It may only seem like a flash since the last edition, but 2015’s Le Tour de France is now bearing down upon us after months of anticipation as to who the man to beat for the title shall be. Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana are all lining up for the grand depart in convincing form, ensuring the broadest battle of genuine contenders at Le Tour de France in recent memory. However, attention shall at least be afforded initially to those who are best against the clock; the three week grand tour opening with an individual time trial which sits just beyond a prologue in terms of distance. Given the immense depth of talent represented here in order to contest this opening race against time, a diverse range of time trial and prologue specialists shall do their utmost to snatch the first maillot jaune of this year’s Tour de France.
The opening challenge of this race is not an overly testing affair, despite the fact that any time trial at this level of competition is bound to feel like a moment in hell for all those strong enough to make the teams’ cut for Le Tour. Overall, a 13.8km course around the Dutch city of Utrecht forms day one, something which should have little impact upon the final outcome of this grand tour but could see some general classification contenders concede around a minute. An unusual affair, the stage is beyond the distance of a prologue and is not a team time trial which often begins a grand tour; making this the longest time trial for an opening day at Le Tour since 2009’s 15km tear around Monaco which was won by Fabian Cancellara (followed closely by Alberto Contador).
A pancake flat ride, the 13.8km affair does contain numerous turns and a couple of roundabouts, though should remain easy enough to navigate in terms of its technical attributes. If approached correctly, many of the time trial specialists will have the skills to maintain their high speed despite the turns, meaning pundits could be surprised by some of the finishing times here. Due to a distance and style which opens up the chance of winning 2015’s inaugural yellow jersey to so many riders, an intense battle against both the clock and rivals alike should ensure an explosive curtain raiser to a Tour de France poised to be a classic.
Home support shall be out in numbers to cheer on Tom Dumoulin in his quest to place the yellow jersey in Dutch hands as the peloton make their way down to France over the coming days. His performances as of late have been incredibly impressive, especially at Tour de Suisse where he defended leadership strongly, and even when conceding the lead, only did so after immense battling against pure climbers. Despite rumours of illness hampering his performance at the national time trial championships, it should be a given that Dumoulin has recovered well enough in order to contest this opening stage and seize upon the rare opportunity to wear the maillot jaune through local roads. At the Tour de Suisse he won both individual time trials, one of which was a prologue and will be unstoppable should he manage to bring the same form into Le Tour.
The bookies favourite for the day is Tony Martin, the German powerhouse renowned for his prowess against the clock, especially on courses which lack much in the way of technical worries such as this. Martin is extremely gifted, but the short distance should hamper him somewhat, making the likelihood and margin of victory here diminish considerably. Awkwardly placed just beyond what would be considered a prologue, Martin will do well to dominate proceedings, but there is no doubt that a podium should be assured here for one of this era’s best time trial experts.
Fabian Cancellara has unofficially announced that this is likely to be his last ever Tour de France, no doubt ratcheting up his motivation to not only win this stage, but to earn another yellow jersey before impending retirement. His season has certainly not been ideal, but despite this he mustered incredible showings at Tour de Suisse to earn 2nd and 3rd at the two time trials respectively. With talent against the clock so innate for the Swiss rider, there is no possibility of ruling him out of winning this opening day’s affair. Despite the writings of many hinting at a decline in regards to Cancellara’s performances against the clock, these are greatly exaggerated and would come as no surprise to see shattered under a vintage run from ‘Spartacus’.
The British support could be best placed in Movistar’s Alex Dowsett who appears to be an extremely interesting prospect upon this course and distance. He comes here on the back of yet another national time trial title, an hour record title bettered only by Bradley Wiggins and the fastest ever 10 mile time trial in the UK. This year is evidently progressing well so far for the Essex rider and his selection here as part of the Movistar team must surely be one which is aware of his odds of winning the opening day and taking yellow. The former Sky rider is playing down his chances, but considering Stage 1 exhibits echoes of the ‘Club 10’ which Dowsett still regularly contests at home, this has the components to be a career defining victory for him.
Adriano Malori is another hopeful for the Spanish team Movistar and has been ticking overly consistently in the last year or so at various time trial events. The Italian is incredibly powerful and this combination of short distance and reasonably simplistic course will allow him to really empty the tank to mount a serious charge on the yellow jersey. If he manages to maintain his top speed throughout the turns which shape the route, he is certainly one of the fastest present to contest this particular race against the clock.
BMC could have the leader’s jersey amongst their ranks at the end of the day if time trial specialist Rohan Dennis manages to execute one of his best ever efforts. He has been incredibly consistent in the last few seasons and seems to eternally secure podium placings; though wins are seldom against the top tier TT specialists. Much like Tom Dumoulin, Dennis is still continuing to develop as a rider, making him an unknown quantity to a certain extent given his growing abilities.
Of the general classification hopefuls, both Chris Froome and Alberto Contador certainly have the talent to chart high here, but will surely save their efforts for later in the week. Even on such a short stage as this, Thibaut Pinot and Nairo Quintana are both likely to worry about conceding too much time to their rivals this early, so will need to dig deeper than that of Froome and Contador to limit any losses. Though it is not ideal terrain, Tejay Van Garderen has the ability to perform well against such a challenge, offering him the possibility to gain a small margin over title rivals less consistent in time trials.
This short distance for the opening time trial also opens the door for riders such as Michal Kwiatkowski, Peter Sagan, Stephen Cummings and Matthias Brändle.
Though the eventual result should have little impact upon who stands atop the podium in Paris at the end of the three weeks, Stage One’s array of possible winners makes it a fascinating watch to see who will be this year’s first yellow jersey. On paper it should be a straight battle between the bookies favourite Tony Martin and the current form rider Tom Dumoulin; interestingly on a course which does not necessarily play totally to either of their strengths. Both are capable of maintaing high speeds for a long period of time, but this race is simply a case of leaving every possible watt out on the rode, something which could see other names rise to the top. The fact this course and distance is so similar to an archetypal British ‘Club 10’ makes Alex Dowsett well worth monitoring as a dark horse given his attributes and recent form. As stated above, the supposed decline of Fabian Cancellara is greatly exaggerated and his showings at the Tour de Suisse demonstrated this perfectly for any doubters. Seemingly making 2015 his final ever Tour de France, Cancellara shall be extremely motivated to not simply take another time trial win, but also another yellow jersey.
1st Tom Dumoulin 2nd Tony Martin 3rd Fabian Cancellara
Outsider: Alex Dowsett