By David Hunter
Nîmes > Carcassonne 219.5km
Will this stage be another for the breakaway riders or the sprinters?
We have three more sprint stages left in the race, today and stages 19 and 21. Cavendish is just one win away from equalling the record, but make no mistake, both he and Leferve will want two wins. Paris will obviously be a sprint finish, which means that Deceuninck Quick-Step need to try and control this stage or stage 19.
Today was an easy day, it allowed the team to recharge the batteries, I think they’ll look to control this stage and set up a sprint finish. They know that teams won’t help them, which means selecting the right break is hugely important, especially as the stage is very long. They cannot let more than six riders get up the road, and it will also be important to ensure it lacks big engines, but this is hard to do.
The bad news for Tim Declercq is that the first 2km is uphill, but the gradients are low. The road is a standard two-lane affair, but it does have cycling lanes on either side making it quite wide and hard to block. I doubt they’ll get any help, but you never know. DSM don’t have a win; they’ll still believe that Bol can win a stage. Arkéa will believe in Bouhanni too. Maybe, just maybe, teams will help the Belgians at the start to make sure the break is small. Then it’s over to DQT to chase them down.
Sunny and warm. The wind is a crosswind win for much of the stage, but quite a lot of the day is well protected by trees.
As you can see the road into Carcassonne is exposed and it’s a crosswind of around 15km/h, this will make the bunch very nervous. The strength of the wind is just about enough to cause echelons.
Left turn with 4.8km to go, it’s quite a narrow road.
Fast right-hand turn with 1.1km to go.
With 700m to go we have the final turn; it is a very fast left hander. The final 100m is slightly uphill, only around 1.5%, and it will be a tailwind.
Mark Cavendish – is this the day he equals the record? He’s got the best sprint train, and they’ve been brilliant in the race. He’s currently the fastest man in the race and confidence is sky high. If he gets in the right position, he wins the stage.
Cees Bol – if QuickStep have to use up men early in the stage, DSM will sense a chance of bossing the closing kilometres. They still have Kragh, Pedersen, Nieuwenhuis and Eekhoff to lead Bol out, that’s a very strong sprint train. As I’ve mentioned previously, Bol needed racing in his legs before he would be challenging for the win, that moment has now arrived.
Wout Van Aert – he can do it all! Second in the last sprint, he’ll be hoping to go one better in this one. He only has Teunissen to help position him, but that was good enough in the last sprint to get onto Cav’s wheel. He won’t be launching his sprint from the front; does he have the speed to come past Cavendish?
Jasper Philipsen – he’s been nice and consistent in the race, but I’m not sure he has the speed to win. The team are also suffering without van der Poel and Merlier, they did have the best train but no more.
Nacer Bouhanni – another who’s been nice and consistent in the sprints, but it’s unlikely we’ll see him win.
Philippe Gilbert – breakaway hopeful number 1.
Jonas Rutsch – breakaway hopeful number 2.
Oli Naesen – breakaway hopeful number 3.
Jan Bakelants – breakaway hopeful number 4.
Deceuninck – Quick Step to control the stage and Mark Cavendish will get the record equalling win. I think we’ll see echelons in the closing stages, we’ll have to see if one of the main GC riders loses time.
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