The hardest challenge by far during stage 2 at this year's Tour de France is the short final climb in Cherbourg-en-Cotentin. But will the steep, narrow section of around 14 percent mid-way through the ascent be enough to create differences between the top favourites of the Tour?
Perhaps unsurprisingly for an urban finish like stage 2, the first challenge of the Côte de la Glacerie [Mirror-making] - an area of Cherbourg formerly famous for that industry, hence the name - is the approach road. Preceded by a smaller, non-categorised climb, the Côte d’Octeville, with 7.5 kilometres to go, the peloton will then barrel downhill on a fast, technical descent, with one very tricky chicane-like bend half-way down.
The course then flattens out and hooks back inland along a broad inner city highway. The 1.9 kilometre Côte de la Glacerie starts with a slight leftward kink in the same broad boulevard, a typical high street for a city suburb with small shops lining the street on both sides. (One business is, appropriately enough for the Tour, called Anquetil Habitat, although there is no connection between the five-times Tour winner other than the name.)
The first segment, a gently rising highway that all but loops back on itself is hardly a huge challenge. But when the route veers left after roughly a kilometre of climbing at a big roundabout onto smaller, residential roads, it abruptly gets much more difficult.
Quickly narrowing down to a leafy city back lane and with an average gradient of over nine percent at this point, one steady right-hand bend and a short ‘ramp’ of around 14 percent that follows constitute the hardest challenge.
The climb itself ends a little over a kilometre to the finish, swinging right on another residential lane that leads back down to the main road. Then after this short, fast descent and a nasty little chicane at the bottom past a statue of a glassmaker, the route goes back onto the main ‘drag’, kicking back upwards a steady gradient of around seven percent. By then, the finishing gantry will quickly loom into sight for whoever is in the lead.
As the Tour’s first ‘summit’ finish, like on the Mur de Huy last year, the overall contenders' performance on the Cote de la Glacerie will come in for close study. But rather than an out-and-out climber or GC contender, on paper this year’s first summit finish would probably favour an uphill finisher, particularly someone with a tried-and-tested Classics palmares. Peter Vakoc (Etixx-Quick Step), winner of De Brabantse Pijl this spring, could well rate his chances if he is in form - but there will be many others.
What the riders think
Dan Martin (Etixx Quickstep): It’s going to be chaos. It’s not hard enough for me but I want to go into it thinking about a stage result because I don’t want to lose time. It’s a tricky final and it’s more about positioning than the legs. It’s like Fleche but nowhere near as hard. We’ll go into the final climb really fast and there will be splits. If it’s aggressive then it’s going to be interesting. We have Julian and he’s faster than me in the uphill sprint.
Michael Matthews (Orica-BikeExchange): Definitely, [stage 2] suits a lot of our riders. A lot of our riders are a similar style, but I think one thing is getting through the race, and next thing is the final. It’s definitely going to be a sketchy race, and I think it’ll be a smaller bunch in the final that everyone is expecting; the wind is going to make a big impact. We haven’t decided yet on leadership.
Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing): We don’t have too many chances of a finish like this in the Tour. There are a lot of mountain stages, a lot of sprinters stages and then not too much in between. Sunday is a good chance and we have to go for it. A win would be great for me and the team and would really help everyone relax in the first week. Yes, I’ve thought about the yellow jersey and there’s a good chance because most of the time the Tour starts with a prologue or a time trial. It’s hard for a rider like me to take yellow but this is a good chance. It’s a dream but a lot of riders will also think this.