The winner of the stage – it is an official stage, and not a prologue as the course is longer than 8km – will become overall leader and take the first maillot jaune, or yellow jersey, of the race.
The course is panflat, though it has 18 corners which may make all the difference, especially if the weather turns. Early forecasts suggest the early part of the race should be dry, but there is a threat of some light rain in the early evening. The last thing any rider needs on the opening day of a grand tour is the additional stress of having to navigate their way around a city center circuit on a time trial bike in the rain – cast your mind back to Düsseldorf in 2017 when Alejandro Valverde came a cropper on a left-hand bend. Hopefully that rain holds off until Soler has completed his race.
Interesting to not that the overall general classification favorites – Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates), Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma), Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) – and the rest of the field that will be having a crack at yellow – Ben O’Connor (Ag2r-Citroën), Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious), Daniel Martínez (Ineos Grenadiers), Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) and Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe) – are all setting off relatively early, as are those that are expected to challenge for the first maillot jaune of the race.
Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), two of the favorites for the stage, are separated by just one minute which should make for an exciting duel between the pair.
It is worth considering that while both riders as individuals will want to win the stage, their teams would also benefit should one of their riders start Saturday’s second stage dressed in yellow. As I am sure you will know, rules dictate that team cars that trail the peloton – or breakaway should one form – are lined out in order of the general classification, and so if Ganna were to win today ahead of Van Aert, with Stefan Bissegger (EF Education-EasyPost) third, then the Ineos Grenadiers team car would be allowed to drive at the head of the convoy of support vehicles following the riders. Jumbo-Visma would be second in line, and then EF Education-EasyPost and so on.
While the ordering of team vehicles may not make a great deal of difference on Saturday or Sunday, once the race reaches France on Tuesday and, potentially more crucially on Wednesday, it could make all the difference to a riders’ hopes and ambitions. With Saturday and Sunday’s stages likely to finish in a bunch sprint, it is highly likely that whoever wins today will hold yellow until Tuesday. With Wednesday’s stage tackling the treacherous cobbles of northern France where crashes are common and mechanical issue can cost dear, the position of a support vehicle on the tight and narrow roads may make all the difference between a rider staying in contention or totally losing contact – and crucial seconds, or minutes even – with his rivals.
Anyway, live coverage of today’s stage will get under way at 2.45pm.