There’s a saying in the Netherlands that the money is earned in Rotterdam, divided up in The Hague and spent in Amsterdam. Quite where this leaves Utrecht, the country’s fourth city and the host of the Grand Départ of the 102nd Tour de France is anybody’s guess, but as the Dutch religious centre, maybe it’s where the love of the money is disapproved of as the root of all evil.
For the 20th time the Tour starts outside France. It’s also the sixth time the Tour has started in the Netherlands - the first ever foreign Grand Départ was in Amsterdam in 1954, and the most recent visit the race has made was to Rotterdam in 2010.
After two years of the Tour starting with a road stage, the race has reverted to tradition, up to a point. Between 1967 and 2007, the Tour started with a time trial, mostly a short prologue event, although in 2000 and 2005 there was a longer time trial. Since 2008, there’s been a mix of prologues, road stages and time trials.
This one, at 13.8 kilometres, happens to be the fourth-longest time trial ever to start the Tour. But it’s still now or never for the rouleurs – this is the only time trial of the entire Tour. It says something about the 2015 race that there are just 500 metres fewer of cobbled roads than time trials.
This is a hard time trial to predict. At 13.8 kilometres, it’s long for the prologue specialists, but short for the out-and-out time triallists. Tony Martin might find it too short for his liking, while Fabian Cancellara is no longer at his prologue-winning peak. A better bet for victory might be Tom Dumoulin, of Giant-Alpecin. He looks better-placed than anybody else to replace Martin, Cancellara and Bradley Wiggins as the world’s best time triallist, and he’s also Dutch. Utrecht may turn out to be Dumoulin’s coming-out party as a world class tester.
The GC contenders will be treating this stage differently, depending on who they are. Chris Froome and Alberto Contador are better time triallists than Nairo Quintana and Vincenzo Nibali, so will try to squeeze out every last possible advantage on this stage. It’s doubtful whether they’ll gain much more than 20 seconds, 30 at the absolute outside, but it will stand them in good stead for the opening week.
Hennie Kuiper's view
“The time trial could be interesting. The way things are nowadays, if you’re a minute behind at the end of the first week you could almost be out of the running for the title. That said, though, the Tour de France is always won in the big mountains and any of the really big stars could regain any time lost in the time trial when they reach those climbs.”
Stats & Facts
- The longest ever opening stage time trial was in Noirmoutier 2005, when the race covered 19 kilometres, and Lance Armstrong caught his minute man Jan Ullrich.
- The shortest ever prologue was 4.6 kilometres in 1986.
- The shortest ever opening stage was in 1988 when riders rode a flying individual kilometre after a short team time trial as part of a ‘preface’ event which didn’t count in the overall standings, but decided the start order in the team time trial on the official first day.
- The winner on the opening day has gone on to win the Tour 19 times in race history.
0km - Start Utrecht 14:00 (first rider) / 17:17 (last rider)
6.9km - Time check Pythagoraslaan 14:08 (first rider) / 17:25 (last rider)
13.8km - Finish Utrecht 14:15 (first rider) / 17:32 (last rider)
The text in this preview first appeared in the July edition of Procycling magazine