Listed as a flat stage by the race, Monday’s 191km routeis harder than it looks with the last 60km loaded with climbing, twisting roads and even a forest track before a downhill rush to the finish in the town of Oyonnax.
The town was once home to Bollé, the sunglasses company and is the setting for one of the few well-regarded literary works to feature a bicycle race so tacked onto the stage preview is a quick look at Oyonnax and Roger Vailland’s 325,000 francs.
Stage 1 Wrap: well done to David Veilleux. It looked like the early breakaway would be allowed to stay away for the first two climbs and collect some mountain points. It looked as if Veilleux was going solo for the mountain points and would be caught. It looked as if the time checks were wrong as Veilleux’s solo advantage held whilst Movistar and Katusha chashed. But we saw Veilleux stay away for a big win, taking the stage, the overall lead as well as the points jersey and the mountain jersey too. He only missed out on the white jersey because he’s five weeks too old for the competition.
It turned out well for Veilleux and Europcar, he was “only” signed by Europcar because Canadian clothing sponsor Louis Garneau wanted a Canadian on the team. Don’t read this the wrong way, he wasn’t signed after a short quest to find a Canadian with a bicycle and some free time. No, he was recommended but all the same the deal happened because of the Canadian clothing sponsor.
If Veilleux surprised in a good way, note several riders had a bad day. Despite claims of fitness and losing weight Thor Hushovd was dropped on the Col du Corbier but more surprisingly so was Thomas de Gendt… perhaps losing time so he can go on a breakaway? The same with Andrew Talansky, who is getting over stomach flu but couldn’t get over the final climb with the peloton although Rohan Dennis’s ride gives the team plenty of cheer.
- Km 74.5 – Côte de Mornex – 2.6 km climb to 4.7 % – Category 4
- Km 120.5 – Côte de Mons – 1.0 km climb to 5.5 % – Category 4
- Km 136.0 – Côte de Lancrans – 3.1 km climb to 5.2 % – Category 3
- Km 151.5 – Côte de Communal – 5.6 km climb to 6.3 % – Category 2
- Km 168.5 – Côte du Bugnon – 1.9 km climb to 6.1 % – Category 4
- Km 179.5 – Col du Sentier – 2.7 km climb to 7.6 % – Category 2
The Route: there are two parts to the stage. First up, a gradual procession away from the Alps as the race leaves behind the ski resorts. The Côte de Mornex has a steep ramp but poses no problem. But as the profile shows the race climbs up for some time after the KoM point and in time there’s a long descent.
Everything changes after 130km when the second part starts. The race crosses the Rhone river in Bellegarde. The profile shows the Côte de Lancrans which is followed more climbing, a short descent and then more climbing to the feedzone before the Côte de Communal which, with a tunnel at the top, climbs above 1000m. So plenty of vertical metres but with more to come.
Unlike the ski station roads found in the rest of the race, this is the wild terrain of the Jura mountains familiar to the Tour de l’Ain race every August. Instead of tourist coaches these are roads used by tractors and logging trucks whose granular road surfaces get ravaged by winter. Indeed the Côte du Bugnon seems to be an unclassified forestry road and could reserve a surprise. The final Col du Sentier is second category label looks odd being only 2.7km at 7.6%. But don’t fixate on the labels, instead it’s the succession of climbs, descents and twisting roads in the final 60km that define the stage, an air of Liège-Bastogne-Liège with the wooded climbs.
The Finish: a fast descent, the kind where there are blind bends meaning riders cannot see round but without too many sharp corners so ideal for the fearless or well-informed rider. It’s downhill all the way into town and flattens out for the final two kilometres although with a railway bridge to cross. There’s a U-turn with 600 metres to go, it’s not sharp but enough to slow some riders. After it is flat all the way to the line.
The Scenario: a break could go early but Europcar should chase to protect Veilleux’s lead, capping any advantage and then letting the other teams take over the duty for the final third of the stage. Although as described above the roads don’t lend themselves to a regular chase. And with 50 riders already 10 minutes down on GC, there’s a lot of riders who pose no threat to anyone.
Tony Martin’s attack yesterday wasn’t planned but it meant OPQS didn’t join in the chase to bring back Veilleux. I’m not sure if they’d have done it but the point here is that Gianni Meersman won the bunch sprint by a few lengths. The question is whether he can cope with the hilly finish into Oyonnax. You’d think yes but if not then Tom Jelte Slagter is a pick to cope with the climbs even if the finish line run is flat. Better-suited is Tony Gallopin (Radioshack), the Frenchman got squeezed in the final corner but could come good today.
But the final climbs could see the bunch strung out and the Col du Sentier is a good launchpad, it’s short but with a twisting descent most of the way to the finish line, an attack on this climb could be hard to chase. Think of an aggressive rider who can speed downhill and names like.Samuel Sanchez, Chris Le Mevel or Wout Poels come to mind but there are more. If you want an outsider, why not FDJ’s Artur Vichot or Argos-Shimano’s Warren Barguil?
TV: despite talk of live coverage on various TV channels, it’s not as easy to find as promised. So check Eurosport where you live but if not cyclingfans.com and steephill.tv will serve you an internet feed. The stage is scheduled to finish around 2.45 pm Euro time but could be earlier or later.
Weather: a pleasant day… for March. Temperatures will reach 16°C (60°F) with a some sunshine and clouds. A light breeze from the north-east means a slight tailwind for the early part of the race and then a headwind for parts of the finish but at 10-20km/h max it shouldn’t change the race much.
Oyonnax: the stage finish is famous for its plastics. For centuries local craftsmen made combs and other small objects from the hardy boxwood growing in mountains nearby. Its fine grain and high density make it ideal for carving. With mills powered by the local river Oyonnax became famous for its wooden exports and was granted a royal monopoly for the production of combs.
But one day, long before Mr Guire and The Graduate, the town adopted one word: plastics. Almost overnight the town swapped boxwood and chisels for celluloid and the injection mould. Combs, sunglasses and other plastic items were produced, today we might think it sounds cheap but these were futuristic at the time. Several famous companies started here, including eyewear company Bollé who sponsor Orica-Greenedge today. But think of plastics today and you probably think of China. Bollé got bought by a US firm and it shut the French factory in 2005, moving production to China and mirroring the fate of so many other companies and factories.