4 days in, and we get to see our first stage which is mostly in France. The 207.5km stage to Vittel (unlike Adam Yates into Vittel Flamme Rouge 2016) is another one for the pure sprinters with not much to offer for the breakaway, but that isn’t to say the stage won’t be exciting.
The riders jump back over the border into Luxembourg for the start in Mondorf-Les-Bains, but head due south almost immediately back into France. The race route is on a similar course, weaving past Metz and Nancy on the way down to Vittel. There are a few uncategorised lumps on the day, namely Saint-Privat-La-Montagne at 63km and Vandeléville at 166.5km just before the only categorised climb of the day. Speaking of that climb, the Col des Trois Fontaines is 1.9km at 7.4% and maxes out at 12% at the peak. It’s a tough short climb, but it shouldn’t influence either the KoM rankings or the peloton in their race to the final 500m. The intermediate sprint also just proceeds the Col des Trois Fontaines at 170.5km, with a sprint point in Goviller at 157.5km.
The last few kilometers into Vittel is up and down. From the Flamme Rouge, the riders have an uphill sprint into Vittel. Uphill sprints usually mean drafting to the last second and peeking out with just enough time to inch for the win. It benefits the smaller sprinters who can just stick themselves behind the muscular ones who have to power up the hill. There are also some cobblestones near the finish of the stage and a couple of roundabouts in the lead-up, which could throw out some sprint trains and make for a rather chaotic sprint.
The weather tomorrow in France is expected to be beautiful for a bike race. A little overcast but 26C, so a bit warm for the Europeans. There is also negligible wind on the day, a 6kmh slight tailwind, so the stage might be a bit faster than expected. The roads on the way to Vittel are long, straight and open, but the wind shouldn’t be enough to cause echelons. The rain has also cleared and won’t be expected to return for the rest of the Tour.
The GC Situation
Although Bardet had a fall with around 30km to go, he wasn’t injured nor did he lose time. There was also a slightly larger crash only took out a few riders including Alexis Vuillermoz but no time was lost and no favourites went down. On the climb into Longwy, Talansky and Yates both lost significant time on the GC favourites, while a few seconds were lost here and there between riders like Bardet and Barguil.
Top 10 GC Contenders
- Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) – 10:00:31
- Chris Froome (Team Sky) – 12″
- Pierre Latour (AG2R) – 25″
- Emanuel Buchmann (Bora) – 40″
- Simon Yates (Orica) – 45″
- Richie Porte (BMC) – 47″
- Nairo Quintana (Movistar) – 48″
- Rafal Majka (Bora) – 49″
- Romain Bardet (AG2R) – 51″
- Fabio Aru (Astana) – 52″
An uphill sprint favours the small and the powerful. Marcel Kittel took out the first sprint stage into Liege, but I think he is too big a unit to take it in Vittel. In a similar vein, Andre Greipel is probably too well built to win against the smaller guys. The only larger guy I see with a chance of winning is the guy who can win anywhere, Peter Sagan. Of the small men, Alexander Kristoff has the whole of Katusha behind him, while Arnaud Demare will have a slightly reduced leadout to his last one on French soil to win Nats, but nevertheless both have great chances.
However, my pick for the day is the Manx Missile, Mark Cavendish. He took out 4 stages last year, and Dimension Data have all eyes on Cav in the first week of this Tour. The small feisty Manxman will want to get at least one go on the podium at this years Tour, and his best chance is into Vittel (especially with the minimal climbing on the day). Allez, Cav!
~ The Cycling Raven