July 2 Stage 1: Passage du Gois to Mont des Alouettes, 191.5km (119 miles)
With the time-consuming protocol out of the way, the peloton will be keen to get on with the racing. This is one of the flattest stages of the Tour, so expect speeds to be high despite likely crosswinds off the ocean. The sprinters’ teams will be eager to keep the peloton together until the uphill straightaway at Avrillé (87km, 54 miles) for the very first, new-format intermediate sprint.
This daily mid-race sprint, with a hefty allocation of points for the best-sprinter’s green jersey competition, is an experiment that should yield spectacular results, especially on a stage like this one when the pure sprinters are disadvantaged by an uphill finish at the end of the day. Expect breakaways to form on the hillier second half of this stage but the field is likely to come together in the final hour after the fast downhill run into Les Herbiers. Here, the riders have to negotiate eight roundabouts on the town’s ring road prior to what should be an exciting finale.
The last 4km is all uphill, shallow at first before hitting a steady 5-percent grade on wide roads where the wind could scupper the chances of a solo attacker. The finish line is at the top of the Mont des Alouettes (”Mount of the Larks”) 748 feet (228 meters) above sea level, not far from the highest point in the Vendée. The strongest sprinters (rather than the fastest) will likely contest the stage win — and the Tour’s first yellow jersey.
THE SCOOP: GC contenders will have to be wary of getting caught out by splits in the peloton caused by (1) the quick succession of roundabouts in the last 6km, (2) the high speed of the climb to the finish and/or (3) the likely crosswinds.
OVERALL RATING: **