There was a time when the opening week of the Tour de France was geared more for the sprinters as the contenders for overall victory were generally satisfied to be finishing in the middle of a closely grouped peleton on the flat stages. Individual time trials plus the mountain stages in the Pyrenees and Alps were the focus of their attention with few opportunities to gain time on rivals during those opening exchanges. Recent changes to the tour format have resulted in more aggressive riding during the first few days and for the 2015 renewal of the race, the action has already produced some significant time gaps between the pre-race favourites.
The opening stage of the 2015 Tour de France involved a short individual 14km ride around the Dutch city of Utrecht during which Australian Rohan Dennis claimed the quickest time to secure the first yellow jersey of the race. Bookmaker favourites Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, Nairo Quintana and Vincenzo Nibali all finished with a 20 second range of each other with most riders content with their performance.
On the very next day, with a stage traversing the open exposed roads of the Netherlands coastline, strong winds and a fierce rainstorm ensured a serious split in the peloton at the halfway point of the stage as several different groups formed battling the adverse weather. German cyclist Andre Greipel crossed the finishing line at Neeltje Jans as eventual winner from 20+ other riders with Fabian Cancellara assuming the race leadership after his third position on the day, but for Contador and Froome, the recorded times for the day served as an excuse for a limited early celebration.
Both riders were helped by team mates in maintaining contact with the leading group while Nibali and Quintana accompanied by several other of the more leading contenders finished in a larger second contingent at nearly 90 seconds adrift.
Losing that amount of time so early into the tour is not a great beginning but by no means the end of their hopes of winning the race when the riders arrive in Paris, as more hazards await the peleton before the mountain stages are encountered during the second week of racing.
On Monday of this week, the difficult ascent of the narrow Mur de Hoy in Belgium awaits at the culmination of the stage, to be followed by the cobbles of Northern France on Tuesday. Such terrain can easily produce additional time gaps. The action on Thursday along the windy Normandy coast is also expected to be lively while the climb of Mur de Bretagne on Saturday followed by a team time trial could also have seriously impacted on the general classification before the mountains eventually dominate proceedings.
Most days in the current Tour de France do offer the possibility of potentially significant changes in the overall classification in addition to several exciting finales at the end of the stages, and that can only help to maintain interest on a daily basis when that may not have been the case in previous times. Both Nibali and Quintana will be aware that a loss of time one day could be recovered on the next stage.
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