Stage 1: Bilbao to Bilbao – 182 km
Date: Saturday July 1, 2023
Stage type: Hilly
What to watch for: Jonas Vingegaard won a similar stage of the Dauphiné in June. He seems to have been working on his punch. Will he take advantage?
Stage 1 summary: No easing into this Tour de France. The very first stage takes in 3,300 meters (10,000 feet) of climbing in a large loop starting and finishing in Bilbao, in the heart of the cycling-mad Basque region. The final climb, the last in a series of four in the last 60 km, is the Côte de Pike, a nasty kicker that averages 10% over 2 km.
It’s mean. It will split things up. The first yellow jersey (and all the rest of the jerseys) is on the line.
I had a chance to pre-ride the final two climbs on Friday. The penultimate climb isn’t too hard, and there’s too much flat after it to make it a launching point. But Côte de Pike is horrible. Very steep. Then the descent down is fast, on a highway, into Bilbao. There will likely be a slight headwind as they crest the top. My prediction: ones and twos over the top, comes together into a group of 5-10. Then they face a 1 km rise that’s actually quite difficult up to the finish.
It’s also taking place in one of cycling’s traditional heartlands, and specifically a region that has produced climbers by the bucketload. From 1994 to 2013, the sight of the distinctive orange jerseys of the team built around the Euskadi Cycling Foundation flocking to the front meant the real climbing was about to start. Names like Unai Etxeberria and Iban Mayo, and later Mikel Landa and the Izagirre brothers, all performed their acts of antigravity while racing in that bright orange. The team is now rebuilding, currently with ProTeam status, with the goal of returning to the Tour de France.
Dane Cash’s picks: This stage will bring the punchiest riders to the fore, and that could mean some GC riders are in the mix too. Julian Alaphilippe, Wout van Aert, and Mathieu van der Poel will likely be duking it out with Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard. Pogačar seems like a fitting top favorite to win it.
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