Bonjour, mes amis. QUEL JOUR! What a day

This is the Tour de France, good people. This is what we hope for and dream of all year, the kind of opening stage that will be remembered for a long, long time, and one that makes history. A French winner on the opening stage, and heading into yellow – the first time since Julian Alaphilippe in 2021. A finish that defied belief. Sublime, selfless teamwork. And a great deal of suffering.

Yes, it was arguably the toughest opening stage in a great many years, and with soaring temperatures in Tuscany, and an stringent 3,600m of altitude gain across the day to contend with, it was no surprise to see a great many riders dropping throughout the day.

The main focus out the back of the peloton, as far as the race’s key narratives were concerned, was the shape of Mark Cavendish. Shepherded by three of his teammates, Cav suffered under the extreme conditions, throwing up on the bike and leading many to question his ability to survive to the following day, let alone for three weeks. Meanwhile tucked safely in the peloton, Jonas Vingegaard and Wout van Aert looked untroubled by the pace and quite honestly, just seeing them there after the severity of the injuries they sustained earlier in the season was a comfort.

The breakaway comprised a great many strong riders but even they couldn’t stick together under the pressure of the rising temperatures, and gradients, and where last year’s tricky first stage in Bilbao featured plenty of climbing, it had a far more open, attacking feel to it. Today’s stage was oppressive – the gradual winding up of pressure from UAE Team Emirates, the stifled fight for KOM points between Jonas Abrahamsen of Uno-X and Valentin Madouas of Groupama-FDJ, as they traded blows up the climbs but at times seemed to be riding through treacle.

It proved too much for both in the end (though they did enough to finish first and second in the polka dot standings at the end of the day). Romain Bardet bridged to his teammate, Frank van den Broek, and the two made short work of the rest. Van den Broek was part of the day’s early break and Bardet’s body language suggested that perhaps, he didn’t expect to have the young Dutchman's company all the way to the line. The two even exchanged turns from time to time as they held a steady gap over a pursuing peloton. Said peloton, which had shrunk over the succession of challenging climbs, grew slightly larger on the descents, and included two serious threats for the stage win, should they catch the two now lone leaders. Yes, Mads Pedersen was brought back to the bunch by his loyal Lidl-Trek teammates, while Wout van Aert displayed excellent shape to stay with his team throughout the day. All the more surprising when you cast your eye later down the list of those who were dropped under the sustained tempo of the GC group – including French hopes David Gaudu and Lenny Martinez for Groupama-FDJ and Kévin Vauquelin of Arkéa-B&B Hotels.

They held off a fruitless attack from EF Education-EasyPost’s Ben Healy – who may or may not have been riding as a satellite rider for local boy Alberto Bettiol, following a busy day by the American team of making their presence felt at the front of the bunch, but in the end, could they really hold off the power of the chasing pack?

And so it came down to two, against the rest. With the line drawing rapidly closer, and the combined might of the bunch behind, it seemed as though it would be curtains for the romantic storyline we all craved. A straight-up charge for the line, with bonus seconds at stake and thoughts of the green jersey on the mind of both Pedersen and van Aert, and Tadej Pogačar among them for good measure, what chance did they have? Romain Bardet, a climber, and his protégé van den Broek, riding two-up to the finish, with just a slender ten-second advantage with 2km still to race.

Somehow, against all odds, they did it. They DID IT. It was beautiful. Unbelievable. Magical, and memorable. Bardet gestured his thanks to his teammate as they crossed the line almost together, and van den Broek not only cements his place in the future of cycling with that immense ride, but also in the hearts of the French, as he rode selflessly for a French legend, who himself rode into the yellow jersey for the first time in his career, on his final opportunity.

What could be better?

Well, Mark Cavendish living to fight another day would make a fine bit of icing on the cake after the scare he gave the entire cycling world – and probably Christian Prudhomme too, as surely the race organisers are dining out on the Cavendish storyline – and Astana-Qazaqstan certainly vyed for the honour of MVPs, though there were three of them to support Cavendish to the line – where he finally arrived, 39 minutes after the peloton, with 9 minutes to spare – plenty, in reality, and his thumbs-up to camera as they rolled into Rimini will have settled many nerves – how he fares heading into stage 2 remains to be seen.

Personally, I still remember the last time Romain Bardet won a stage of the Tour de France, in 2017. That day, I watched the highlights package on ITV, as it used to be the only way I could consume cycling on TV, and when they concluded the show with this song, I laughed so hard. It was perfect. And it is perfect once again, today. So turn it up loud (with DJ Momo on Friday night duty, it's down to me to bring the music - and it's this, on repeat).

