Tour de France Stage 1 Tips: Mathieu van der Poel is new one-day king

Mathieu van der Poel at Tour de France
Mathieu van der Poel has been in excellent form of late

On a stage that is more like a one-day race, writes Jack Houghton, look to the punchier riders to take the day.

"If he avoids trouble and gets to the final climb in contention, van der Poel will be hard to beat..."

What's the stage like?

Hilly and fascinating. At 198km long, and containing six categorised climbs, it will favour the puncheurs, the types who tend to dominate the one-day races that are the standard fare of North European racing.

A day of short-but-steep ups-and-downs culminates on the Cote de la Fosses aux Loups, a 3km climb with a steep early section that eases towards the end. We can expect the stage to be decided on this final climb, but then a buccaneering soloist could well decide to go for a late breakaway on any one of the numerous uncategorised hills that precede it.

Either way, expect chaos in the closing stages as the General Classification contenders scramble to stay in touch, getting in the way of those with genuine designs on a stage win.

Who are the favourites?

Mathieu van der Poel, making his debut at the Tour, is value to claim the stage win at around 3.505/2. Currently the most exciting prospect in the one-day division, he has already won six times this season, including Strade Bianche and two stages at the recent Tour de Suisse. On those days he had most of his main rivals here behind him, and seemed to beat them with some ease. If he avoids trouble and gets to the final climb in contention, van der Poel will be hard to beat.

He certainly should have the measure of Wout Van Aert (8.007/1), whose form is in some doubt after a recent operation to remove an appendix. He might have bounced back from that, but until we have seen the impact of the likely missed training, he's one to observe rather than back.

When the route was announced, it was hard not to conclude that organisers had created this opening stage as a mechanism to get Julian Allaphilippe (8.007/1) into an early Yellow Jersey. However, as outlined in our Tour preview, if Allaphilippe is serious about still being in it in Paris, he might do well to ride these early stages more conservatively. And even if he does go for the stage victory, he'll need to show more than he was able to in the Tour de Suisse, where van der Poel dispatched him on similar stages.

Who are the most likely outsiders?

Sonny Colbrelli (13.0012/1) is prominent in the markets but would likely need something to go awry for the market leaders if he were to prevail.

A better value bet is Peter Sagan (24.0023/1) who is enormous odds for a rider who would have been favourite for a stage like this two seasons ago. He brings great form from the Giro, where he won the Points Classification, and he is worth an interest alongside a van der Poel banker.

It's not impossible that a General Classification wannabee will compete for the stage win, with Primoz Roglic (21.0020/1), Tadej Podacar (40.0039/1), Geraint Thomas (200.00199/1) and Richard Carapaz (120.00119/1) all being capable. As with Allaphilippe, though, they are advised to ride conservatively, unless Ineos Grenadiers want to make good early on their promise of aggressive riding. If they sent Carapaz up the road early it would cause havoc in their rivals' teams.

What effect will it have on the overall markets?

Probably little. There might be a hard-luck story or two among the Yellow Jersey guys, and we will start to get some early - but likely insignificant - clues about who has designs on the King of the Mountains competition.

Of more interest will be movements in the Points Classification. As previewed, the route this year tips the balance in favour of stage wins over consistency in the intermediate sprints, so expect the likes of Sagan to be gunning for every opportunity if he's planning to claim an eighth Green Jersey.

*Odds correct at the time of writing

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