Stage 3 of this years Tour sees the riders arrive on French soil, with a drive by Belgium and Luxembourg. With many punchy climbs dotted along the 212.5km stage, and an Ardennes-style finish into Longwy, this stage could go anywhere.
Similar to yesterday’s stage to Liege, the riders tackle a categorised climb right off the bat departing Verviers. The Côte de Sart 18km in is one of 3 Cat 4 climbs on the day, and the break will probably be forming as the climb looms. It’s 2.8km in length and averages 5.1% in gradient, although there is climbing before the categorised climb actually starts. After the Côte de Sart, there are false flats for the next 40km as the riders cross the border from Belgium into Luxembourg. The only sprint point for the day is in Wincrange 89km into the race, at one of the flatter points of the stage.
The riders will tackle two categorised climbs while in Luxembourg. The first of those, the Côte de Wiltz, is 105.5km into the stage. It’s the longest but shallowest climb of the day – 3.1km at 4.8%. The Cat 3 Côte d’Eschdorf is only a short 15km after the Côte de Wiltz, and will be a climb that could put some riders into difficulty. Averaging 9.3% over 2.3km, there is no wonder the climb is a popular hill-climbing race spot, and is the first climb to the Tour to feature switchbacks (3 of them). There are a couple of bumps that are uncategorised on the Tour’s drive-through Luxembourg as well, at Saeul (143.5km) and Dippach (165.5km), with the riders leaving Luxembourg at around km 184.
The final 30-ish kilometer stretch of the stage takes place in France – hooray, the Tour is home! Two climbs await the riders in France, the Côte de Villers-la-Montagne (1.1km at 5.2%) with 15km to go, and the final stretch into Longwy. The 1.6km climb averages 5.8% and has two hard corners with around 800m to go. The climb shallows out near the top, but pitches of 11% in the first km of the climb might be enough to drop the pure sprinters and give the puncheurs a chance to break away for the win. The ride to the line is straight and open along Avenue Charles de Gaulle, but nevertheless uphill all the way.
The rain will stop for the Tour to arrive at Longwy. The weather leaving Verviers for the stage is meant to be dry too, with the riders having a 14kmh headwind all the way down into Luxembourg, before the wind changes to a 14kmh crosswind after the border. The conditions at the finish are expected to be completely dry and a pleasant 21 degrees, but an easterly crosswind on the final climb (which swaps to a headwind between the two corners on the Côte des Religieuses) of around 15km could influence whether riders go solo or the pack stays together. Nothing too major, but there is little protection on the roads through Luxembourg and some splits could be formed.
The GC Situation
The stage into Liege was a sprint stage, and most of the GC Contenders sheltered themselves safely inside the peloton in the rain even after the crash with 30km to go. Froome went down but was safely escorted back to the peloton, while Bardet went down. Only one abandon today in Luke Durbridge after his crash yesterday, and he will be sorely missed by the Orica GC leaders as a domestique on the flats.
Top 10 GC Contenders
- Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) – 16’04”
- Chris Froome (Team Sky) – 12″
- Pierre Latour (AG2R) – 25″
- Andrey Amador (Movistar) – 27″
- Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo) – 31″
- Simon Yates (Orica) – 37″
- Emanuel Buchmann (Bora) – 40″
- Richie Porte (BMC) – 47″
- Nairo Quintana (Movistar) – 48″
- Andrew Talansky (Cannondale) – 49″
I can see tomorrow’s stage going either one of two ways – a solo break wins or a reduced bunch sprint. The early slopes of the Longwy climb are too steep for pure sprinters to stay with the faster puncheurs; and there is even a possibility of riders getting dropped on the Côte d’Eschdorf and not rejoining in the crosswind. Peter Sagan will feature in the finale being one of the best sprinters in the world to deal with these punchy finishes along with Michael Matthews. More puncheur-style classics riders like Edvald Boasson Hagen, Greg van Avermaet and Philippe Gilbert will also make an appearance on the climbs. Riders more suited to the Ardennes like Michal Kwiatkowski and Michael Albasini will try and make a break for it and go solo on the final sections of the climb.
My pick falls from the latter of the three styles. Dan Martin loves a short and steep finish, just look at his performances at Liege-Bastogne-Liege! Without Valverde, I see Dan Martin being able to approach this stage without his most major threat and take it with both hands. Quickstep’s goal this year isn’t focused on GC either; they want as many stages wins as possible. Dan Martin is perfectly suited to take this stage. Sitting 49″ back means he probably won’t have the opportunity to take Yellow unless he really blows the pack away, but that probably won’t worry the Irishman with the best chance of winning into Longwy.
~ The Cycling Raven