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Marcel Kittel won the first stage of last year’s Tour de France but there is value in betting away from the German favourite being this year’s first yellow jersey recipient.
The Tour de France peloton will ride the long way from Leeds to Harrogate, travelling 190.5 kilometres over terrain that one would not describe as flat. Admittedly, sprinters such as Kittel, Andre Greipel and Mark Cavendish, the latter of whom will be especially keen to win because his mother hails from Harrogate, should make it across the Yorkshire Dales with the main group but the finish may not be their cup of tea in a town that is synonymous with the beverage.
Things will start to get difficult 1.6km from the Harrogate finish line of Tour de France stage one. First, the peloton will encounter a 600m incline at six per cent. Then, after a short downhill part, they will have to rise for 400m at 4%. The Tour de France website categorises Leeds to Harrogate as a flat stage, one that is likely to be won by a sprinter, but the profile of the finish tells a different story.
Only a fool would write off Kittel, Greipel and Cavendish, particularly the latter. Cavendish pulled out of the British national road race championship last week, choosing not to defend the title that he won 12 months ago so that he could focus on winning the first stage of the Tour de France. That is commitment. Cavendish is on the record as saying that his whole year is about Harrogate. That is pressure as well.
Kittel, Greipel and Cavendish are all quality sprinters but the plain and simple fact of the matter is that the Tour de France first stage looks tailor made for a classy sprinter who can climb quite well. That cyclist is Peter Sagan, who is available at odds of 9.00 with Winner (8.00 with SkyBet and Betfred) despite being the subject of an early gamble by shrewd cycling punters.
Sagan made his grand tour debut in the 2011 Vuelta a Espana, creating an immediate impression, winning three stages and finishing fourth in the points classification. Sagan made his Tour de France bow in 2012, taking out three stages and crossing the finishing line in Paris with the green jersey on his back. Last year, Sagan won only one Tour de France stage but he dominated the points classification for the second edition in a row. The key to Sagan’s success in Tour de France green jersey contests has been his ability to climb and pick up points on more than just flat stages.
That Sagan has performed well in all the major classics – for example, he has placed second in the Milan-San Remo and Tour of Flanders events – has led some cycling experts to predict that he will win the Tour de France at some point in his career. Sagan has been compared with the great Eddy Merckx, who won the Tour de France on five occasions.
One does not know about Sagan winning the Tour de France, either this year or somewhere down the track. But Sagan’s combination of climbing and sprinting ability makes him stand out as a likely winner of Tour de France stage one from Leeds to Harrogate. The Cavendish story line is cute but the Manxman will not be the only cyclist hell bent on getting his hands on the first yellow jersey of the race. Sagan will be just as eager as Cavendish and, given the hilly profile of the second stage from York to Sheffield, the Slovak cyclist would be quietly confident of holding on to the general classification lead for several days if he was the first man across the finishing line in Harrogate.