be dreaming of winning the yellow jersey, but I fear he won’t start the climb at the front of the race, which means he won’t be able to win.

Alexey Lutsenko – flying in the Dauphiné, this is a good stage for him. Astana are here for stage wins, not the GC, which means they can commit lots of riders to getting a good position in the final kilometres. Lutsenko is exactly the type of rider who can attack off the front of the bunch with 2km to go, he has the power required for such an effort.

Tadej Pogačar – it would be a surprise if he won the opening stage, but he does have a chance. If we see a small group get a gap on the climb he’ll be there, and we all remember how fast he is in a sprint, think Liège. He’s not one of the main favourites for the stage, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him challenging for the win.

Caleb Ewan – given the way he climbed the Poggio, he must be considered for this stage. Back when he was an under 23 rider, he was a master in all types of finishes, that included small hills. When he moved into the pro ranks, he focused on bunch sprints, which meant he wasn’t as good at climbing, but this year we’ve seen him return to his roots. Not only did he fly up the Poggio, but he also climbing well in the recent Belgium Tour. Despite everything that I’ve said, I don’t think we’ll see him winning this stage, the final climb will be too hard for him.

Geraint Thomas – with Ineos likely to have a great position for the final climb I’ll throw his name into the ring. Given the tailwind, if someone attacks and gets a gap they can stay away until the end. Thomas isn’t scared of throwing caution to the wind, if he has a good position, he’ll not simply follow wheels.

Prediction Time

Hopefully we see a safe finish, but I doubt it. We’ll see attacks on the final climb, but I think the stage will end in a sprint and Mathieu van der Poel will take the win and the yellow jersey.

A message from Cycle Pal: During the Tour de France, we’ll add some extra pressure onto David as we’ll be giving away a care package that includes tools worth up to £85 every time he predicts a stage winner correctly. To enter, all you have to do is click the link below and enter your email. Enter here: cyclepal.co.uk/tdf

Cycle Pal is a small UK-based cycling company that specializes in unique tools to help you with everyday cycling problems. If you struggle with changing stubborn tyres, you may be interested in our Tyre Seating Tool, you can find more information here: cyclepal.co.uk/cyclepal

David Hunter

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2 thoughts on “Tour de France 2021 – Stage 1 preview

  1. Cav most definitely shouldn’t be up pulling with 10k to go, saving as much energy as possible for sprint stages.
    I fear alpecin won’t get mvdp in a good position, and I think colbrellis ridiculous form will make him dangerous

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