By David Hunter
Albertville > Valence 190.5km
Let the second week begin.
The battle for yellow looks over, but the fight for green is very much alive. This stage is one for the fast men, but coming after a demanding weekend, and a rest day, we’ll have to see who has the legs required to take the win.
Some sites predict thunderstorms for the afternoon, not what the riders want to hear. The wind is mainly a headwind/crosshead wind for the whole day, which isn’t great news for the breakaway riders. There is also a chance the wind becomes very strong for the finale of the race.
Please remember that predicting thunderstorms is a tricky business, even harder than predicting the winner of bike races!
The intermediate sprint comes at the top of this little drag. As it’s 4km at 3.7% I would expect Bahrain to make the pace hard to drop Cavendish, giving Colbrelli a chance to take more points back.
This unclassified climb crests with 36km to go. It might only be 5.4km at 3.7% but teams need to try and test out Cavendish, they simply cannot afford to simply roll to the line and let him take another sprint win. They will ride it hard and see what happens. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
This turn with 9.3km could be quite significant in the fight for the stage win and maybe overall podium. Once the bunch turn right, they are hit with a full crosswind, potentially up to 50km/h, if you believe some sites. The road is nice and exposed, this lasts for 1.5km, plenty of time to put the race in the gutter and create echelons. The wind direction is going to be crucial, the wind needs to be coming from the west for the bunch to have some fun, if it’s north-west then we won’t see splits. The road turns with 6.2km to go, back into a headwind, so we’re not talking about major gaps in the GC, but teams will still try.
We have three roundabouts between 5km and 4km to go, but with less sprinters in the race the bunch will be easier to control, but the final kilometre is tricky.
With 800m to go the bunch are forced down the right-hand side, which means a huge rush to control this point as the road narrows soon after.
With 400m to go things get very narrow indeed. On the roadbook it looks like a right turn, but in reality, the bunch take the slip road on the right and it’s a big gentle turn.
You can see how narrow it is, the whole peloton will be in single file for this, and you must be in the first five wheels to have a realistic chance of winning, especially as there’s only 200m left once you get out of the corner. This isn’t a well-designed finish.
Groupama – FDJ were one of the teams who would chase the morning break, but not now that Démare is out of the race. That means we have one less team to chase, leaving the responsibility on the shoulders of Deceuninck – Quick Step, DSM, Alpecin-Fenix and maybe Trek-Segafredo. Some of saying that DQT won’t chase as they are worried about Cavendish losing green, I think this is nonsense, he’s just two wins away from equalling the record.
The headwind is very good news for teams that want a sprint, it will deter the strong riders from trying to jump in the break, better to save energy for other stages. I think we’ll see a relatively weak break get away, then the sprint teams will take over. It will be interesting to see what happens after the intermediate sprint, especially if some teams try to put pressure on Cavendish, you could see DQT getting the hump at this point!
Then we have the final unclassified climb, DQT know that teams will race this and try to drop Cavendish. Even though it’s very unlikely they’ll succeed, a team like Bahrain need to take advantage of every hill in sprint stages.
Then we have potential crosswinds in the final 10km, something that will make the GC teams nervous. DQT have a full team still in the race, this is perfect for them, especially as Cavendish is brilliant in an echelon. It might look like a boring sprint stage, but I have a feeling this will be much more entertaining than it seems.
Mark Cavendish – we’ve had two full sprints and he’s taken two convincing wins. Just two wins away from equalling the record, he won’t say it, but he’s starting to believe! Now that Alaphilippe is out of the GC picture the team can afford to throw all their strength behind Cavendish, something that will give him a big advantage. Yes, teams will try to hurt him on the unclassified climb, but I don’t see him getting into difficulty. This is a huge chance for him to win another stage and move within touching distance of Merckx.
Jasper Philipsen – he’s already taken two second places and a third, which is a great return. He’s now without van der Poel and Merlier, which will make it very difficult for his team to dominate the final kilometre. Alpecin-Fenix did have the best sprint train, we’ll have to see how they adapt without two big hitters, but they still have Rickaert. Winning the stage will be tough for the Belgian.
Cees Bol – his form is steadily building; I did warn you he needed some racing in the legs before he was competitive. DSM have a good sprint train at the race, they have five strong riders looking to get Bol to the head of the race for the sprint. The hills in this stage are good for him, especially if they knock some speed off Cavendish’s kick. With the final bend opening up at 200 to go, the team with the best sprint train has a great chance of taking this stage, will it be his turn?
Peter Sagan – top 5, podium on a very good day.
Sonny Colbrelli – form of his life! Still won’t win a flat sprint though.
Nacer Bouhanni – his performances in the sprint stages have been a pleasant surprise to me. It’s been a while since he’s been competitive at this level, it’s nice to have him back. Can he win? I still don’t see it happening, but another podium is possible.
Wout Van Aert – compared to the other sprinters he’s used up a huge amount of energy over the weekend. He does possess the power to win, but he doesn’t have much help, and isn’t as strong as he was last year.
Mads Pedersen – has the power required to challenge for the win, but Trek-Segafredo decided to go with a three-man sprint train, which isn’t enough in a race like this. Theuns and Stuyven are still good enough to get it right, but it takes great legs and some luck.
Everything is pointing to another win for Mark Cavendish.
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