Having said in the first part of the preview that the prologue was for specialists and that Monday’s stage finish in the Chartreuse massif was “the sort of terrain where Thomas Voeckler, Alexander Vinokourov, Cadel Evans and many others might want to have a try before the likes of Boasson-Hagen eye up the sprint”, the following stages are actually a touch easier to predict.
This is a sprinters’ stage in theory. Just look at the profile and the early terrain is mildly hilly, enough to let a few riders try their luck in a breakaway but the terrain gets progressively flatter, to the benefit of the sprinters’ teams who will be hunting down any escapees. Several teams have a sprinter, notably HTC-Highroad with John Degenkolb, Garmin-Cervélo with Tyler Farrar, Sky with Boasson-Hagen and Saxo have two in the Haedo brothers
But that’s the theory. The finish isn’t as straightforward as it looks. The race enters Lyon – France’s second or third city depending on whether you ask someone from Marseille – and it finishes up a small climb. The climb is categorised and not steep or long, it’s a gradient of 4.8% for 1,400m up to the Croix Rousse quarter of the city, above the Saone river. It’s a finish suited to the likes of Boasson Hagen and also Dekenkolb but possibly a stretch too far for the Haedos and Farrar, as useful as Farrar can be in a hilly finish. So look out for Samuel Dumoulin, Grega Bole and maybe Yukiya Arashiro or Fabian Wegmann but if the bunch hesitates, don’t be surprised to see Vinokourov pounce. It’s great to see the race finish in Lyon and to use the final climb.
This time the profile is obvious. 42.5km against the clock and plenty of climbing. Nothing steep, but the course is very hard and reasonably technical. The course is identical to the Stage 20 of the Tour de France.
When asked about the course, a French rider simply said “ouuff“, indicating the pain ahead. More eloquently Jérôme Coppel reckons “you start climbing within 5km… you can’t afford to lose time on the first climb… but go in the red here and you’ll pay for it straight away“. Cadel Evans is looking strong and Bradley Wiggins will be out to avenge faulty handlebars from the prologue. It’ll also be a good test for Jurgen Van Den Broeck, he’s clearly on form but can he do it against the clock? Either way, if a time trial is the “race of truth”, this course is a veritable inquisition.
A sprinters stage. This time every team with a sprinter will know this is their day and good luck to anyone trying to get away, it will almost be futile. There’s always an exception to prove the rule but Tyler Farrar and Co. are licking their lips not in anticipation of the fine burgundy wines in Macon but for the flat finish.
Here come the mountains, with a ski station finish. But don’t get carried away. The final climb is categorised as a second category climb but it was used in the Tour de France last summer and mid-stage the climb to Les Gets was only a third category climb, although the riders did start the ascension a little higher up. Either way, this isn’t a steep climb, nor long. It’s 10km at under 5%. So a similar finish to Monday’s climb and expect similar contenders, but this time the stage could well see a breakaway in with a better chance of making it to the line. If Monday’s stage went past Cofidis’s Samuel Dumoulin’s home, this one goes right past Jérôme Coppel’s home but I suspect he’s waiting for the real mountains ahead over the weekend.