By David Hunter
The race begins with a 167km stage. It looks like a nice day for the sprinters, with only 3 categorised climbs, but looks can be deceiving. The route is peppered with short, steep ramps and is a challenging day in the saddle.
The road only drops below 1000metres, in the last 20km. Quite a few riders will lose ground, due to the altitude.
The profile and the altitude present the breakaway with a great chance. The opening stage of a race, can often be a tentative affair, as no team really wants to take control. Most will look towards Giant, Lampre and Orica to control the break, but they might refuse to work. If that happens, the responsibility will fall upon the shoulders of Garmin-Sharp. Dan Martin, is the favourite for the race and they will also be expected to contribute to the chase.
The poker that the peloton plays, can often result in the break being successful. Watch out for some of the big teams trying to place riders in the break, to enable the rest of their squad, to have an easy day. If we get a good mix of teams, the break has a great chance of winning the stage.
We have quite a few teams with strong sprinters, but others are only looking towards the breaks. Movistar, AG2R, BMC, Cannondale, FDJ, OPQS, Europcar, Katusha and Tinkoff all arrive without a sprinter capable of winning a stage. Some of these teams are focussed on the GC, but may will look towards this stage as an ideal opportunity, to take a win and the yellow jersey.
In terms of sprinting, 3 riders stand out from the rest: Mezgec, Modolo and Ewan. Sacha Modolo has had a horrible run, since his win in the Tour de Suisse(in June). He arrives with Pozzato and Richeze, who will position him well but I have my doubts about his form and fitness.
Mezgec has had a good season, but he hasn’t won since the final stage of the Giro.
Caleb Ewan is young and exciting. It would be a dream come true to win on his Orica debut.
The other point to note is the lack of sprinting trains. At most these guys will have 3 riders dedicated to the sprint, this will make the sprints very messy.
What about OPQS? They are the team of the year, what will they offer? They arrive with Uran for the GC, but have some interesting options for stage 1. Alaphilippe, Maes, Vakoc and Vermote all look capable of getting into the morning break. Alaphilippe was sprinting well, in Catalunya, but Maes is a better option for me. He finished 3rd in stage 1, in 2013, and is a very underrated sprinter. He does possess high end speed and shouldn’t be underestimated.
Moreno Hofland is a good option for Belkin. He is slowly coming back to form, but 6th in Munsterland Giro, isn’t great form. It might take him a few stages to get up to racing speed.
Van Poppel, Farrar and Swift will find it very difficult to win sprints against the top 3.
The break has a great chance. Tosh Van der Sande will fancy his chances, if he makes the break. The success of the break depends on who misses out and what politics get played out, in the peloton. If we get a sprint, I fancy Caleb Ewan to start his Orica career, with a bang. Watch out for Maes, if he gets the opportunity to sprint.
Related: Overall preview
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