It’s that time of the year again. Le Tour de France brings a number of things. One, a flood of cycling ‘fans’ (this used to be me) who watch Le Tour and immediately think they are a walking cycling almanac. Two, a race full of hysterics (think Lance Armstrong flying down a wheat field, or Froome running up Mont Ventoux). But most importantly, it brings an amazing bike race seen by millions across the globe. Le Tour is considered by many as cycling’s pinnacle achievement. It’s cycling’s Super Bowl – you may not watch NFL at all, but you will watch the Super Bowl even if you don’t have any idea what is happening (which is still me).
For the next three weeks in July, I will be doing my Terrible Tour Textbook. It won’t be filled with poor predictions and abhorrent analysis, but it’ll just go like any preview series I do for GTs. I’ll follow the format I did for the two stages of the Giro I previewed (which I had to stop due to time constraints with Uni). However, during this Tour, I will also be doing reviews for my good friends at Grupetto Chat (and there will be more news out of that camp soon!), so if you want more TDF articles, you can always read them there. Enough blabbering, let’s preview Stage 1: the Dusseldorf Prologue!
The profile of the 14km Dusseldorf Prologue is very similar to the Utrecht depart of 2 years ago. A dead flat loop along the banks (and across) the Rhine, with a few technical corners in the middle but mostly long straights. The way the course is laid out means that it’s all going to be about power on the straights. There is a time check 8.1 kilometers into the race at Königsallee, just after the riders turn around. There are three hairpin turns, as well as around half a dozen corners midway through the course where riders will have to brake. The first hairpin onto the bridge at Oberkasseler Brücke features some paint, which will mean less grip into the corner and a higher possibility of a crash. It’s not long enough to put the weaker time triallers too far back, so the GC impact will be minimal. But that’s in good conditions.
There’s rain. Bad for cyclists, (debatably) good for spectators, and quite possibly making a stage with a little bit of a GC impact have a huge one. A wet time trial means that teams will try and organise their best riders to go in the driest conditions. In the last opening time trial in Utrecht, FDJ won that organisation game and gave Pinot a boost away from his rivals.
The rain is expected to roll in overnight, and continue all day until around 5pm. Put simply, the whole time trial will be wet, it’s just when the heavy showers will come. Predictions show that showers will be heavier near the start of the time trial and will fall off as the afternoon progresses. There is also expected to be around a 20kmh crosswind on the big straights at the start and end of the course. It won’t be at the levels of one of last year’s time trials which saw Kelderman almost fly off his bike, but it’ll be gusty.
The GC Situation
Well, it’s a bit hard to really talk about riders and their situation before the race has even started, so I am going to go through and list a few heavyweights everyone should really be keeping an eye on. This years Tour isn’t as hard as years past, and has less TT miles, but the same names will be appearing.
Three-time winner Chris Froome returns to France once again in the hopes of donning Yellow once again. In a cycling dynasty like none other, which has drawn critical comparisons to US Postal, Team Sky have truly dominated the Tour for the last 5 years, with their only loss in the 5 years gone by being in 2014 after Froome abandoned. While his form might not be hot, coming off one of his worst Dauphine in recent memory, but you would be an idiot to put him out of contention. However, he has only won the Tour in years he has won the Dauphine – will that trend continue? That’ll be up to his biggest rival in 2017 (subjective) to decide. Richie Porte has had poor luck at the Tour in previous years, especially after last year’s Stage 2 fiasco with him losing multiple minutes over a mechanical. His personal form is great, coming 2nd at Dauphine and winning Romandie, but BMC looked weak at the Dauphine after they were all dropped on the first climb of Stage 8. Although the team has stated they are riding for Porte only, there is a seed of doubt in the strength of BMC.
By no means a second tier competitor to Froome and Porte, Nairo Quintana has just come off a second place at the Giro and will be seeking that elusive TDF win this year. Statistically, Quintana has performed better at his second GT of the year, but I think that can be attributed to the field at the Vuelta being considerably weaker than that of the Giro and TDF. Fabio Aru wasn’t at his home GT due to injury, but hot off a National Championship win and a 5th at Dauphine (with team mate Fuglsang winning) he does look to be in tip top shape. Alberto Contador has been around for a while, and although he hasn’t won anything this year, 3 second places at Paris-Nice, Catalunya and Pais Vasco shows that the 34 year old Spaniard isn’t ready to retire yet. Trek have also brought quite the team in support (Mollema, Zubeldia, Pantano, Gogl, Felline, Irizar), and if he doesn’t have another horrible crash he will definitely be up there.
The French hopes for this year’s TDF lie with Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet. Pinot often struggles in the heat, but he has also got some solid form off the Giro after a 4th place there as well as a stage win. A lack of TT miles might hurt his abilities to get up there, as that is usually his stronger suit compared to other GC riders. Bardet has a strong AG2R squad behind him this year (Bakelants, Latour, Naesen, Vuillermoz, Frank) and also had a solid 6th place at Dauphine. The reduced TT mileage will help his chances of a higher placing, which if he achieved this year will only mean one thing – yellow.
After last year’s intense white jersey battle between Meintjes and Yates, there are now three major contenders. Louis Meintjes returns, Simon Yates replaces brother Adam while Emanuel Buchmann also steps up to the plate. Meintjes has the TDF experience, as well as being the sole leader for UAE up his sleeve. Yates hasn’t performed as well as his twin in the past, but came 2nd at Romandie this year and with minimal TT miles has a great chance of a high placing. Buchmann really exploded onto the block this year, and will be hoping to improve on his 21st placing overall last year. Winning the white jersey at Dauphine is a great indicator of form in the race for white at the TDF, and Buchmann has done that and will hope to transfer that one week form over the full three. I’m honestly more excited for the battle for white than the battle for yellow this year, so definitely keep an eye out for it this year.
Dennis won the very similar Utrecht time trial in 2015, but with him not coming, it’ll be hard to go past 2nd place on that day, and current TT World Champion Tony Martin. Flat, power based time trials are the German’s forte, and to look past him to show up would be a mistake. However, there are a few contenders who could quite possibly cut the World Champ down. Jos van Emden made a great day for Dutch cycling even better, winning the final stage time trial at the Giro this year on a course which was longer than this one but still dead flat. Vasil Kiryienka is also at the TDF this year and came 4th in the same Milano TT, and will have aspirations of wearing yellow before his team mate. PCS ranked #1 time trialler Jonathan Castroviejo is also at the Tour this year, although he is more powerful in the hillier time trials (he did beat Martin at the Volta ao Algarve Stage 3 TT this year, though, which was flattish). Michael Matthews and Luke Durbridge are two Australian outsiders who have a bunch of power and have shown improvement in the time trial (or consistency).
My pick for the day goes to someone I haven’t mentioned yet – Primoz Roglic. He won the 7.5km prologue at Ster ZLM a couple of weeks ago, as well as time trials at Pais Vasco and Romandie in 2017. Although the latter of those time trials were hilly, they were wins over other TDF riders like Valverde, Matthews, Kiryienka and Castroviejo.He also came 5th at the flat Tirreno-Adriatico time trial, which is the best time trial to compare to this one from 2017 results, and the only other TDF riders who beat him were Van Emden and Cummings. He has a very strong GC ambition and donning Yellow on Day 1 would be an amazing way to start the tour even if he never touches it again.
~ The Cycling Raven