Will this Tour produce the anticipated fireworks? Can Jumbo-Visma really challenge the unstoppable Ineos express for GC honours? And, most importantly, will the race even reach Paris before Covid-19 intervenes?
The Rouleur panel will be taking it one day at a time, making sometimes sensible – and often well wide of the mark – punts on stage winners, which top tipster Cycling Mole will mercilessly dissect before offering his own thoughts on the day’s likely victor.
Eyes down for three weeks of tense action with the Mole in control.
Stage 2: Nice - Nice (186km)
Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step) Yeesh, can't remember a nastier second day of a modern Tour. It'll be down to leaders and super-domestiques in the lead group at the finish. Alaphilippe is good money for either a downhill attack into Nice or even waiting and winning from a small group kick.
Adam Yates (Mitchelton Scott) Never let it be said that I don't take Rouleur predicts seriously. With one eye on this competition, before the route was even released, I checked out the major climb of this stage. It's long but doesn't contain any particularly stressful stretches so although it'll shuffle the GC pack a bit, I can't see any of the favourites going all out for the stage. Which makes it an opportunity for someone lower down the likelihood, one of those who have explicitly said they'll be "targeting stage wins" to take one. It's between Yates and Chaves for me, so I'm going for the boy from Bury.
Matteo Trentin (CCC) This stage may be a bit too punchy for him, but with the lack of pure sprinters and pure sprint stages in this race, there should be plenty of opportunities for Matteo Trentin – he could double CCC's current victory haul. The fact that his team seemingly can't be arsed never usually bothers the resilient Italian, who generally doesn't need a lot of support.
Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) Today will be the day of (attempted) escapes. The options are many, but I think that Trek-Segafredo might give Bauke Mollema free reign to go up the road. Sorry Richie.
Jesús Herrada (Cofidis) If the opening stage contained a few lumps and bumps, this loop out of Nice will sort the men from the boys all right. While it’s tailor made for Alaphilippe, I’m going wildcard here with the perennial losers of Cofidis and Herrada who, if you did not see it, suffered an horrendous mechanical when just about to contest (I mean lose) gold at the Spanish championships last week. He’s going to be smarting for sure. And, yes, Moley, I'm aware Cofidis last won a stage in 2008. Pray for Jesús.
Cycling Mole says...
Rather surprisingly for the Tour de France, the second stage contains over 4000m of climbing, making it very difficult for the sprinters to be there at the finish. The big climbs come early in the stage, which is great news for the breakaway riders. As Thomas De Gendt (yes, I know him!) once told me, breakaway riders look for stages that are too hard for sprinters, but not hard enough for the GC riders. This stage fits the bill perfectly, but with a yellow jersey up for grabs, will a team look to control the stage and set up a small sprint?
Most of the boys are chasing the breakaway with picks of Yates, Trentin, Mollema and Herrada. I think Yates is far too good for the GC teams to allow him a free pass to the break, he’ll need to lose time first before he’s allowed a day out front. The same theory will be applied to Mollema, no way he’s allowed to take free minutes on the GC contenders. I do like Ben’s pick of Trentin, he’s exactly the type of rider who can do well in this stage. Before you start screaming at me about the cat 1 climbs, remember they come early in the stage. If the break wins, it will be one for the puncheurs, not climbers. Ian’s going with Herrada, a rider who came very close to winning the Spanish title last week, but somehow managed to blow in the final 2km. He loves the medium mountains, Col d’Èze suits him down to the ground.
So how will the day pan out? This is a beautiful stage, perfectly designed for attacks. I think we’ll see Quick Step look to dominate the day and set up a stage win, and yellow jersey, for Julian Alaphilippe.