On July 2nd this year the invasion will be a bunch of sprinters, and the battle will be one of the most fierce ever fought in the Tour de France. Join us to find out our stage one picks.
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Mont St Michel to Utah Beach
The Grand Depart, back in France after two years of starting abroad for Tour de France. A historically significant opening to the race, with the iconic backdrop of Mont-St-Michel seeing the riders off and the finish line at Utah Beach, scene of one of the D-Day landings in June 1944.
King of the sprint Marcel Kittel, four-time stage winner in 2015 André Greipel, 26 time stage winner Mark Cavendish, Alexander Kristoff looking to make up for drawing a blank last year, local boy Bryan Coquard, Aussie Michael Matthews, Irishman Sam Bennett and the recovering John Degenkolb will all be fighting it out, as well as several other hopefuls. It gives the sprinters the chance to don the first yellow jersey of the race, so it's sure to be a furious battle.
They start under the shadow of Mont St Michel and as they follow the coast east and north in the opening 40kms they pass over two little bumps which are categorised as Cat 4 climbs, so we will also see some keen on early publicity go off up the road early in search of the first KOM jersey of the race.
They continue north along the coast of the Manche until the 110km mark where they start to turn inland and head north-east for around 35kms until they reach the north east coast and loop back south before the run to the finish in Utah Beach, Sainte Marie du Mont. The run in to the finish is straight and flat and will make for a very fast finish.
Contenders and Favourites
Marcel Kittel has come back better than ever this year, and will be looking to add to his eight stage victories in the race making him a good betting pick. He also has eight victories so far this year and will be looking to take it to double digits over the course of the race. Paris-Nice was the only race he has entered this year where he didn't notch a win, winning stages in Dubai, Algarve, De Panne, Romandie and the Giro, while also winning the only one-day race he entered, the Scheldeprijs.
He was just a different level to Greipel, Viviani and the rest and with Tony Martin, Vakoc, Vermote and Sabatini in his leadout they should come bossing the leadout in the last 3kms and take him to 300m to go before he unleashes his unstoppable sprint. A small worry is that Greipel beat him to the German Champions jersey, but with a full leadout in front of him again at the TDF there should be no mistake.
André Greipel took a fantastic hat-trick of wins in the Giro, proving himself to be a tougher battler than Kittel on the days that were anything other than pan-flat. He was only one win behind Kittel with seven wins this season, but he managed to level the scores in style last weekend by beating him in the German Nationals. He'll be dead keen to pull ahead of him on this first opportunity.
He does have two more total stage wins in the TDF than Kittel, with ten wins, Lotto-Soudal are a super-powerful leadout train too though when they get it right, Hansen, Henderson, Debusschere and Sieberg will have him close to, if not level with the EQS train as they hit the last kilometre, and if he gets the jump on Kittel he might just nick it.
Mark Cavendish is peer-less when it comes to stage wins in the TDF, with a massive 26 stage wins in total. He hasn't had as good a year though as the two Germans, winning only three times, but he has also finished 2nd a total of five times. The Dimension Data leadout team is very experienced, but maybe not the fastest, with Renshaw, Pauwels, Eisel, and EBH.
Alexander Kristoff and Peter Sagan are both 16/1 and both of them are quite similar in that they would both prefer a tougher, hillier day to take the sting out of the pure sprinters legs, both will struggle to beat the fastest guys here, but Sagan has been flying again in the Tour de Suisse, winning the first two road stages, beating Gaviria and Albasini.
Bryan Coquard has been flying this season, landing nine races already, one more than Kittel and Greipel, with another eleven top five placings. 4th in Amstel Gold, 4th in Brabantse Pijl, he's really upped his game this season. He should have won Dwars Door Vlaanderen though, only he celebrated his win too early and a lunging Debusschere stole it from him. His leadout might be a problem though and unless he can get on to a good wheel inside the last kilometre, he might be looking at a 5th to 10th place here - he has never won a World Tour race so it will be some achievement to break that duck against this field.
After that, Dylan Groenewegen is an interesting one - he's had a fantastic season, culminating in his victory in the Dutch Nationals at the weekend. He'll come in to the TDF wearing the national champs jersey, it's surely going to inspire him to do well this TDF. Lotto-Jumbo are full of big rouleurs, but they get it so wrong, so often that it's difficult to trust them to get it right in what should be a chaotic closing 3kms.
Sam Bennett will all be battling for a top 10 placing, he has the beating of many of these guys, but do Bora-Argon have the beating of themselves? They too need to work on their leadout, they get it wrong too often to have any confidence in them. Bennett has the speed, but he looks to be low on confidence at the moment and I think I'll wait to see how he goes in this first stage before looking at him for future stages.
It looks like it will be win no. 1 for Marcel Kittel though, and the first yellow jersey of the race. It's sure to be very fast and very furious and we might see André Greipel chase him home to take a podium, but at a bigger price, Dylan Groenewegen might offer betting odds value at 33/1.
Free Cycling Picks: 3pts win on Marcel Kittel at 6/4 and 0.5pts each-way on Dylan Groenewegen at 33/1.
Bes Line Offered: 3pts win on Marcel Kittel at 6/4 at PaddyPower and 0.5pts each-way on Dylan Groenewegen at 33/1 at Bet365.