So much for convention. So much for history in this, the 100th edition of the Tour de France.
The first week of the Tour is traditionally a high-speed blast through landscapes as undulating as a galette, with bunch sprints galore.
But while Saturday's dramatic first stage from Porto-Vecchio to Bastia was supposedly tailor-made to allow a green jersey contender to wriggle into yellow for a day, the race becomes choppy and vertiginous and unpredictable. Sunday is the Tour's earliest visit to the mountains since 1992, when the race started in Spain and pootled east towards the Pyrenees. We could yet enjoy a sly testing of legs among general classification contenders.
When Alberto Contador, the Spaniard who has won five grand tours, was asked if he might attack in Corsica he replied with cold logic: "Everything is possible," he said. "You can't rule it out." Sunday's second stage, across 156km from Bastia to Ajaccio, offers ample opportunity to escape. The route steadily rises in gradient and takes in three third-category climbs as well as the second-category Col de Vizzavona, 1,163m above sea level.
Yet the final 60km is mostly downhill, save for a brief burst up the Côte de Salario near the finish, so a bunch sprint is not an outlandish possibility. However, Monday's 145km third stage from Ajaccio to Calvi has a profile as jagged as a bicycle chainset, and is built for someone like Peter Sagan, who can roll with the hills and the punches from his fellow riders. As Jean-François Pescheux, who designed the route, says: "There is not a metre of flat."
Mark Cavendish, who has moved from Team Sky to Omega Pharma-Quickstep, correctly predicted chaos and crashes in Corsica.
But he also believes the unpredictability of the early stages could lead to unusually high levels of activity at the top of the standings. "You might see the yellow jersey change shoulders in every stage for the first week," he said. "But we have a strong team who might be able to shuffle it between us."
Chris Froome, the Tour favourite, will not worry about his position early on. But he is wary of Corsica's narrow roads and the natural jumpiness of the peloton. "A lot of my objectives in the first few stages are about limiting losses," he says. "That's definitely the objective in Corsica."
If Froome does lose time early, he will hope to claw it back when the Tour heads to mainland France for Tuesday's 25km team trial in Nice.
You would expect Team Sky, the BMC team of Cadel Evans and Tejay van Garderen as well as Garmin-Sharp, who count David Millar among their ranks, to do well here. Whatever happens, the time trial will not significantly affect the standings: the stage is too short for that. We are talking about a handful of seconds here and there. Useful? Yes. Decisive? No.
From Nice the race flatly follows the coast, from Cagnes-sur-Mer to Marseille on Wednesday and Aix-en-Provence to Montpellier. Cavendish will be targeting both stages. He won in Montpellier in 2011 and is favourite for a repeat.
On Friday the Tour juts inland and sets full steam for the Pyrenees. That day's stage, from Montpellier to Albi, has a third and second category climb but then flattens out. It might yet end in another sprint.
The first seven stages will be about stage victories for some and avoiding disaster for others. But Saturday's stage, from Castres to Ax 3 Domaines, could light a firework among the favourites for general classification. For the first 140km the stage is mostly flat, storing up the tension for a dramatic last 50km when the riders go up the 2,100m Col de Pailhères hors catégorie climb before finishing with a 20- minute burst to the first category Ax 3 Domaines.
By then Saturday's grand depart will have been forgotten – and the battle for yellow will have been joined in earnest.
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