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Tour de France Tour de France 2024, Stage 1: Florence (Firenze) - Rimini, 206.0k

The Tour kicks off with its first stage on Italian soil since the one where Andy Schleck launched his epic raid in 2011. It’s a rather odd stage with lots of elevation gain, but all of it in mid-length climbs seemingly too far from the finish to entice the GC riders. In any other situation it would be one for the break, but this being stage 1 means that’s the one scenario we can safely rule out…

(NB: this was written as a part of my stage-by-stage analysis, which won't be up before Thursday evening - it should work fine as a standalone post too, though)

The route

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There are two kinds of stage hosts I dread when starting a writeup: ones that have little to note, and ones that have so much to note that it’s hard to tell anything new. Few cities fit the latter description as well as Florence, or rather Firenze (no, I will not be following the let’s-pretend-the-only-language-in-existence-is-French nomenclature enforced by ASO whenever it has a stage abroad). Founded towards the end of the Roman Republic, it prospered initially, but only in the second half of the Middle Ages did it become one of the most powerful cities in Italy. Economically, it reached its zenith as the banking centre of Europe, reintroducing gold trade to the continent from the 14th century onwards, but of course its most significant contribution to history is as the traditional birthplace of the Renaissance under the Medicis. House Medici slowly turned Florence from a(n oligarchic) republic into a duchy that controlled Tuscany and, for a while, even the Papacy. Both House and city declined in the 17th century, and by the time Florentine independence ended with the extinction of the Medicis in 1737, both the city and Tuscany as a whole were among Western Europe’s poorest regions. It recovered from the 19th century onwards, serving briefly as the capital of the newly-united Italian state until the subjugation of the Papal States, with its enduring cultural influence apparent from the introduction of the Florentine dialect-based Standard Italian. Today, it is of course known above all else as a tourism destination.

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The neutralisation is scheduled to take a ridiculous 40 minutes (seriously, why aren’t there UCI rules prohibiting this?) and despite that, they couldn’t even be bothered to take the two-kilometre detour through Ponte a Ema, the hometown of the late, great Gino Bartali, even though the race passes through the municipality of which it is a part. The first kilometres of the Tour proper are spent heading up the Sieve valley into the Mugello, the northeastern corner of Tuscany. We are not heading for the eponymous motor racing circuit where Freddy Maertens suffered his career-changing crash, though, instead taking the shortest route out of Tuscany by climbing the Válico dei Tre Faggi. This is probably the day’s hardest climb.

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Early on in the descent, the riders cross the border with Emilia-Romagna, where they’ll spend the majority of their time in Italy. The already-shallow descent soon gives way to a downhill false flat, which lasts all the way until the bottom of the easiest KOM of the day, Passo Monte delle Forche.

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After an equally-brief descent, there is the intermediate sprint in Santa Sofia.

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Immediately after this, it’s time for the Passo di Carnaio, final climb of the 2021 Giro stage won by Andrea Vendrame. Even though that stage also came from Santa Sofia, the side used here is much easier. It’s still about three times as hard as the previous climb, but still hands out the same amount of KOM points – I guess ASO really wanted to give a nod to true Italian cycling heritage…

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Another short descent backs into a more extended valley section, but the final four climbs of the day it precedes have very little recovery time in between them. First up is the Colle del Barbotto, containing the steepest slopes of the day.

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This is followed by the climb to San Leo, the day’s final cat. 2.

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This time, there is no flat after the descent, but rather the climb to Montemaggio.

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The descent from this climb is almost negligible, but does take the riders into San Marino, the first new country on the Tour route since (checks notes) 2022. Again, the descent backs directly into the next climb. Sadly, the route they take up to Città di San Marino is both the shallowest climb of the day as well as the easiest of the many ways to climb into the microstate’s capital.

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Following the day’s longest descent, there are 18 flattish kilometres left to race, starting with the re-entry into Italy and ending with a rather technical finale through Rimini.

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Rimini was founded by the Romans in the third century BC and grew to be an important city, owing to its location at the point where the Via Flaminia (the main road from Rome to the north) reached the Adriatic. The well-preserved Arch of Augustus and Bridge of Tiberius serve as reminders of this era. In the Middle Ages, it remained a regional power, but upon losing its independence it slowly declined until it rapidly gained popularity as one of Europe’s earliest seaside tourist destinations from the mid-19th century onwards. In spite of five-sixths of the city being leveled by Allied bombing in the Second World War, it has remained a popular destination ever since, having slowly transitioned from serving the aristocracy to the mass tourism widely associated with the city nowadays.

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What to expect?

Not the easiest stage to call, but with the final climb being as shallow as it is coupled with the flat finale, it should be some sort of sprint. Last year’s Jaizkibel stage (harder final climb, easier terrain before that) is not a bad yardstick, but really any group that contains up to 50-60 riders wouldn’t be a surprise here.
 
Section between 120 km and 180 km is very intense. 22 km uphill, 1500 m of elevation gain. UAE will set a strong pace there but how strong? Reducing the group will be the goal IMO, not Pog's attack (as the last climb is not good to attack and the distance to the finish is long) but if one of the contenders shows some weakness then they have the horse power to TTT to the line and put more time into the weak rival. Finish from some small/medium sized group: maybe Pogi and Van Aert will be favourites.
 
I hope for an exciting start of TDF but feel that peloton at this stage is still well rested and climbs are not hard enough to really make any serious selection between the GC guys. I am almost 100% certain UAE will test the field but it will be sprint of reduced peloton at the end.
 
At first I thought we would see the GC riders go for it, but they won’t. I expect quite a boring stage with maybe a puncher winning from the early attack, or a bunch sprint of 50 riders. Not sure who would win that and is still there, maybe Van Aert depending on his form.