It’s Philippe Gilbert’s birthday today. He won the opening stage of the Tour on the day of his wife’s birthday and everything points to a repeat today. Almost.
The first climb La Côte de Laz is 1.6km at 5.9%, big ring territory and only one point on offer as it’s a fourth category climb.
Just 12km later, the intermediate sprint is tricky, featuring some traffic islands on the approach and then an uphill, curving finish the line. The gradient is inconsequential but watch out for Mark Cavendish and Thor Hushovd saying “excuse me” and “could I possibly move into that gap” as they make polite progress for the line.
The rest of the stage is lumpy and riders will be braking and accelerating a lot. But the finish is the key. The Mûr de Bretagne is unlike some Belgian murs, this is wide and well surfaced. In fact mûr with the circumflex accent on the letter U does not mean “wall”, it means “ripe” in French although today’s Mûr is apparently derived from ancient Breton muriou, meaning “wall”. But the only linguistics later today will be the tongues hanging out of the mouths of some riders as the toil up to the line.
Known as the Alpe d’Huez of Brittany… there’s not a hairpin bend in sight. Instead it’s a long ramp with only a slight curve towards the end, if there’s a breakaway the bunch will be able to aim for it from a long way out. It’s 2km at 6.9% but don’t listen to the average gradient. It starts at 10% for 500m, then levels to 9% for 500m and then 5.5% until 2.4% for the final 500m. A categorised climb, it offers two points for the winner and one for second place.
Tactics: Don’t forget there are two races, one for the stage and one for the yellow jersey. Gilbert is the big favourite and even with this pressure he seems to win. Last Saturday we knew he was going to win but it didn’t make the race any less exciting. But several others will want their say and the climb is longer and steeper than Saturday, meaning a more tactical finish so don’t rule out others, whether Cadel Evans or some of the climbers, perhaps even Alberto Contador. As strong as he is, I can’t see Gilbert reclaiming enough time and I’m not sure Cadel Evans and his team want the yellow jersey this early, given the pressure it can bring although Evans might well take the stage. David Millar could be in with a chance of yellow to make it a bonus for Garmin-Cervélo but there are several from Leopard-Trek and Sky in contention too.
But the teams with ambitions for the overall in Paris are also near the top of the overall right now. They could take yellow but just how much do they want this? I suspect they don’t and so these teams might not chase a breakaway. The sprinters teams won’t be chasing either. Consequently it could fall to Omega Pharma-Lotto to do all the work and therefore the chances of a breakaway succeeding go up a bit.
Rules: In the light of the mild controversy on Stage 1, note the 3km rule is suspended today.
Weather: there’s talk of rain, it could be slippery in the final as it hasn’t rained for days. The wind could reach 30km/h which means crosswinds for much of the last 90km, just about strong enough to split the bunch if teams really try but this is far from certain. But mild at 21°C (70°F).