In His Own Words: DS Matt White Previews the Tour de France

Fri 28 Jun 2013

We announced our Tour de France team last week. Yesterday, our nine rider squad was presented to the public and the media in Porto-Vecchio, Corsica. The Grand Départ is nearly here, and the anticipation is palpable. I’m very happy with the group we have assembled and the possibilities I see for each of our riders over the course of the upcoming three weeks.

While we’ve chosen a group that gives us more options in the medium mountains, we remain devoted to our sprint train. I’m excited about the Tour de France sprints. I think we’re going to see the biggest depth in terms of the sprint group that we’ve seen in living memory.

At the start, we have Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), who will go down as the most successful sprinter in history. We have big German André Greipel (Lotto Belisol) is in his prime. Peter Sagan (Cannondale) has shown his versatility. The Argos-Shimano pair of young German riders John Degenkolb and Marcel Kittel have really come into their own this year while their French counterparts Nacer Bouhanni and Arnaud Demare (FDJ) have both notched notable results during the first half of the season. With our support, Matt Goss can hold his own against any of these riders.

Teams are committing a lot of money, time and talent to their sprint trains. Pair this commitment with the depth of the sprint field, and I can guarantee that we’ll witness some of the most competitive sprints that we’ve seen at the Tour in a long, long time. It’s exciting and daunting at the same time. A win at the Tour de France always means something; to win a sprint stage would be extra gratifying.

That said, we’re not picky. We’re looking for the stage win that eluded us last year, and we’ll take it however we can. I’m confident that the nine riders we have selected will get the job done. It’s a great group to take on the three weeks of racing that await us.

Stage 1: Porto-Vecchio – Bastia

We’ve become accustomed to a team time trial or a prologue to open our three weeks of racing around France. The 100th edition of the Tour de France has an atypical start. A 213km road race will determine the winner of the first yellow jersey. Expect today to be a nervous day in the bunch, especially with a finale along the coast. A bunch sprint is likely but not inevitable.

Stage 2: Bastia – Ajaccio

Stage two is shorter than stage one, but what it lacks in length, it makes up for in intensity. We travel through the middle of Corsica on Sunday for a solid day in the saddle. With nearly 2000m of climbing and a deceptively steep wall 12 kilometres from the finish, this stage could do damage to the bunch. It will be another nervous day ending in a bunch sprint, but the bunch should be much smaller than the group that comes to the finish together on stage one. The leader of the Tour de France may be decided on count-back after two days of racing.

Stage 3: Ajaccio – Calvi

The profile for stage three doesn’t look too difficult, but stage three is much more than meets the eye. We hug the western coast for the entirety of the undulating parcours. It’s safe to say there is not a single flat kilometre. Today will be a true challenge. The route is technical. Winds could split the field. The final climb is short (3.3km) but averages 8% and will certainly test the legs of a fresh, eager bunch. Today suits a lot of riders on our team, and it’s certainly a stage we have targeted. It’s possible we could see three different leaders after three days of racing in Corsica.

Straight after the stage three finish, all of our riders will board the bus to shower, change and prepare to hop on a short flight from Corsica to Nice, where stage four begins. Select staff will accompany the riders on the chartered plane. The majority of the staff and all our vehicles will travel to Nice by an overnight boat. They won’t arrive to mainland France until the following morning, which will make for a very hectic day for everyone.

Stage 4: Nice – Nice (TTT)

The team time trial is a short (25km), fast and straightforward. The out and back course along the promenade in Nice will be intense. This is pure speed racing – a distinct departure from the undulating, technical team time trials we’ve come to expect from the Tour de France. Unless something goes terribly wrong, expect to see us in the mix of things. We’re aiming for a top five finish today.

Stage 5: Cagnes-sur-Mer – Marseille

The next two days of racing are fairly traditional stages across the bottom of France. Both are easily impacted by the wind. Most commonly, stages like these would be a way of transitioning the peloton across France from the Alps or the Pyrenees. As such, it would have breakaway written all over it. Coming during the first week of the Tour changes that dynamic. Rather than allowing a group to stay away to the line, I imagine we’ll see the gritty sprinters contesting the finish. The ramp at the end of the stage suits our sprint train, and we hope to be amongst the action in the finale.

Stage 6: Aix-en-Provence – Montpellier

Read my stage five description, and you’ll have a good sense of stage six. Today is a bit flatter than yesterday but not much. The wind is always a factor in this part of France and could play a role in the way the stage is raced. I expect a mass sprint today, and we’ll want to see Gossy have a crack at it.

Stage 7: Montpellier – Albi

Stage seven could be the first stage that sees a breakaway contest the finish. It’s a solid day of racing that takes the peloton inland from the south of France. With a couple hard categorised climbs peppered throughout the parcours, we’re prepared to unleash Albasini, Meyer, Clarke and Gerrans today. We’ll have Gossy waiting in the wings if the race comes back together before the line. As a team, we see several different scenarios that could play in our favour. This is a stage we have earmarked in our race book.

