CARTE

So Stage 1 has come and gone, Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) took the yellow jersey and his 27th TdF stage win, a tremendous achievement for the Manx Missile – chapeau Cav.  My four favourites finished in the first four places but as you know, I went for outsiders so maybe gut feeling should be the order of the day going forward.

No opinions today folks, just pure unadulterated punditry.

Sky Bet are backing Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) at 10/3, Michael Matthews (Orica BikeExchange) at 6/1, Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx Quickstep) at 13/2 and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) at 8/1.  So what are their chances?

All the pundits are saying that today’s route is for the puncheur.  What the hell is a puncheur I hear you cry?  Well, according to the always accurate source of wisdom, Wikipedia, a puncheur is defined as:

“a name given to a road bicycle racer who specialises in rolling terrain with short but steep climbs…..These races are characterized by hills that have a 10 – 20% gradient and are 1–2 km long…….Puncheurs are usually relatively well built, with broader shoulders and bigger legs than the average racing cyclist…….The physique of this type of rider allows them to escape from the peloton through quick bursts usually with the assistance of a teammate.”

Here is today’s route profile:

PROFIL

Yes, indeed, it certainly is rolling and does have a number of short, sharp climbs, so a puncheur should very much be the favourite.  Let’s take the favourite four riders individually.

Peter Sagan has raced for 41 days in 2016.  In those 41 days, he has finished in the top 10 no less than 26 times.  No rider has this level of consistency and the fact that he has done it with the World Champion rainbow jersey on his back makes it even more of a feat.  I’m a massive Sagan fan, yes, he looks good, has style, panache, is a bit controversial but it’s because he delivers most of his results as an individual.  He doesn’t expect the support from his Tinkoff team, recognising that they are there to focus on the protected riders.  Today’s route has Sagan written all over it and his 3rd place yesterday shows that he’s hungry.

Michael Matthews.  The 25 year old Australian undoubtedly has the pedigree and ability to deliver on today’s stage and his Orica-BikeExchange team will back his bid for a victory with heart but I’m not convinced he’s on the top of his game this year.  There it is, that’s the hint you should all take, he’ll probably win it.  But if we go on form, Matthews had a good Paris-Nice in March where he took the Points Classification and two stages.  He won the Vuelta Cyclista a La Rioja, was 5th in Flèche Wallonne in April and took 3rd in stage two of the Tour de Suisse last month.  Those are the highlights of his year.  Yesterday, he placed 90th, where, in my opinion he should not necessarily have been a favourite, but should have been in the mix in the last km.  So, I believe that 6/1 and second favourite status is based on his ability but not on form.

Julian Alaphilippe, the 24 year old French sensation has had a good 2016 so far albeit with a relatively slow start.  His form has improved since April where he had placed 6th in Amstel Gold, 2nd in Flèche Wallonne and 23rd Liege-Bastogne-Liege.  In May he won the 8 day Amgen Tour of California and in June he won the Youth Classification and was 2nd in the Points Classification in the Criterium du Dauphine.  Last week, he finished 5th in the French National Championships and yesterday he placed 14th in what was a confused and very fast final km.  So what I am saying here is that Alaphilippe is on form, itching to restore French pride in their race, has the backing of a tremendous and clever team and has already delivered consistent results in similar terrain.

Greg Van Avermaet, the Belgian classics specialist definitely is in with a shout and whilst his recent form is patchy, remember his focus is always early season and this year he has very much delivered.  He won the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in February, beating Peter Sagan to the line, was 6th in March’s Strade Bianche, won the Tirreno-Adriatico overall classification and was 5th in Milan Sanremo.  Last week, he finished 3rd in the Belgian National Championships and was 32nd yesterday, which isn’t bad considering the carnage at the end.  Today’s route favours him, but his BMC team will be focusing on protecting Richie Porte, so whatever he does, he’ll have to do it alone.

So take your pick people.  My heart says Alaphilippe but my head says Sagan.

The Giant