After the relative exoticism, or at least novelty, of starts in Yorkshire and Utrecht, the 2016 Grand Départ is a domestic affair, though it is still ambitious and bold in scale. Le Tour has grown to the extent that the Grand Départ really has to be grand, and ASO have chosen Mont-St-Michel, one of the most iconic townscapes in the country, as the backdrop for the start of the 103rd race.
The stage will follow the coastline of the Manche department, which is named after the prosaically descriptive French name for the English Channel – La Manche (the sleeve). It then cuts east across the Cotentin peninsula to arrive at Utah Beach, site of the D-Day Normandy Landings in June 1944.
The terrain is a nice gentle start. The stage begins and finishes at sea level, and rolls gently throughout. As an aside, seaside Grand Départs are relatively rare in Tour history. France has almost 5,000km of coastline but this will be only the 13th time that the Tour has begun on the French coast.
There are two certainties in life: death, and a bunch sprint at the end of stage 1 of the Tour de France. (Taxes used to be inevitable, also, but there are enough professional cyclists shacked up in Monaco and Switzerland to give lie to that statement.)
You could argue that Marcel Kittel is an equally sure thing to win the sprint. Give the man a flat parcours and an uncomplicated run-in and he wins, by a lot. But Kittel would do well to remember that the first sprint of the Tour is often a chaotic, unpredictable affair – everybody is fresh, and nobody’s had the ambition beaten out of them yet. He may be the best in a straight line off a well-drilled lead-out but it’s likely to be more messy than that.
Daniel Mangeas: Normandy is my region, and when the Tour comes, there is going to be a week of festivities, before the race, and then during it. This first stage is for the sprinters - the parcours is flat, nearly all the way, with some small climbs, but not enough to make a difference. The race goes past all the coastal towns and it will be a beautiful stage. I think Marcel Kittel is the favourite, and André Greipel, but I’d like to see Coquard and Bouhanni do well here, too.