Stage 8: Castres – Ax 3 Domaines

Stage eight brings the peloton to the Pyrenees. The majority of the day is flat as we make our way to the two big mountains at the finish. This is the first big day for the overall contenders to show their muscle. We’ll leave the battle to those riders and their teams as we take it as easy as possible to conserve for our other goals.

Stage 9: Saint-Girons – Bagnères-de-Bigorre

Today is a traditional Pyrenees stage. It includes five categorised climbs, four of which are rated category one. It’s a tough day from start to finish, and it might be a great day for a breakaway. It’s possible that we see the leader’s jersey change hands after stage nine.

Stage 10: Saint-Gildas-des-Bois – Saint-Malo

Stage ten comes after a plane transfer and rest day. It’s a long, tradition flat day of racing, and it’s clearly intended for the sprinters. The start of the second week of the Tour de France offers another opportunity for Gossy and our sprint crew to shine.

Stage 11: Avranches – Mont-Saint-Michel (ITT)

The first of two time trials comes at the mid-point of the Tour de France. It’s shorter than usual at 33km, and it’s not especially technical. Expect fast times over this course. Stage 11 is important for the overall contenders and the time trial specialists. We have two riders that have their eye on today’s stage. Cam Meyer and Svein Tuft will both want to do well here.

Stage 12: Fougères – Tours

Again, we’re looking at 200+ km (218km) day in the saddle. I expect a traditional stage dominated by an early breakaway that is brought back by teams looking for a sprint. Stage 12 is another chance for the sprinters and their trains. For us, it’s another opportunity for Gossy.

Stage 13: Tours – Saint-Amand-Montrond

Today is one of the last chances for the sprint trains to snag a stage win. While wind may make stage 13 less straightforward than it appears on paper, anything other than a bunch sprint at the end of the day would be a surprise.

Stage 14: Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule – Lyon

After a couple of bunch sprints and a time trial, today is a hard day. A breakaway will have an excellent chance on stage 14, so we’ll look to our opportunists to get down the road. We have a number of riders that could be in the mix for a stage win in Lyon.

Stage 15: Givors – Mont Ventoux

The longest stage of the 100th Tour is also one of the most prestigious. Throw in the French holiday (Bastille Day on 14 July) and we have the makings of a fantastic spectacle for fans. The very lengthy and very famous climb up Mont Ventoux is the main challenge, and the only place where I expect to see decisive action. Fans will enjoy watching the overall contenders duke it out for top honours today.

Stage 16: Vaison-la-Romaine – Gap

The bunch will not get through today’s stage without splitting. Because the overall contenders will have had a hard day with Ventoux on the previous stage, the break has a good chance of securing a result today. We’ll send our riders down the road and see what they can do on the first day of racing in the third week of the French Grand Tour. 

Stage 17: Embrun – Chorges (ITT)

The second time trial of the Tour de France is in the mountains. The parcours includes two category two climbs in the space of 32km. This is certainly not a day that suits our riders. Cam Meyer is likely to post our best result today, but I don’t expect him to be able to contend with the riders gunning for a top ten finish in the Tour de France overall.

Stage 18: Gap – Alpe-d’Huez

Today will be a tough day in the office. Although the stage is short (168km), it’s relentless with two ascents of the legendary Alpe d’Huez separated by the Col de Sarenne and preceded by three additional categorised climbs. This is going to be epic.

Stage 19: Bourg-d”Oisans – Le Grand-Bornand

One of the toughest days of the Tour de France begins with 20km of climbing straight from the start. After reaching the top of Col du Glandon, the peloton will plummet down dramatically before the road immediately kicks back up again as the peloton tackles the Col de la Madeleine. By the time they summit the second HC mountain, the stage will have only reached it’s mid-point. Coming at the tail end of the race, a lot of riders will be looking to merely survive the stage.

Stage 20: Annecy – Annecy-Semnoz

The penultimate stage of racing is short (125km) but set to be action-packed with six categorised climbs scattered throughout the day. Most teams won’t be familiar with the summit finish as it’s new to the Tour. An early break could make it to the line or we could see the last battle amongst the overall contenders.

Stage 21: Versailles – Paris Champs-Élysées

The final stage starts in the outskirts of Paris (Versailles) before the traditional finish on the Champs-Élysées. For the first time in Tour history, the Tour de France will end at night. We have a 6:15PM (CET) stage start with an expected finish time of 9:30PM (CET). The peloton will race under lights, making for spectacular television. The time change won’t change the stage outcome. The final day of racing is for the sprinters. A stage win on the Champs is one of the most prestigious victories a sprinter can attain.