Kittel ready to flex his muscles in sprint finish
Valverde pulls out injured
ITV4 & Eurosport 1, 11am Sunday
It is firmly advantage Chris Froome and Team Sky after a rain-soaked stage one of the Tour de France.
Froome finished in sixth on the opening time trial along the banks of the Rhine, 12 seconds behind teammate Geraint Thomas, who claimed his first Grand Tour stage win at odds of 40-1, but crucially at least 30 seconds faster than his main yellow jersey rivals.
The treacherous weather paid to Alejandro Valverde’s Tour hopes as he was forced to abandon with a leg injury.
Thomas’s time in yellow shouldn’t be in too much danger – even with time bonuses on offer for first, second and third across the line – on stage two as the race leaves Germany for Belgium and the cycling hotspot of Liege.
The first of nine designated flat stages, the 203.5km route is the first of this year’s Tour for the speedsters to target and for them to gain an early psychological blow over their sprint rivals.
As seems customary on a stage of this nature, Germany’s Marcel Kittel heads a market that reads like a who’s who of sprinters present at this year’s race.
And with question marks around some of his more seasoned rivals there is an argument to be made that 5-4 is a good price.
Compatriot Andre Greipel looked off colour at the Giro, taking only one early stage and finishing outside the top-three on a number of stages he would expect to be challenging on.
Illness has curtailed Mark Cavendish’s preparations with the Manx Missile openly admitting he is not in “ideal condition”.
The same cannot be said of Kittel who continues to win stages around the world with regularity.
His record in early stages of Grand Tours is also particularly persuasive. Kittel was second on the opening stage of the 2016 Tour, took the first two sprint stages at last year’s Giro while he reined supreme in the 2014 Tour by winning three of the first four mass finishes.
The only slight doubt is the proximity of the day’s second categorised climb, the Cote d’Olne, coming within 21km of the finish but it is only 1.3km long at an average gradient of 4.7 per cent so shouldn’t prove too testing for Kittel to overcome.
Dylan Groenewegen could be Kittel’s biggest threat. The Dutch speedster has invariably found the German too good in stage finishes for most of the season but he has certainly been best of the rest.
He is pitted against Arnaud Demare in a match bet by Paddy Power and should be supported to beat the French champion who looks better suited to Monday’s challenge.
M Kittel to win stage two
4pts 5-4 Betway
D Groenewegen to beat A Demare
2pts 11-10 Paddy Power