By David Hunter
Chalette Sur Loing – La Châtre 211km
Will the sprinters get to sprint?
Rain in the morning, but remaining grey in the afternoon, with a chance of more showers. The wind is stronger than today, gusting up to 50km/h. Most of the day will see speeds of around 30km/h, which is plenty strong enough for echelons. The direction of the wind is WSW, which is a headwind for the majority of the day, but not all.
The first of the main opportunities comes at km 195. The bunch are now heading south, meaning the wind is almost straight across from the right hand side. The exposed conditions continue for 5km, but we do have intermittent protection from trees during this section.
The organisers of this race are little devils! Not long after km 200, the bunch make a left turn and head onto this farm track. As it is narrow, a big selection can be made at this point. It is protected from the wind until km 207, then we have an exposed section for around one kilometre. Once off this road there is only 6km remaining, making a big bunch sprint seem very unlikely.
Relatively technical, and the road rises up in the final 3km too. We’re not talking anything steep, but if legs are already tired, it will prove to be testing.
This is proving quite a challenge to accurately predict. If we get a split late in the race teams will look to protect their GC rider, sacrificing the chances of their sprinter.
Jasper Stuyven – the winner of Omloop looks in brilliant form. He worked hard for Nibali today, but still had enough to sprint to 3rd place. The uphill finish is to his liking, but his sprint chances will depend on how much work he has to do in the wind.
Julian Alaphilippe – got a puncture today at a really bad time and lost lots of time. I want to see a reaction from the QuickStep boys, and I would be surprised if we didn’t see one. Alaphilippe taking the win is a long shot, but you just never know in this crazy race.
Cees Bol – likes the wind, loves an uphill sprint, he ticks a few boxes for this stage. As Sunweb have Tiesj Benoot here, Bol’s chances depend on Tiesj making the front group, if the race splits. If he gets the chance to sprint, he’ll be confident about winning.
Giacomo Nizzolo – what a win today, that was one hell of a ride. The likeable Italian is currently in the best form of his career, and he’s benefiting from the team not having a genuine GC contender. While his rivals are having to put their noses in the wind, he’s sitting back in the bunch simply waiting for the sprint.
Caleb Ewan – usually brilliant in the wind, the little Aussie hasn’t enjoyed the last two stages. Today he was unlucky, picking up a mechanical at the wrong time. Like Nizzolo, he arrives without a teammate targeting GC, but Lotto haven’t got it right yet. Surely it’s just a matter of time until they do.
Sam Bennett – another of the top sprinters who aren’t enjoying themselves. With the team looking to protect both him and Alaphilippe, he finds himself with only a few teammates to help. I’m not sure I see his luck changing.
Pascal Ackermann – got very close today, but his legs exploded in the sprint. With Sagan on his team I do wonder if Bora might give the former world champion the nod for this stage, but time will tell. What we do know is that Bora are looking very strong.
Strap yourself in for a crazy final 20km. Given the wind conditions, and the width of that road, the bunch has to split. As we witnessed today, you need good legs to make the front, but you also need a lot of luck. When the dust settles, I see Caleb Ewan taking the win.
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