C-Cycling - Tour de France 2015 Preview and Favorites

04/07 - Stage 1 (ITT) - Utrecht - 13.8 km

The route
At first glance, this may look like a very technical route with many corners to tackle. However, after a closer look, you’ll realize it’s actually a very fast course. There are numerous parts where you can crank up the speed and get into an aerodynamic position. It’s true that there are a couple of tricky turns and chicanes along the way but this is definitely a course for the specialists.

The intermediate time check comes after 7.1 km on the bike. The following two kilometers only include two corners to overcome. The last one is more of a soft left-hand bend in a roundabout. Big powerhouses will be able to keep a high pace on this sector. With about 4.5 km to go, the riders reach the canal. They will continue alongside the water for a bit more than two kilometers. There are a few corners but most of them are soft bends, which won’t require the riders to slow down much. After passing under the railroads, the riders enter familiar territory. The next 1.5 km take place on the same roads as they started on - just in the opposite direction, of course. Instead of continuing on Overste den Oudenlaan, the riders turn right onto Doctor M.A. Tellegenlaan with 1 km to go. From here, there is only one left-hand corner to overcome before they cross the finishing line on Croeselaan after passing the big Rabobank office.

C-Cycling Tour de France 2015 Preview and Favorites

The favorites
Despite being known as one of the best time trialist in recent history of the sport, Tony Martin is yet to win an opening time trial of Tour de France and wear the yellow jersey. In 2010, the rain slowed him down and two years ago, a puncture ruined his chances. After winning the time trial world championships three years in a row (form 2011 to 2013), Martin only finished second last year. This season, the strong German is very eager to take back the throne as the best time trialist in the peloton. Martin won the time trials in Volta ao Algarve and Tour de Romandie this year. Both stages had a similar distance to this one. Last week, Martin became national time trial champion for the fifth time. He used the race specifically to test his legs and shape ahead of today. Martin was very happy with the answers he got and now he’s ready to put everything into finally taking the yellow jersey. German TV has decided to broadcast the Tour de France this year. In the national colors, with the whole country watching, the timing couldn’t be better for Martin. He is clearly the man to beat today.

While all eyes are on Martin in Germany, the local audience in Holland has Tom Dumoulin as their main focus. The young Dutchman is getting better and better against the clock. Last year, he won the bronze medal at the world championships behind Wiggins and Martin. With the opening stage starting out in his home country, naturally, Dumoulin is extremely eager to do well. Who knows if he’ll ever get a chance like this again. He has won the last three stage race time trials he has taken part in this season. Most recently, he won both time trials in Tour de Suisse. Therefore, it was also a huge surprise to see Dumoulin only finishing fourth at the national championships last week. On paper, he’s definitely strong enough to win this stage but we can’t underestimate the enormous pressure he’s under right now. This is the first time in his career, that he’s considered a top favorite on the big scene. It will be very interesting to see how Dumolin handles this kind of outside pressure.

Fabian Cancellara has won the opening time trial of the Tour five times in the past. You can never count him out. A crash in E3 Harelbeke ruined Cancellara’s spring season but he bounced back nicely in his home race Tour de Suisse. He finished second in the prologue and third in the final time trial. Knowing that Cancellara suffered from a throat infection prior to the race, his performances were very good. He didn’t take part in the national time trail championship so he won’t start the Tour in the red Swiss jersey we’re so used to seeing him in against the clock. A more technical course would have suited Cancellara a bit better but he’s still one of the top favorites for the win today. Trek also has youngster Bob Jungels at the start. The Luxembourg champion is very good against the clock. His time splits will serve as excellent markers for Cancellara.

The outsiders
Like Dumoulin, Adriano Malori gets better against the clock every year. The Italian arrives at the Tour fresh off winning the national championships. Earlier this season, Malori won the prologue in Tirreno-Adriatico and finished second in the last time trail of the race. He then went on to winning the time trial in Circuit Cycliste Sarthe before finishing 4th on the last stage in Tour de Suisse on a course not suited for his characteristics at all. Malori has a huge engine, which will serve him well today. This stage is one of his biggest goals of the season. It will be difficult for him to beat the top favorites but he has already proven that he’s capable of doing just that on his best days. His teammate Alex Dowsett also has a chance to make a big result today, even though he claims not to be on top of his game right now.

This year, BMC’s sole focus is on Tejay van Garderen for the general classification. The strong American is usually good against the clock but this distance may be too short for him to really excel. Instead, his teammate Rohan Dennis gets a rare opportunity to chase his own success in the Tour. Dennis is a former hour record holder and a true specialist in this discipline. He has been amongst the best riders in the short time trials the last couple of years. Unfortunately for the Australian, there seems to be a curse surrounding his time trial performances. No less than seven times in the past three seasons has Dennis had to settle for second place against the clock. He must be very eager to get it right this time.

For other strong outsiders, look to Geraint Thomas, Michal Kwiatkowski, Jan Barta, Michael Matthews, Peter Sagan and the IAM Cycling quartet of Sylvain Chavanel, Stef Clement, Jerome Coppel and Matthias Brändle. Amongst the GC riders, Chris Froome should be the top finisher today. The time differences won’t be huge but it will be of big psychological value to start with an advantage on your rivals. Wilco Kelderman will also be very keen on doing well after winning the Dutch national championships last week. The Lotto-Jumbo captain is very strong against the clock and showing off the national colors no home soil might give him wings despite a recent crash.

If you’re looking for a super joker, look to Lieuwe Westra. On home soil, the Dutchman must be extra motivated to do well. He will be on Nibali-duty for the remaining part of the race. This is his only chance to go for a stage win. The distance suits Westra perfectly. Astana has been incredibly strong this season. If this tendency continues in the Tour, it won’t be a big surprise to see Westra fight for the win today.

For live coverage of the stage, go to steephill.tv. To see the complete starting order, click here.

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