Stage 1 uses a small loop before taking on a circuit around Mantes-La-Jolie. There’s a climb but the Côte de Vert is a lowly affair, 2km at just 4% and so the chance for a big sprinter or breakaway to wear some polka dots for a change.
There are two sharp 90 degree bends with three kilometres to go and the local hospital is a stretcher-carrying walk away. Past these there are two narrow roundabouts to cross before the red kite, enough to string out an already nervous peloton before the safer finish on beside the Seine river on a six metre wide road.
An early break is likely to go but several teams have an interest in a sprint finish and they’ll use the circuit to keep the breakaway within range before the final sprint. Circuit races allow for more control because the surprise factor is reduced, the bunch can measure its chase with more certainty. If a break wants to stick it’ll need some heavy hitters from sprint teams but these riders will be the same ones given orders to support their sprinters.
There are time bonuses available with 10 – 6 – 4 seconds at the finish and 3 – 2 – 1 seconds respectively for the two intermediate sprints which means any break that gets away can’t win the yellow jersey because the finish is more valuable.
The prime pick is FDJ.fr’s Nacer Bouhanni. The French sprinter is in good shape and is on home turf which will boost his confidence after a not so good season with only one win this year. John Degenkolb is second easy pick, he’s got a great team and support from Koen De Kort, Ramon Sinkeldam and Albert Timmer
Belkin’s Moreno Hofland has the leg speed and the form. Alexander Kristoff might find the course too easy, it’s not selective enough but he’s won already this year and is the third pick, the interaction with Katusha comrade Vlad Isaietchev will be interesting. I think Europcar’s Bryan Coquard might strike later, Monday’s stage has a tight turn that suits his “boomerang” style but he’ll be in the mix. Cofidis’s Adrien Petit is a fast finisher and is part of a club of sprinters with Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) and Matthew Goss (Orica-Greenedge) who need a win to justify their label; Garmin-Sharp also have Steele Von Hoff.
Will Tom Boonen sprint? He hasn’t come here to do nothing but why risk the classics form with a crash? If he goes for it his long surge could surprise but maybe OPQS will sit tight and hope for crosswinds later in the week.
For a change the race to the sun starts with bright sunshine and warm conditions. Blue skies and a temperature of 20°C (68°F) awaits. A breeze of 15km/h from the south is forecast which should be too gentle to alter the race.