Le Tour Daily Update Stage 1: Chaos & Drama on the Cote d'Azur
Stage-Win Spoiler Free: Crashes rule the day on stage 1 as the peloton prepares for an early sojourn in the mountains
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The first stage of the Tour de France delivered what has to be the most chaotic opening stage in the modern history of the race. Alexander Kristoff took us all back to 2014 with a commanding stage and may have been the only rider to have a good day on a stage that saw countless crashes and chaos reign. The 33-year-old Norweigan became the oldest rider in 72 years to win the opening stage.
The roads of the Cote d'Azur were turned into a skating rink when the skies opened up during the stage. This led to a brief period where it appeared that the riders might refuse to race the finale of the stage, but was le Tour was spared this sporting and entertainment disaster when the teams of the sprinters ramped things up with 18km to go.
The number one rule for overall contenders during the Tour de France’s opening week is to STAY AT THE FRONT, and this rule was proven over and over again today. Those who were on or at the front consistently crashed at a much lower rate, if at all, while those who were mincing about even just 10 wheels back often hit the pavement hard and often. Slovenian wunderkind Tadej Pogačar stuck to this rule in the final kilometer and stole a free eight seconds from the likes of Egan Bernal, Primoz Roglic, and Tom Dumoulin when a split opening up in the group.
There were countless casualties of crashes on the slick roads, but a truce called in the front group with around 50km to go allowed most riders to catch back on after being distanced. Caleb Ewan, who’s climbing ability I worried about in my betting preview podcast struggled today and was at one point over six minutes behind. The go-slow meant he was able to claw his way back to the front group, but nothing could save Ineos’ Pavel Sivakov, who went down multiple times and finished over 13-minutes behind the overall contenders. This essentially torpedoes his chances of contending for the GC and takes away Ineos’ plan C, as well as their ability to have him play wildcard in the high mountain stages (and most importantly, sinks my darkhorse overall win pick).
The small and technical roads around Nice seemed too slick to actively race without wiping out a significant portion of the overall contenders and seriously diluting the competitive balance of the race before it really begins. This wasn’t a case of a peloton “patron” putting his foot down and forcing other teams to comply like we’ve seen in the past (see: Fabian Cancellara) but was the majority of the overall contenders agreeing that it wasn’t in their individual best interests continue to race since there is nothing guaranteeing they wouldn’t crash themselves.
This point was proven when the Astana team decided to capitalize on this go-slow truce and attack on the following descent. Shortly after, their team leader, Miguel Angel Lopez, lost control and crashed hard into a road sign. Note his complete inability to stop his bike despite locking up his brakes, this shows just how extremely slick the roads were.
Even after the slowdown truce, Jumbo-Visma’s George Bennett went down hard on a descent. This isn’t great for Jumbo since Bennett looked seriously shaken up and could struggle to contribute in the mountain stages looming in the rest of the first week.
When the peloton got off the descent and onto the big, wide, open boulevarde finish, there still seemed to be a reluctance to take up the pace and there were murmurs of neutralization of the entire stage.
However, AG2R’s Benoit Cosnefroy attacked out of the creeping peloton with 20km to go, which finally put pressure on the peloton to pick up the pace. One wonders if the AG2R team car got a call from the Tour boss Christian Prudhomme asking them to kick things to off and prevent the disaster of a neutralized opening stage finish.
Jumbo-Visma cut the figure of a Tour-winning team. They were present and accounted for at the head of the bunch and avoided crashes during the early points of the stage when other contending teams were caught out.
Ineos, the actual defending champion, appeared to struggle to keep their team at the front, suffered multiple crashes to key players like Sivakov and Andrey Amador. At times, their leader Egan Bernal could be seen at the back of the peloton. A major, major no-no in the opening week of the Tour. This doesn’t bode well for later in the race when they won’t be saved by stage neutralizations.
Caleb Ewan, who has struggled to get over climbs in the past, was a huge beneficiary of the go-slow. He went from six-minutes off-the-back and completely dead-in-the-water to mixing it up for the stage win. Sam Bennett and Giacomo Nizzolo kept the gap closer, around a minute, but were also both distanced and helped by the go-slow.
Even with the slow down, the hilly parcours seemed to really take a toll on the “faster” sprinters like Bennett, Ewan, and Nizzolo, while the “stronger” sprinters like Kristoff and Mads Pedersen. With a plethora of difficult sprint stages to come, it could be a tough tour for the former and a great one for the latter.
Speaking of Mads, the world champion looks to be in great sprint form and could potentially have an outside shot of competing for the green jersey.
Kristoff, who was at +10000 odds to win the green jersey earlier this week, looks to be back to his best after a few years in the wilderness. Those who took a flier on him at those odds could be in for an exciting three weeks.
The screenshots below show just how strong both Kristoff and Pedersen were compared to the other sprinters. Look where Krisftoff and Pedersen are (far right) in the first screenshot.
Just six-seconds later they’ve both easily surged clear and Kristoff gets enough of a gap to show a clean pair of wheels to the pack behind.
Sagan won out of the bunch at the intermediate sprint. This signals his form could be slightly better than advertised and that he is focused on extending his green jersey record.
Thibault Pinot was caught out in a late-stage crash. The charismatic French rider always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and this is just further confirmation that he lacks the positioning nous to be a grand tour contender.
Pogačar launched a sneak-attack on his rivals by stealing eight free seconds in the finale by simply having good positioning awareness. This isn’t a tour winning sum, but it shows he came prepared, focused, and is ready to take the fight to the favorites.
Stage 2 Preview & Predictions
There is no rest for the peloton after an absurdly difficult and punishing opening stage. Tomorrow sees the race head into the mountains surrounding Nice. Those who crashed hard today, like Thibault Pinot, could truly struggle. It isn’t a high-mountain stage and the final big climbs crests 87km from the finish line, but the final two climbs, while not particularly imposing (7.8km at 5.9% & 5.5km at 5.7%), crest just 10-kilometers from the finish and the technical roads, which feature on the final stage of Paris-Nice, seems to always breed intense racing and a small group almost always gets clear and is able to hold the gap to the line.
Julain Alaphilippe had a rough day today and looked defeated at the finish line, but I’m picking him to recover and win the stage.
Sagan, only 10-seconds out of the lead, will get over the climbs and take the Yellow jersey.
The injuries Pinot sustained in his crash today will cause him to struggle and be dropped by the top GC contenders.