Tour 1-1-1

by Mathieu Fraisse

Stage 2 : Cesenatico - Bologna

1 food : Ragù alla bolognese

The Bologna area is renowned for its incredible cuisine but the Bologna name instantly rings a bell: Bolognese sauce! 

Usually served with tagliatelle (serving it with spaghetti is considered odd in Italy), the original recipe is different from what you may be used to if you’re buying your Bolognese sauce in supermarkets. 

Italians call it “ragù alla bolognese” and it is made with minced beef, while “ragù alla napoletana” is made with pork, beef and Italian sausage. Know your ragù!

Recipe here.

1 local rider : Lorenzo Fortunato

As no rider from today’s stage area is starting the Tour de France, Lorenzo Fortunato is our rider of the day! Born and raised in the Bologna area, Fortunato started his sporting career by playing football (like 99,9% of Italians?) but eventually fell in love with cycling at age 10. 

A very talented junior, he joined Tinkoff then Bardiani as a stagiaire. He eventually landed a pro contract at Neri Sottoli while finishing his studies and getting a diploma in motricity sciences. 

Fortunato joined Alberto Contador’s team EOLO-Kometa in 2021 and rose to fame by winning stage 14 of the 2021 Giro on Monte Zoncolan on his Giro debut! Now a rider for Astana, he recently finished in Catalunya top 10.

1 fact: The oldest university in the world

You might have heard stories about the Oxford and Cambridge rivalry dating back to the 13th century but the oldest university in the world is in Bologna! Founded in 1088, the Unibo (the abbreviated name) is 936 years old! 

In 1237, Unibo’s alumni Bettisia Gozzadini was the first woman to get a university degree and become a university teacher.

Home to almost 100.000 students nowadays, it is still one of the largest universities in the world, having branches in Buenos Aires, New York, Shanghai and Brussels. 

by Anna McEwen

FEATURE: The spirit of Ciclismo 

by Lena Koch

Logically speaking one should watch a cycling race on television to get the most information about a race. You’re up to date about most of the riders as long as dreadful satellite connection in the mountains doesn’t get in the way of things.

However cycling is more often than not a very illogical sport. Some elements desperately want to improve professionalisation and bring more technical advancement- cough cough talking about you and your Control Room Visma-LAB - into the sport, while other people dream of the time in the early 90's when radios between racers and their team cars weren't a thing. 

Truth be told I stood 2.5 hours on the cobbled streets of Florence to wait for a peloton that passes through within a minute. In 35 degrees Celsius where you sweat even in the shade. 

Those are the facts but also only half the story. 

Today, Florentine streets were a smattering of languages. Of course Italian but also German, English and French. And many more I didn’t even recognise. All the watchers were for a few hours one group. Be it an old time cycling fan or just a tourist who didn’t know the Tour was going through until five minutes ago. 

The lady buying a snake necklace from Bulgari (I stood directly before the story by chance) cheered just as much as the boy in the Alpecin world champion jersey. 

And it’s not only for the racers. Oh no. Every car, every motorbike gets cheered on. A children’s bike parade came through 2 hours before the peloton and they had the time of their lives getting cheered on as if they’re Tadej Pogačar himself. 

A few minutes later followed a group of seniors in retro bikes, reminding everyone of the Eroica event raced on Toskana gravel. 

You had the cycling race for the vibes and the atmosphere. To know you’re not alone with your cycling madness.

There’s nothing logical in it. It is pure ciclismo. 

Stage 2 Preview

A shade shorter than stage 1 but with half the amount of climbing, while stage 2 isn't exactly going to be a walk in the park for the riders, it certainly looks a less daunting prospect on paper.

That being said, the stage hunting teams will be galvanised by Romain Bardet's win today, and will like their chances to have another strong day - if they can keep themselves clear of the teams of Mads Pedersen and Wout van Aert, who have very much proven themselves capable of handling a few lumps and bumps. They are likely to be the only sprinters who will, though, although new French champion Paul Lapeira is definitely capable of hanging with the puncheurs for this one.

With an easier start to the day before the climbing gradually begins to increase in frequency and intensity, it should be a more fast and furious day in the saddle compared to today's gruelling slog. Will UAE decide to take the race to their GC rivals, or will the breakaway have their day again?

WBR TEAM PREDICTIONS: Katy - Paul Lapeira; Sam - Ben Healy; Anna - Giulio Ciccone; Stine - Alberto Bettiol; Mathieu - Maxim van Gils

And we leave you with this. Happy faces, after a job well done. From a 33-year-old rounding off an incredible career, to a man ten years his junior embarking on his own journey, with one of the most memorable stage 1 rides for some time. Chapeau, guys.

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