The biggest cycling race of the year has arrived, as stage 1 of the Tour de France 2021 gets underway in Brest on Saturday 26th June.
Tadej Pogacar returns to the Tour de France after winning at the first attempt last year, where he dethroned his countryman Primoz Roglic at the final opportunity. The Slovenian duo start as the two heavy favourites to win the maillot jaune once again this year. What can the Ineos Grenadiers and the rest of the GC contenders do to stop them?
Mathieu van der Poel is set to start the first Grand Tour of his career with Alpecin-Fenix and will go head-to-head with Wout Van Aert for much of the race. Julian Alaphilippe is back too, making it one of the most hotly anticipated editions of the Tour de France in recent history.
Stage 1 profile
The port city of Brest will host the grand départ of the 2021 Tour de France, with the stage later concluding in Landerneau. The start and finish locations are only around 20 kilometres apart, but a 198 kilometre long, action-packed ride awaits the peloton.
The first stage of the Tour de France has concluded with a mass sprint of some description every year since 2016, where a time-trial in Dusseldorf got the race underway. We could have a sprint again this year, though the stage promises to be highly selective with over 2,750 metres of climbing and hills aplenty.
Once the flag drops there will be an instant battle for position, with the Côte de Trébéolin and the first KOM points of the Tour de France coming just 8 kilometres in. The climb is 1 kilometre long and 4.1% on average.
The next classified ascent is the Côte de Rosnoën which is three kilometres long yet is just fourth category. By this point, we can expect an early breakaway to have ventured up the road. The Côte de Locronan arrives at kilometre 61.5 and is the first third category climb of the Tour de France. Here, the slopes punch up to around 9% for one kilometre.
The rolling terrain continues throughout the stage with little to no respite — each short hill is swiftly followed by a descent which leads directly onto the next climb. The intermediate sprint occurs in Brasparts with 63km left. The kilometre that precedes the sprint is uphill, meaning the likes of Peter Sagan and Sonny Colbrelli will be eager to gain an early advantage in the green jersey competition over the pure sprinters.
The final 60 kilometres look more like an Ardennes Classic than an opening stage of the Tour de France. The Côte de Saint-Rivoal is the only categorised climb in this section of the stage, but that doesn't indicate that the hilly terrain eases.
Entering the final 5 kilometres, the road flattens for a brief two kilometre period. At this stage, attacks may have blown up the race, or a reduced peloton may be loosely glued together with many eyes on stage glory.
Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images
Headlining the list of riders that could move into the jersey is a man that has never started a Grand Tour before: Mathieu van der Poel. The Dutchman is making his Tour de France debut this season. Van der Poel is one of the world’s best punchers, he possesses an electrifying kick which can remove almost anyone from his wheel in an instant. The concluding hill is not too steep for him and the flattening nature of the climb could play into his hands.
When you consider Van der Poel, you must also think of Wout Van Aert. The new Belgian road champion is one of the most well-rounded cyclists in the world. Van Aert can win on a plethora of terrains, including those that are presented on stage one. However, he isn’t Jumbo-Visma’s only option. The stage is difficult enough to entice some of the GC favourites, none more so than Primoz Roglic. Roglic proved that he is one of the best punchers in the world when he was a close second to Julian Alaphilippe on the Mur de Huy at La Flèche Wallonne earlier this season. Jumbo-Visma rode a conservative race at the Tour de France last year which they will regret considering they didn't end up in yellow. They will surely look to grab every opportunity they can this year.
Roglic isn’t the only fast finisher of the GC favourites, though. Tadej Pogacar demonstrated that when he sprinted past Julian Alaphilippe to win Liege-Bastogne-Liege this year — the first monument of his young career. The defending champion also sprinted past Marc Hirschi and Roglic on stage nine of the Tour de France last season, where he won his first Grand Tour stage. Pogacar is a rapid finisher and we all know he’s an outstanding climber — don’t count him out of this one. If Marc Hirschi is on form, he too could be a dangerous option for UAE. However, he hasn’t located the form that led him to becoming a breakout star at the Tour de France since joining UAE.
We have somehow made it this far into the contenders section without mentioning the World Champion. Many consider Julian Alaphilippe to be the best puncher in the world. Alaphilppe has a fine record at the Tour de France too — he has won five stages across the previous three editions of the Tour de France and also wore the yellow jersey in 2019 and 2020. Alaphilippe will be hungry to add more this season. He may have preferred a steeper finish all the way until the line, but he’ll at least want to stay in touch ahead of the Mûr-de-Bretagne on stage two which is right up his street. Deceuninck-Quick Step may also try to place Davide Ballerini well.
Once upon a time, Peter Sagan would haveve been the clear favourite for this stage. The Slovak has won twelve Tour de France stages over his illustrious career but failed to win at the Tour last season. Bora do have GC ambitions with Wilco Kelderman, but also possess the tools to help Sagan pursue his goals in Daniel Oss and Ide Schelling. It is possible that Bora will send Schelling for a flyer early to take the pressure off the team chasing — the young Dutchman is a strong rider in his own right and is one that could cause an upset here. However, Bora’s main goals lie with Peter Sagan, who hasn’t worn the yellow jersey since 2018. Could this be his moment to jump into the maillot jaune again?
Two other riders that will have ambitions for yellow are Sonny Cobrelli and Michael ‘Bling’ Matthews. Matthews is the more accomplished of the duo with three Tour de France stage victories to his name. However, it is Colbrelli who has been in fine form this season with two WorldTour victories and more recently, the Italian national jersey.
Other riders with a chance include Christophe Laporte, Magnus Cort, Alejandro Valverde, Alex Aranburu and Ivan Garcia Cortina.
Stage one has all the prerequisites to be one of the most thrilling opening stages to the Tour de France in recent memory. A plethora of riders could win. However, we are going with a Tour de France debutant in Mathieu van der Poel. The decisive climb in Landerneau flattens off which will allow Van der Poel to unleash a ferocious sprint to the finish line. We think Mathieu van der Poel will be the first yellow jersey of the 2021 Tour de France.