Cavendish hot favourite for Tour's first sprint showdown
Mark Cavendish, Team Columbia-HTC, Tour de France presentation 2009
STAGE 2: MONACO – BRIGNOLES
Sunday, July 5
WHAT'S THE COURSE LIKE?
It's up and down all day today but it shouldn't worry the sprinters while they have fresh legs. If this stage came at the end of the race we'd be tipping a break away, but the sprinters won't want to let their first chance of a win slip away.
The toughest looking climb on paper is the third-category climb out of Monaco to La Turbie, but yesterday's TT covered similar roads and proved that it wasn't tough enough to do any real damage to the non climbers. No doubt a break away will form by the time the race goes over the fourth-category climb of Roquefort-les-pins 50kms in, leaving the sprinters' teams to then set the pace.
There are intermediate sprints in Nice (27km), Fayence (91.5km) and Lorgues (138km), but don't expect either Mark Cavendish or Bradley Wiggins (who'll start in the green jersey after finishing third in the TT) to go for them.
The last ten kilometres in to Brignoles are all downhill, and the last five kilometres are virtually straight in, apart from one roundabout with just less than two kilometres to go.
Estimated finish time - 17.00hrs at 44kph
WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN?
A break away of six to ten riders will form, gaining five minutes, only for the sprinters teams to bring them back. Or will they? Mark Cavendish is the most dominant sprinter the peloton has seen in years, and after the Tour of Switzerland everyone knows he's in red hot form - so will the other teams help?
If Columbia are left to do all the chasing they may decided it's not worth working their riders so hard, so early on and in such hot conditions. Tom Boonen, Oscar Freire, Tyler Farrar, Daniele Bennati and Danilo Napolitano can all sprint, but their teams (except for Quick Step) all have aspirations on the overall and haven't built their teams around their sprinters.
SIX TO WATCH
Mark Cavendish - Cav is the stand out favourite for any sprint he's in, but traditionally he's needed a few days to get in to the swing of Grand Tours. He'll be hoping to hit the ground running today, and all eyes will be on him. He is one of the major stars of this race and all eyes will be on him, but he should now have the experience to not let that worry him. If he wins, it will be his 42nd victory of his professional career. He will overtake Chris Boardman in Cycling Weekly's all-time list of British pro winners.
Tom Boonen - The Belgian's will-he-wont-he-ride build up to the Tour was far from ideal, but he's still likely to be Cav's biggest challenger. The Classics winner doesn't have the speed to match the Manxman, but if there's a problem with the COlumbia lead-out, Boonen is the rider most likely to benefit.
Oscar Freire - Last year's green jersey winner is likely to take a win or two in this years race, and it's anyone's guess when. Freire isn't the fastest but he is one of the canniest. He's gone through his career winning without a lead-out train and seems to be at his most deadly when chaos rules the sprint.
Daniele Bennati - The Liquigas sprinter has had a very quiet season so far and his form is questionable. Without the ducking and diving mentality of Cavendish or Freire, Bennati also benefits from a good lead-out, but with two GC contenders in his team he may be left to his own devices which will handicap him.
Gerald Ciolek - As young and as prodigiously talented as Cavendish, the young German is still lacking some really high profile wins. At last year's Tour he was leading out Cav, this year they'll be going head to head.
Tyler Farrar - The American was snapping at the heels of the big sprinters in the Giro d'Italia; if he's been able to raise his game since he could be a genuine contender.
CW'S TIP TO WIN
It's Cavendish all the way.
WHO'S WEARING THE JERSEYS?
Yellow - Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank)
Green - Bradley Wiggins (Garmin) - jersey held by Cancellara
Polka-dots - Alberto Contador (Astana)
White - Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas)