Tour’s opening week
There’s no prologue at this year’s Tour, but expect Cancellara to power his Leopard-Trek team to a high placing in the stage 2 team time trial at Les Essarts. If the world and Olympic time trial champ is to win a road stage, his best chance could come on stage 5 along the coast of northern Brittany to Cap Fréhel: The final hour is constantly turning, climbing and dipping through small towns and villages with probable side and tail winds.
Even that stage’s “flatter” finish is not suited to sprinters’ teams closing gaps or setting a high tempo. More likely, the peloton will split in the winds over the bumpy terrain to favor a late solo attack by a Cancellara. If not, the more resilient sprint finishers like Goss, Hushovd and Omega-Lotto’s Andrei Greipel may get their chance.
Obviously, the fastest sprinters are planning a different outcome to the early stages — that’s why Cavendish, his lead-out men Mark Renshaw, Bernie Eisel and Goss, and their likely Tour teammates went to reconnoiter the Tour’s opening stages (including the team time trial) earlier this month. Just as the GC contenders scout the major climbs, so today’s sprinters like to see what’s in store for them on the flat stages.
New this year is each day’s single intermediate sprint, where the top 15 riders will score sprint points, rather than the previous years’ three riders. This will give teams a greater incentive to close down early breakaways and give their sprinters a chance of scoring major points, especially when the actual stage finishes don’t suit them.
These intermediate sprints will be of special importance to green-jersey contenders Cavendish, Petacchi and Farrar (who took a stage of last week’s Ster ZLM Toer, his first win since his close friend Wouter Weylandt died at the Giro d’Italia on May 9). Studying the locations of these midway sprints on stages 1, 3 and 4 was another justification for the early-June scouting trip by Cavendish and his HTC colleagues.
Bearing in mind all the potential strategies and course difficulties of the opening week, expect to see pure sprinters Cavendish, Farrar, Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) and Tom Boonen (Quick Step) battle for stage wins at Redon (stage 3) and Châteauroux (stage 7); all-terrain sprinters Goss, Hushovd, Greipel and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky) to contend at Mont des Alouettes (stage 1) and Cap Fréhel (stage 5); and the best hilltop finishers Gilbert and Damiano Cunego (Lampre) — and perhaps GC contenders Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard) and Chris Horner (Team RadioShack) — to shoot for a win at Mûr-de-Bretagne (stage 4) or Lisieux (stage 6).
What is certain is that the opening week of the upcoming Tour — now just over a week away — will not be yawner. The racing should have you on the edge of your seats.