Australian Michael Matthews has just missed out on a podium finish at his maiden Tour of Flanders, won by unfancied Italian Alberto Bettiol.
The first chance for yellow sees the class of the Tour de France 2017 start their journey to Paris along the roads of the Rhine River in Dusseldorf with a 14-kilometre individual time trial.
While no major time gaps should occur, the opening stage will allow just a small peak at how each of the 198 riders on the start list is going.
Usually, a 14-kilometre time trial only has one skilled required to perform at your best; power. However, today’s route as described by race director Christian Prudhomme as a course that has ‘bends can be counted on the fingers of both hands’.
From looking at the race route, I can count over 11 difficult turns on the route, ranging from 90-degree corners to hairpins. The technical, stop start nature to the middle part of the course especially will mean that riders will have to manage their speed going through corners well to keep their speed up, but also, they will need to watch out as to how fast they accelerate out of the slower corners.
Even though the course is only short, timing your effort and staying consistent will be the difference between finishing the stage in under 16 minutes or not.
My favourite for the stage should be familiar with the start city for today’s stage, as the current world individual time trial champion Tony Martin fights for yellow in his home country of Germany.
The German recently took out his national individual time trial championship for the sixth consecutive time.
The Katusha rider performed well on the hilly parcour of the Stage 4 individual time trial at the recent Criterium du Dauphine, finishing only 12 seconds behind Richie Porte (BMC) after 23.5 kilometres of racing. I’d happily put my savings account on the German to take the stage, and the first yellow jersey, especially considering the fact that both Tom Dumoulin and Rohan Dennis are not participating in this year’s race.
The time trial talent in this year’s Tour is solid, without being exceptional. Three other riders stand out in terms of performances this year in time trials.
Without Rohan Dennis, BMC are relying on Swiss youngster Stefan Kung, who looks to be moving into the shoes once filled by his compatriot Fabian Cancellera in terms of time trialling talent.
Having taken out the Swiss national time trial championships recently, while a few weeks ago finishing narrowly behind teammate Dennis in both the opening prologue and the final day time trial at the Tour De Suisse, he has a realistic chance of taking the spoils.
The next two riders ride on the same team, with both Lotto NL-Jumbo’s Jos van Emden and Primoz Roglic in contention for opening day honors.
Roglic has won time trials at both the Tour of Romandie and the Tour of the Basque Country so far this year, so comes into the race with a good shot of finishing close to the top spot.
On the otherhand, Jos van Emden finished fourth in the Dutch national time trial championsip last week, surprisingly finishing behind his much less fancied countrymen Robert Gesink. However, he did win the final stage time trial at this year’s Giro, so he will most definitely be a contender for stage honors.
Other riders to watch out for include former time trial World champion Vasil Kiriyenka, Geriant Thomas and Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky), Jashua Sutterlin and Johnathan Castraviejo (Movistar), Fabio Felline and Matthias Brandle (Trek-Segafredo) and Luke Durbridge (Orica – Scott).