By David Hunter
Montbrison – Belleville 177.5km
Another stage that will interest the sprinters, breakaway artists, puncheurs and GC riders!
In terms of climbing metres it’s easier than today, but the vast majority of the 2336m of ascension comes in a section of 64km. Having five categorised climbs is going to make life very hard for the sprinters, but the final climb does crest a long way from home. It’s another day where anything can happen.
Step forward Thomas De Gendt. The legend lost over 6 minutes today, making it easier for him to get some freedom and make the morning move. As we all know, Team Sky don’t like to give away any presents and will chase down any move that contains a GC threat. The problem for De Gendt is that the break is almost sure to have a rider too close on GC, as we’ve only have one road stage.
The other problem for the break is Mitchelton-Scott. After Impey’s win today, he sits just 3 seconds behind Kwiatkowski. If he manages to make the podium, and the Pole doesn’t, he’ll move into the yellow jersey. That will encourage Mitchelton to chase down the break.
As the final climb crests with 29.5km remaining, it is highly unlikely an attack on this climb will be successful. The descent does have some technical sections, but the GC teams will be keen on stringing out the bunch to keep things nice and safe.
A number of roundabouts will certainly make the closing kilometres a challenge. Just after 2km, the roundabout only has one half opened, this is a hugely important point in the race. If a rider is keen on winning, they need to be near the end of the bunch.
Just inside the flamme rouge we have another difficult section. Not only do the riders make a sharp turn, but they also have to negotiate a double roundabout. Only the first 15 riders will be in with a chance of the win. Just like today, the finishing line is on a little ramp. I almost forgot to mention, the road is rather narrow inside the final 2km! The organisers are not going to be very popular with the riders.
Get ready for a couple of heavy thunderstorms. I really hope the roads are dry for the finale.
Thomas De Gendt – the go-to breakaway guy. After brilliant wins in Catalunya and Romandie, the stage is set for the Belgian to seal another memorable win. He is 7:20 down on GC and not a threat to the yellow jersey, but other teams could be interested in chasing. One thing is for certain, De Gendt will try and make the morning move. If successful, the chasing teams will be very concerned. It is likely they would lose time to him in the series of climbs and have a big gap to close down on the descent to the finishing line. His problem will be getting marked in the opening kilometres.
Niki Terpstra – another hugely talented rider who is down on GC. He’ll likely face the complication of having two GC riders in his team and someone capable of winning the stage. It’s unlikely he’ll have freedom to make the morning move.
Pascal Ackermann – was 3rd today, easily the best of the sprinters. That was an impressive ride from the German, but he’ll need to be on his very best climbing form to be around for this finish.
Bryan Coquard – today was a missed opportunity. He did an okay race, but struggled to find position in the sprint. If he makes the finish, positioning will be even more important in this stage. Without many teammates, he could find it a frustrating end to the stage.
Daryl Impey – he has to start the stage as the favourite. Impey was brilliant in the prologue and took a great win today. Sitting just 3 seconds behind yellow, he has a real chance of taking the stage and the jersey. Mitchelton-Scott have a very strong team and I hope they commit to chasing the morning move, but it would be wise to try and stop De Gendt from joining it!
Edvald Boasson Hagen – his form just doesn’t seem to be there. Today’s finish should have suited him, but he finished down in 37th position. Moving into this stage, he is one of the fastest sprinters, he needs to be up the front and fighting for position. He is a confidence rider and just needs a little bit of luck to kickstart his season.
Julian Alaphilippe – second today, but he was comfortably beaten by Impey. The Frenchman is unlikely to win the sprint, but he could try something on the descent. He is a great rider to watch, one that just can’t help attacking. If he senses a chance to put pressure on some of his GC rivals, he’ll take it.
Michael Valgren – tried his luck today, but it wasn’t to be. He’ll keep trying, especially as the tough mountain stages might be too hard for him to win. After a brilliant spring, the big Dane has the winning bug and wants to keep it going.
I think the big teams will ensure we have a weak break. This will allow them an easy day chasing. Once in the series of climbs, puncheur teams will happily take up the pace and try to put the sprinters into difficulty.
The hardest climb is the last one, which is under 4km in length. If the sprinters make it over the opening cat 3s, they should be able to hang on until the climbing finishes. Even if only two of them survive, it will then create an interesting finale, as their teammates will come under huge pressure to chase.
I think we will see a sprint and with positioning being of huge importance, I think we’ll see a win for Pascal Ackermann. I was impressed by his teammates today.
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