It’s a short hop across the border to the start of today’s stage in Orchies, which each April sees Paris-Roubaix thunder through, with a dozen sectors of pavé still to go to the finish – it was just outside the town that Tom Boonen launched his decisive attack this year. Today, however, it’s hills rather than cobbles that will split the peloton, with five categorised climbs in the Monts du Boulonnais ahead of an uphill finish in the centre of the Channel port itself.
It’s unusual for the first week of the Tour to feature a medium mountain stage, but there are a couple of men in the peloton who know exactly what it takes to win here – Pierrick Fédrigo in 2006, and Sylvain Chavanel last year, both earned their French national champion’s jerseys in Boulogne. It’s not just the climbs that could blow the race apart today, either – with a twisting route in the last 70km or so, this close to the coast there is always the threat of the wind playing a decisive role, and the GC men will be anxious not to lose any time to their rivals should echelons form.
Geraint Thomas says: There will definitely be a lot of stress and fighting for position today. I think there will be people going out the back, and I think Marcel Kittel will struggle to get to that finish again. It’s similar to the first road stage with people like Philippe Gilbert or maybe Simon Gerrans or Matt Goss for GreenEdge; Gossy will be able to hang in there if he’s in the form he’s been in. People like Sylvain Chavanel have the legs to dig maybe 10k out, so an opportunist like him, or someone like Thomas Voeckler perhaps. They won’t win if it’s altogether, but a lot of French guys will be in there coming to the finish, while Movistar could look to control the back end of the race for Alejandro Valverde. But I think you’ve got to go with Peter Sagan on a day like this, especially with the run of results he’s had so far this season.
For more on this year's Tour stages read our full Tour de France Preview
Plucked from the obscurity of his London commute back in the mid-Nineties to live in Bath and edit bike mags our man made the jump to the interweb back in 2006 as launch editor of a large cycling website somewhat confusingly named after a piece of navigational equipment. He came up with the idea for road.cc mainly to avoid being told what to do… Oh dear, issues there then. Tony tries to ride his bike every day and if he doesn't he gets grumpy, he likes carbon, but owns steel, and wants titanium. When not on his bike or eating cake Tony spends his time looking for new ways to annoy the road.cc team. He's remarkably good at it.