By David Hunter
After three difficult days, the riders would have been looking forward to this stage. That would have been until they looked at the weather forecast. This is another hard day in the saddle
The stage takes place very close to the English Channel, a stretch of river known for it’s bad weather. This is just down from the finish in Zelande, if that helps you a little!
We will have scattered showers for most of the afternoon, but the wind is the issue. Coming from the west will be 22mph(35km/h) wind. That means it’s going to be a crosswind for most of the stage.
Changes of direction are where riders look to take advantage and we have a few turns, along the way. The right turn at Assevillers and the turn in Albert are the critical points of the race. Teams will go crazy to be at the front, at that point. Once their, you have the chance to create an echelon and anyone lacking positioning is facing a long day in the saddle.
If the elastic still hasn’t broken there is one more chance to do so, the right hand turn heading to Corbie. After that, it’s a headwind for the remainder of the stage. If echelons have been created, there will be a number of groups, making it difficult to organise an effective chase.
Etixx are usually the best team in these conditions, but they arrive without their Belgian specialists: Boonen, Terpstra, Vandenbergh, Lampaert and Van Keirsbulk. That hands the initiative to Tinkoff-Saxo. The Russian/Danish hybrid are brilliant in these conditions, as witnessed during stage 2. They have lots of experience and gutsy riders in Sagan, Bennati, Tossato and Kreuziger. Contador lost some time on the Mur and needs to strike back. This is a perfect opportunity to expose the weaknesses of Froome, Nibali and Quintana.
If you want to win the stage, you need to tag along and hope to make the final selection. Riders in great form are Tony Martin, Marcel Sieberg, Geraint Thomas, Tony Gallopin, Peter Sagan and Warren Barguil. Sagan has lots of critics but everyone must be impressed by his current level. He was outstanding today, especially closing the gap to the front group, after the final cobbles. He is brilliant in the wind, seemingly able to move up the group, whenever he wants. Sagan is the man for poor conditions and stands a great chance of winning the stage. His first job is helping Contador and then he gets to chase stage glory.
Cavendish and Greipel made the move, on stage 2, and would hope to do the same here. Cav is the better rider in the wind, and also looked in good form today. He will be looking to make amends and take a stage, but that all depends on him making the front group. Etixx have Tony Martin and Rigoberto Uran to look after, Cav might just have to fend for himself. If he misses the split, they also have Matteo Trentin, who will be looking to add to his two stage wins, in the Tour de France.
The top sprint trains are all lacking men, after a brutal start to the race. Lotto will be without Hansen, Henderson and probably, Debusschere. He crashed during stage 2 and hasn’t looked himself yet. Greipel still has Sieberg, a massive part of his earlier success.
Kristoff doesn’t have Kozontchuk and Haller. Degenkolb will probably be without Sinkeldam and Dumoulin. All the big sprint trains are poorer than they were, apart from Etixx. They still have a full squad and most importantly, they are all fit! This is a positive and negative. If we get a sprint, they will dominate the closing kilometres and put Cavendish into a great position. However, no other team, will help them chase the race. Etixx, and in particular Cavendish, don’t always respond well to this.
Cofidis still have all their riders. With the top teams missing bodies, they will stand a much better chance of getting involved in the sprint. Bouhanni was impressive today and he also rides well in poor conditions. He won a stage in the 2014 Vuelta, in crosswinds.
The wind, the rain, the sore bodies, this is a good day to make the break. The possibility of crosswinds does make it difficult for the break to make it, but this is a good day to try. We might see, Jan Barta, trying his luck again.
There are many exposed roads and Tinkoff will put the hammer down. We won’t get a full bunch sprint. Just like in stage 2, in horrible conditions, I’ll go with a rider who will make the final selection. Yet again, I’m going for Peter Sagan! But if Cav makes the split, he wins;)
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