By David Hunter
Le Bourget du Lac – Villars les Dombes 173km
The stage opens with an immediate climb, not something the peloton usually likes. The Col du Chat is 2.8km at 6.8% and means that you need to be a solid climber, to enter the morning break. With a cat 2 and cat 1 climb in the stage, it presents a good opportunity for a rider to take the polkadot jersey. Thanks to the nature of stages 3 and 4, it’s a great chance for a rider to make the podium, for a good few stages. For smaller teams and riders, this recognition, is very important. Expect to see a few French riders, trying to make the break, they should get company from Daniel Teklehaimanot and Bjorn Thurau.
The race will then settle down, as the riders drive into a headwind. This lasts all the way till the Col de Cuvery. The cat 1 climb is hard enough to cause problems.
8.7km at 6.7%, is a long and demanding climb, especially the kilometre at 9.2%, near the top. As usual, the riders make the race, so we won’t know what impact this climb will have on the bunch, until we see how hard the riders want to make it. That fact that it crests with 100km to go, is great news for the sprinters. They don’t need to go into the red and stay with the bunch, as they can make up some time, after the climb. However, if the GC riders want to have fun, they will.
In the Giro, Astana, blew the race apart on climbs easier than this. If a team senses a GC rider is in difficulty, they will try and exploit it and the sprinters will suffer. Once off the climb, a team would have to be super motivated to continue riding hard. After the initial headwind, the riders have to deal with crosswinds, all the way home. This will make it harder for dropped riders to rejoin the peloton and it might even encourage some echelon riding. If the Dutch or Belgians hit the front, beware!
Rain is also going to be in the air, but should only arrive near the end of the stage. That will please most of the riders and they will hope for an easy day in the saddle.
Bouhanni, Modolo and Mezgec are the quickest riders in the race, but are riding on teams that are focused on GC. That means if they get dropped, they want have a lot of men to bring them back. Remember all the way back to Dubai and Cavendish getting dropped on a climb, around 50km from home. His whole team, waited with him, and brought him back to the front. These three sprinters, won’t be as lucky. For them, it’s important they don’t get dropped, or only lose contact at the end of the climb. They can all climb well and should be able to cope with the pace.
That means we should get a nice and organised bunch sprint. Time to talk sprint trains:)
Bouhanni has Soupe, Senechal, Laporte and Simon.
Mezgec has Timmer, Geschke and Ludvigsson.
Modolo has Pozzato, Bono and Plaza.
Only Bouhanni has his main man with him, the rest don’t even have their second choice. Given the weak looking trains, it’s possible for other teams to dominate the closing stages. Orica have Meier, Keukeleire, Howson, Gerrans and Cort. For me, this is the strongest train here, it would have been unstoppable if Impey was here. None of the other teams can match their speed, in those positions. It puts the Aussies in control of the final kilometre and gives Cort, a great chance of taking his first WT win. Gerrans is a brilliant last man, just ask Michael Matthews.
Most teams have a rider with a fast finish and due to the lack of outstanding sprinters, most will fancy their chances of challenging for the top 5 and maybe even the podium. We have: Navardauskas, Dumoulin, Boeckmans, Benoot, Gallopin, Tsatevich, Oss, Alaphilippe, Van Genechten, Martinez, Reza, EBH and Farrar.
Boeckmans has the best recent form, taking stage wins and the overall titles in Picardie and the World Ports Classic. He’s had a magnificent season but still lacks a World Tour victory. He would have a better chance, if the team had sent a sprint train with him. In WPC, he had Roelandts and Sieberg, to set up the sprint. They did a brilliant job, although he couldn’t finish it off, on stage 1. In Picardie, he had Sieberg and De Buyst, for the sprints. He lacks that type of support here, as Lotto are focused on Gallopin and Wellens. Considering where he’ll start the sprint, I just can’t see him winning.
Looking at all the sprinters and their trains, it looks like Bouhanni is at an advantage. Geoff Soupe, is the fastest, last man here. He’ll deliver Bouhanni, to the head of the race, inside the final 500metres. It’s then Bouhanni’s job to finish it off. Modolo and Mezgec won’t have the speed to come round him, as long as he launches at the right moment.
Modolo was the fastest sprinter today, but they weren’t all there. Mezgec had a mechanical and Bouhanni started way back. Today’s problem was the lack of a cohesive chase, something that often happens when we have a lack of sprinters. The same problem could resurface in this stage. Is there a team strong enough to control the closing 20km, or will a late attack, succeed?
The climb is too far out to make a difference and even in the age of crazy racing and crazier tactics, I think they’ll take it easy. All the sprinters should be there and it should be down to the best lead-out. That gives Cofidis the advantage and Bouhanni will take the stage. Cort will be put in a good position but he lacks the speed of the pure sprinters.
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