So, there were no big surprises yesterday. Cancellara won his fifth Tour de France prologue, while Bradley Wiggins was the fastest of the overall contenders and Frank Schleck the slowest. There were no Delgado-esque cock-ups either, but a couple of minor incidents may have affected the final result for the stage. Tony Martin had a puncture about halfway round, which required a bike change. It’s a mark of how quick and organised teams are that it may only have cost him twenty seconds in total, but that’s enough to have taken him out of contention with Cancellara and dropped him well into the midfield. My tip, Peter Sagan, didn’t manage to replicate his stunning Tour de Suisse win as he overcooked it going through one corner and almost came off. In a short time trial like this, that’s enough to ruin the whole thing – and lose me the £5 I’d put on him to win.
Interestingly, Wiggins is now in the position he was in after the opening stage of his three victories this season – highest of the real contenders, but with someone else in the yellow jersey. And in all three of those, he then took the yellow after the first proper stage, though I think it’s unlikely that will happen today.
Beyond the Wiggins-Evans battle, a couple of other performances worth noting from yesterday are Chris Froome and Vincenzo Nibali. Froome’s time is confirmation of his time trial ability, and a reminder that Sky have at least one more potential contender amongst their ranks, while Nibali finished in the same time as Evans. For someone expected to lose time in the time trials to other contenders, this was a good opener, and he’ll be one to watch when the road starts sloping upwards.
Today’s stage takes the riders on a loop out from Liege and back to Seraing, one of the city’s suburbs. It’s a bumpy ride, with five category 4 climbs, so today will see the first award of the polka-dot King of the Mountains jersey. On the way, it’ll be interesting to see what tactics the teams adopt for the first intermediate sprint of the race – will they chase down any early breaks, or let them take the top points for it and go after the small ones, leaving the big fight to the finish.
It’s an uphill finish, which may mean the regular sprinters aren’t competing for it, but it may be one where Sagan, Gilbert or Boasson Hagen could shine. Don’t rule out Cancellara attempting to defend his yellow jersey from the front either – this is a stage where someone launching a solo break with a couple of kilometres to go could succeed.
An uphill finish is also one where the bunch could split and a few seconds could be won or lost. The contenders will be battling to stay near the front and out of trouble, and it’s worth noting that both Wiggins and Evans have unexpected stage one wins in races this year. Wiggins sprint to win the Tour of Romandy opener was particularly surprising.