Tour Soapbox: Day 0

Al Hinds

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Blast off... The time for the Grand Depart in Porto-Vecchio has finally come around. (Getty Images)
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The Tour de France always begins with endless possibility. It's what drives the anticipation and excitement in the days, weeks, months before the great race gets underway, writes Al Hinds.

In 110 years of history, 99 previous editions, through wars, doping scandals, and financial trouble the Tour has endured.

Arguments with friends, colleagues, debates over who has form and who doesn't, how the race may or may not play out, why that mountain will be decisive or that Col, and why that team's kit is completely garbage.

Everyone is an expert, and nobody is wrong. There's an element of fantasy as to what we can expect, a blank canvas, and over the next three weeks it's a canvas that will be filled in a way that we can neither imagine nor predict. This is the magic of the Tour, a sporting event that is bigger than cycling, and keeps more and more Australians up into the wee hours of the night every year. This is the Tour de France.

It's been one hell of a build up to get to where we are today, the Grand Depart in Porto-Vecchio. 110 years of history, 99 previous editions, through wars, doping scandals, and financial trouble the Tour has endured, and in 2013 it's bigger than it ever has been. Like a little kid at Christmas, the Tour for me is something that one looks forward to from the day the last rider crosses the finish line on the Champs Elysees the year before, and the excitement rebuilds again from there. One chapter closes, another begins, it's something I've never been able to get enough of and handily, I get paid to follow the sport full-time.

Over 21 stages we'll bear witness to the best in the world duking it out for Tour glory, and for immortality if they can reach Paris in yellow.

The 198 protagonists will fill the stage, each in their own way over the next three weeks, and while many will simply be extras in the blockbuster, the speaking part roles for this year's race go to an ensemble cast. Among them; the serious and disciplined favourite that is Chris Froome, the joker in Joaquim Rodriguez, the controversial champion in Alberto Contador, the experienced fighter that is Cadel Evans, an American, a Canadian, an Irishman a few Frenchman and many more. The script yet to be written, but the story, one that promises much.

I'll be writing a daily preview of what's to come in each day's stage, and I hope you'll join me along the way.

Preview: What to expect from Stage 1: Porto Vecchio-Bastia, 213km

The absence of a prologue in 2013 is explained quite simply by Tour de France technical director Jean François Pescheux as a way to get the "most from having the Tour in Corsica as we could". What that means is that yellow, as in 2011, and in 2008 before that will be the prize for the rider that wins the opening road stage, and this one, with its flat parcours only blemished by a single category 4 climb (Côte de Sonna) has bunch sprint written all over it.

After an initial 60km loop that sets out from Porto-Vecchio and into the Corsican foothills the race then heads north along the coast, to the finish in Bastia. At 213km, it's on the lengthy side for a leg-loosener but with no major challenges on the course should be fairly smooth sailing.

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It will be frantic however. When there's yellow on the line, every man and his dog will fancy themselves as a bunch sprinter, and the premium to get into the early break will be massive. I'd expect a group of three or four to get away before the peloton completes the loop of Porto-Vecchio, but I doubt it'll be given too much leash by Omega Pharma-Quickstep which'll will have one goal in delivering Mark Cavendish to the line first. OPQS should be able to count on help from Andre Greipel's Lotto Belisol and Peter Sagan's Cannondale with all three teams looking for early bragging rights in the fight for green, and stage honours. All three will be sporting brand spanking new national champion's jerseys so they'll be easier than normal to spot.

The finish is quite technical, with a tight corner some 200m to go, favouring riders with both the bike handling, and ability to accelerate quickly. Cavendish is an obvious pick but Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) could be a dark horse if he can time his jump correctly, as could Argos-Shimano's German missile, Marcel Kittel.

As with any first week, and any opening road stage, the anxiety of the peloton almost inevitably causes crashes, and that means causalities. Stages like today are as important to navigate correctly for the mountain men as Mont Ventoux or Alpe d'Huez, and moments of inattention, like on Stage 6 of last year's race, can be very costly.

History & The Tour in numbers
0 - The number of times the Tour de France has been to Corsica; also the number of times French darling Raymond Poulidor wore the yellow jersey.

The last time the Tour started with a flat road stage was in 1966, when Rudy Altig took a solo victory in Charleville. Between 1967 and 2007 the Tour has always opened with a prologue or individual time trial, but has featured road stages to kick things off three times since, in 2008, 2011 and now in 2013.

On offer for the riders on Stage 1
Green Jersey - 20 points at the intermediate at San Giuliano and 45 points at the finish in Bastia.
Polka dot Jersey - Côte de Sotta, Cat. 4, 1 point
Yellow jersey - whoever wins today, gets yellow. It's that simple.

Stage 1 will be streaming live through the SKODA SBS Tour Tracker from 7:55PM AEST.


 

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