Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) made his Tour de France debut last year. The team had expected him to win a stage in the first week, but he had to wait until stage 10 before the German grabbed the victory and won the stage ahead of arch rival Mark Cavendish in Carmeaux. By winning the stage, Greipel became one of the few riders to have won a stage in every Grand Tour.
This year, Greipel is planning to win at least one stage.
"I want to win a stage and if it comes early then why not a second. My first goal is on Monday," Greipel said.
He has already checked out the final kilometres of this stage. It will be the first possibility for sprinters like Greipel to win. Everyday, team director Mario Aerts will drive ahead of the publicity caravan to check out the parcours. Several sprinters' team have someone who is employed for this reason. To inform the crew about changing weather conditions and things that could affect the team's performance.
Greipel won't answer how many stages he believe can be won in a bunch sprint, but he most likely knows which stages he think he can win.
There has been speculations that sprinters like Cavendish and Greipel might leave the race before the end to focus on the Olympic road race, but none of them seem to be planning it.
"I haven't been here too often in the past so now that I'm here I want to make the best of it. Also in the last week I don't want to leave because there's the chance to sprint for the win on the Champs Elysees. It's not the perfect build-up to the Olympic road race though," Greipel said.
He will be the German team leader at the Olympics. A smaller team makes it hard to control the race, but Greipel is a strong sprinter even without a large lead-out train. Nothing is impossible.
The defending Tour de France champion Cadel Evans (BMC) was the last rider to start the 99th edition of the Tour de France which began with a prologue in Liège, Belgium, today. He didn't win the short time trial, but the most important was not to lose too much time to GC-rival Bradley Wiggins (Sky).
Halfway into the parcours the Australian was one second ahead of Wiggins, but he lost time to the finish line at the Parc d'Avroy. He lost ten seconds to his British rival for the general classification, and finished 17 seconds behind stage winner Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan).
"This isn't really my thing," Evans said while cooling down on the rollers. "It's not my speciality. I didn't want to lose time and it wasn't too bad. I expected to lose time on GC-riders. I've lost a couple of seconds on specialists like Wiggins. This was good to normal to me.
"We've got the Tour started. That's the first thing and now I've got to keep going."
Tomorrow, the peloton will ride a mini Liège-Bastogne-Liège. It will be interesting and maybe, Evans will try to make a first effort to gain some seconds back on Wiggins. But it might be too early. It's not like a few seconds matter at this moment. Anything can happen.
"It doesn't change much. We're a bit away from the yellow so we're a bit calmer in that regard. We'll take the stage like we would anyway. Of course we'll do what we came for, whether that's for time or the result in the stage. We go in with the same mentality," Evans said.
Belgian rider Jurgen Van den Broeck from the Lotto-Belisol team entered the Tour de France with the ambition of being in the mix for the podium in Paris.
"I'm not as nervous as last year. I learned from that crash that it can soon be over. I did the maximum, I couldn't do more. I lived for it and trained for it so I know that I'm ready. If it doesn't work out then I can't blame myself, if it does work out then that's fantastic.
What's 'it'? A nice goal, a nice result. The podium?
"I don't have to hide that this would be the best outcome, if not then that's a stage win. From third to tenth place anything is possible and even the first two are not certain because also they can have a bad day," Van den Broeck said.
Back in 2010, Jurgen Van den Broeck finished fifth, and later moved up to fourth after the positive clenbuterol test from winner Alberto Contador. Then last year, he believed he would have a chance to climb up the podium but a massive crash in the descent of the Col de Pas de Peyrol during stage 10 to Saint-Flour made him abandon the race.
This year he hopes that his improvement on the time trial bike, plus his climbing skills, can take him to the top 3.
"The difference can be made anywhere. During the first week there're the stages where the wind is dangerous. You can't win but you can lose. Then there're the tough stages in the Vosges or the Jura. Then there's the time trial and then there's already the Alps. Really, it can happen everywhere and if you have the chance you have to take time because Evans and Wiggins are the better riders in the time trial. So you have to try and take advantage of that in the mountains. The first time trial will show where everybody is but then there're still the Alps and the Pyrenees to come so it will not be decided by then," Van den Broeck said.
At today's prologue, the Belgian finished 77th, 28 seconds behind stage winner Fabian Cancellara.