Stage 2 of the Tour stays in the Netherlands for a day that sees the route rise to the heady height of 6m at the Brouwersdam, but otherwise stay at 0m in height for the vast majority of the stage!
Utrecht to NeeltjeJans, 166 km Stage 2: Sunday, July 5
There’s not much to say about the route, it’s dead-flat the whole way, but it could get interesting if the wind whips up. As they spend the majority of the stage near the coast, there is a good chance that coastal winds could cause problems and echelons, especially if the likes of Etixx-Quickstep and Tinkoff-Saxo put the hammer down in an effort to split the peloton.
It is almost certainly going to end in a bunch sprint as the sprinters teams will work hard to keep any breaks within touching distance and will no doubt catch any breaks, possibly with 10kms or more to go.
Contenders and Favourites
Mark Cavendish outlined what great form he is in coming in to the Tour with a superb ride in the British Road Nationals last weekend, taking 2nd place on a course with a tough uphill cobbled finish, not normally his forte. He seems keen and fit and ready to go for the green though, he will want to get off to a flying start here knowing he will need maximum points on all the pure sprint stages.
He didn't have a great Tour de Suisse but that wasn't a race for him really, his previous race in the Tour of Cali saw him take four stage wins and the Green Jersey. In Turkey before that it was 3 stage wins and the Green Jersey. In all he has won 12 races this year, putting him second in the list of winners this year behind Kristoff.
There are few better than him in flat out, fast sprints and with Kittel out of the race he has to be the strong favourite to win the first sprint of the Tour. His team are usually the masters of the crosswind splits, if there are to be any splits and echelons in the final 50kms along the sea, they are sure to be involved. With a leadout consisting of Tony Martin (for the last 5kms), Kwiatkowski, Golas, Vermote and Renshaw he will be launched like a missile with 200m to go. He looks a pretty solid bet, although it's quite short, at 11/10 best price on the betting odds.
NacerBouhanni could have been the closest to Cav on a flat out sprinters sprint like this. The little Frenchman has been coming in to form of late and is starting to look very fast as well. He has a great lead-out train with Soupe and co and should be battling for Cavs wheel in the last kilometre. He could well land a top 3 - that is if he has recovered from his crash in the Nationals last week. I think there is no doubt he'd be French champion now if he hadn't been chopped out of it in the finishing straight by a diabolical piece of riding. If he's near enough to 100% he'll be going flat out to try to make up for the disappointment of the Nationals.
André Greipel comes here with the third best win record this year with 8 victories, including one in the Giro. A super strong sprinter in a power sprint like this with a long straight finish, Greipel could well be Cavendish's biggest danger if Bouhanni isn't 100%. Winner of 6 Tour de France stages, he comes here with a super strong leadout team that includes the very experienced and talented lead out men Hansen, Henderson, Sieberg and Bak. I think Greipel will not be able to match the sheer acceleration of Cavendish so he might have to start his sprint earlier and just try to get the jump on him and hang on. Keep an eye on him for the 2015 Tour de France Betting Market.
Alexander Kristoff has been the king of the sprints so far this year though in terms of winning races, he has landed no fewer than 18 wins, two 2nds and four 3rds. The big Norwegian has been in superb form right from his first race in Qatar where he took 3 stages and the points jersey, through March where he won a stage in Paris-Nice and took 2nd in Milan-San-Remo and through to the Tour de Suisse where he took stage 7 with a powerful sprint, holding off Sagan. I think that there are other stages that will suit him a little better though than this flat sprinters sprint, he could well podium but I don't think he'll win it.
John Degenkolb should now be the number one man for Giant-Alpecin following the withdrawal of Marcel Kittel. Another rider in superb form this year, his biggest win coming from a sensational ride in Paris-Roubaix, but his sprint win in Milan-San-Remo to deny Kristoff was equally impressive. A man for the big occassion and the tough days, this sprint might be a little on the fast side for him, he has other stages in the coming days that he will be more interested in I think.
Peter Sagan has started to really fire in recent weeks after a dreadful start to the season. In the Tour of Cali it started to improve for him though where he won two stages, had three 2nds, two 3rds and a 6th on his way to winning the overall after a great climbing performance on Mt Baldy. He followed that with a pretty decent week at the Tour de Suisse, taking two stage wins and finishing runner-up to Kristoff and Matthews on two other stages. He wouldn't normally be able to beat Cav on a sprint like this though, but he could get close.
Sam Bennett is making his debut in a Grand Tour and he excites me a lot, I think he could have a lot of fun in this Tour. The Bora-Argon team has been built around him for these kinds of stages. He has already beaten Bouhanni (three times) and Degenkolb in sprints this season and just keeps getting better and better. With Kittel out, Bouhanni wounded and the fast, flat sprint not suiting many of those named above, I'm liking the chances of Sammy B to ruffle some feathers and get right up there at the front at a big price of 50/1.
I think Mark Cavendish, if fully fit and not hampered by the camera incident at the nationals, will be very hard to beat here, so consider him for your sports picks. He has the best leadout and the fastest sprint and so should be too good for the opposition here. André Greipel should be pretty close, as should Alexander Kristoff, but I'm plumping for the value bet in Sam Bennett to jump on Greipel's wheel and come around him in the last 100m to try to challenge Cav for the win.
Mark Cavendish – 2pts win at 11/10 at Ladbrokes
Sam Bennett – 0.3pts each-way at 50/1