By David Hunter
Nice – Nice 134km
Quite a short stage, but still lots of climbing for the peloton.
With the GC all but sewn up, some of the other riders might just come out to play.
The early climbs are all quite easy, the race will really hot up as we climb Cote de Peille. It’s 6.5km at 6.9%, so a proper test. It does crest with just under 50km remaining, so I doubt it will be crucial. Strava fans might be interested that Romain Bardet holds the record at 14:49. Not a long enough climb to cause the main riders any issues.
After a long descent, it’s the Col d’Eze. Usually used as the decisive TT, it’s back in this firecracker of a stage. Almost the same stage appeared in the 2014 edition of the race, won by Carlos Betancur. Here is the stage from two years ago.
We can draw a lot of comparisons from that race. Despite many attacks it ended in a bunch sprint. We had 26 riders jostling for the win, but a crash brought down 4 of them. In the end, it was Arthur Vichot winning the stage from Rojas and Gautier. None of the sprinters managed to survive the climbs. This year, we have a different breed of sprinter.
Michael Matthews will again be the favourite for the stage. He coped with Ventoux, so Col d’Eze shouldn’t really be an issue. Orica will need to support him better, they need more riders than just Impey and Yates. However, Team Sky will be very keen on keeping the race together and securing the yellow jersey for Geraint Thomas.
Matthews is the only sprinter I think can survive the final climb, the puncheurs will really hope he doesn’t. Without Matthews, the field is quite even. I would expect to see a battle between Slagter, Felline, Gallopin and Chavanel.
The other sprinter who will hope to survive is Ben Swift. He was very easy on the climbs during Friday’s stage. This stage represents a huge challenge for him and it’s right on the limit. Even if he does survive, he might have to chase down attacks for Geraint Thomas. If he wants to take the stage, Michael Matthews has to be dropped. He just isn’t fast enough to have him in the sprint. Saying that, there is no guarantee he beats Felline and Slagter either.
A break has an okay chance, but Sky like to keep the race together. With quite a few teams still chasing a win, they should get help from other squads. Cannondale and Trek are two that have the men and a great chance of winning, Orica are another.
Sky will close down the attacks as he head back into Nice, creating a small bunch finish. Will Matthews make it? He’s had a very difficult week, with plenty of exertion. His big target is Milan Sanremo, just a week away. I think he looks like a greedy rider and would love to take another stage win. I’ll go with Matthews to make it stage number 3.
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