Temperatures in the Netherlands are still high but a storm is brewing over the south of Britain with forecast suggesting it will move east, meaning there could be rain and increasing winds in the afternoon. With the stage due to finish just after 5pm local time, the first road stage could become chaotic, with the bad weather inspiring attacks, echelons, splits in the peloton producing a nervous finale for the riders and risks of time losses for overall contenders.
The stage is pan flat as it crosses the Netherlands to the coast, with the only intermediate sprint of the stage in the centre of Rotterdam after 80km. With points but not time bonuses up for grabs, the sprint will give an indication of who intends to fight for the green points jersey and who has the speed and team support to fight for victory at the finish in Zelande.
The finish is actually on an artificial island after the final straight kilometre on a bridge, with huge wind turbines and the mechanical dams dotting the barren landscape. Most teams and riders have been to see the finish and so know that the wind is expected to blow from off the sea and from their right.
The finish area was dry and relatively still this morning but forecast predict the wind will pick up from 2pm with expected crosswinds of 30km/h and gust of up to 40km/h. If the riders decide not to race aggressively then perhaps the stage will end in a mass sprint. If expert echelon teams such as Etixx-QuickStep and LottoNL-Jumbo go on the attack, anything could happen.
"It could end in a sprint but it could be a very strange sprint. Especially if we get some strong wind from the west. Then it will be a very nervous, frantic race," local resident and sprint expert Theo Bos told Dutch television channel Nos.
"If the wind is strong enough it could be a knockout competition. The peloton will be lined out like a ribbon and then riders will be blown out of the back. A small group could emerge but everyone will want to be in it, both the sprinters and the GC riders."
Bos tips Mark Cavendish to win
Bos is not riding the Tour de France with MTN-Qhubeka but tipped Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quickstep) to win an eventual sprint. Other sprint contenders include Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) who celebrates his 28th birthday today, Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal), Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin), Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), who seems to have recovered from his rib problems, and Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge).
"The sprinters with the strongest teams will survive. Etixx-Quick Step will certainly ensure that Mark Cavendish is up there. Edvald Boasson Hagen could be a surprise because Tyler Farrar is also an expert in the echelons. If everyone is tired, then they have a chance," Bos said.
Rohan Dennis (BMC) dominated the opening time trial in Utrecht and gained enough time on the sprinters to make it impossible for one of them to take yellow thanks to the time bonuses of 10, 6 and 4 seconds awarded at the finish. If the talented Australian is able to finish in the front group, he should be able to keep the yellow jersey for another day.
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