Start location: Bilbao
Finish location: Bilbao
Start time: 12:30 CEST
Finish time (approx): 17:15 CEST
The Tour de France coming to town for the 2023 Grand Départ is the kind of major international event that the residents of Bilbao have grown used to in the past few decades. Since the 1990s the city has been transformed, from a struggling post-industrial town reeling from the decline of its industrial sector to a regenerated tourist spot where the economy is booming again.
The rejuvenation began in the late nineties, with the construction of the Guggenheim Museum. Commissioned to design a building that would help create a new, positive image of the city of Bilbao, Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry came up with a radical, elaborate and ambitious novelty that instantly captured the public’s imagination. Its intricate curved patterns of multiple interconnecting titanium layers is astonishing to behold and has been celebrated as one of the great architectural feats of the modern era, as well seamlessly capturing the essence of the city’s history — located on the bank of the Nervión river, the museum’s shapes evoke both the ships that have docked here since Bilbao’s foundation as a port city in the mediaeval era, as well as the hilly terrain that mark the town’s horizon.
In the years following its construction, tourists flocked to Bilbao to see it, and the rest of the city has ridden in its coat tails, to the extent that tourism has now replaced heavy industry as its main economy, and is thriving again. This pattern of building a prominent new landmark in a rundown part of town to try and instigate its renewal has become known worldwide as ‘the Bilbao effect’, but though much imitated in other aspiring towns, few if any have matched it.
Stage one profile sourced via ASO
After setting off from Bilbao against the backdrop of the Guggenheim at the start of the day, the riders will travel in a clockwise direction around the region of Biscay before returning again back where they started, having taken in many of the tricky hills and undulating roads this part of the world is renowned for.
While the first three of the day’s five official ascents will host competitive battles between whichever rides get into the breakaway trying to become the first rider to don the famous polka-dot stripes as leader in the King of the Mountains classification, it's the last two that will likely determine the stage winner. The penultimate climb, the Côte de Vivero, will be familiar to some from its recent appearances at the Vuelta a España and Itzulia Basque Country (in which Marc Soler and Primož Roglič have been among those to use it as springboard to take victory), but it’s the less familiar Côte de Pike that will be pivotal due to its steeper slopes (an average of 10% for 2km) and proximity to the finish (just 10km).
The puncheurs par excellence (most of them with ‘Van’ somewhere in their name) will love it and are sure to attack, and even some trouble-making GC riders with explosive legs might try to use it to steal a few seconds and mix it up for the stage win.
The first stage of any Grand Tour is hard to predict, but it is expected that the more aggressive and punchier riders will excel in this particular stage.
The long-existing duel could be continued between Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) on the opening stage of the Tour de France. Both riders possess exceptional power and adept at tackling punchy climbs, as demonstrated in their head-to-head battles earlier this year at Milan-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix, both of which Van der Poel emerged victorious.
Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal-Quick-Step) is another rider to watch on stage one. He's eyeing a stage win and this could be a perfect opportunity. The French rider had been suffering from a knee injury earlier this year and hadn’t been able to prove he was in good form ahead of the Tour until the Critérium du Dauphiné, where he finally secured a stage win, putting anyone’s doubts to bed. He’s a punchy rider and will suit a stage like this, so we expect him to be in the mix.
Questions have arisen about Tadej Pogačar’s (UAE Team Emirates) form following his crash at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, which resulted in a fractured wrist and interrupted his race schedule ahead of the Tour. However, Poagčar's tenacity and love for winning were evident this spring, and taking the first stage victory would serve as a statement that the two-time Tour winner is still in winning form.
British rider Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) could also pose a threat in the opening stage having won Strade Bianche with a solo victory. Pidcock has expressed his ambitions for stage wins and even a chance at the GC. A stage win on day one would propel him to the top of the standings and secure the yellow jersey for a period, even if he doesn't eventually contest the overall win.
Other rides who could leave their mark on the race as early as stage one include Magnus Cort ( EF Education-EasyPost), who recently won a stage in the Giro d’Italia, as well as Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty) and Mattias Skjelmose (Trek-Segafredo). These riders should not be overlooked at potential contenders for the stage win.
We think Mathieu van der Poel will take stage one of the Tour de France. We saw him excel on this type of punchy terrain in the Classics this year, so we expect him to dominate in Bilbao also.