The Spin: Stage 4

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Stage 4

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.

Mûr de Bretagne

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).

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{ 10 comments }

Jan July 5, 2011 at 9:36 am

I say thanks for the daily information. I enjoy reading before the stage.

Toby July 5, 2011 at 10:55 am

why is the 3km rule suspended for today?

Ankush July 5, 2011 at 10:58 am

I would like to see some rider from Saur-Sojasun to be a part of the breakaway today. Given that they’re the smallest team in the Tour, they should be fighting more.

The Inner Ring July 5, 2011 at 11:01 am

Jan: thanks, it’s always good to hear from readers, with good… or bad feedback.

Toby: because it is! I think it’s because the final climb is long and not the place for a high speed crash in the style of a bunch sprint. If someone hits the deck, more likely to be their fault. The rule isn’t applied to “summit” finishes.

Ankush: yes and it’s their home region today. Even the DS is from the region.

Rider Council July 5, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Gilbert is predicting to gain 5 or 6 seconds over Evan’s so he is not sure if he can reclaim yellow. This just reminds me that although I enjoy the beauty and spectacle of the Tour, as a seasoned viewer of pro cycling I always find the tour to be precise, predictable and hence boring compared with other great races. It wasn’t always like that and it has great racing, great finishes, no doubt, but writing the script is so much easier for commentators and riders alike.

Breakaway artist July 5, 2011 at 2:12 pm

This is the occasion for Alberto Contador to try to gain a few seconds with a mighty attack on the Mûr … and then let Gilbert (who followed him) win the stage…. You heard it here first!

Zinoviev Letter July 5, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Rider Council is right about the Tour being more predictable than most other races. Part of that is simply that the vagaries of form are less important. You have vast majority of the best riders in the world at each specialty riding and they are almost all in peak form. At most other races, some of the best guys for any given stage won’t be there or won’t be in form, so less prominent riders have more of an opportunity.

The other part of it, of course, is the greater conservatism of the riders. Because of the Tour’s total preeminence in the season these days, the stakes are much higher and riders aren’t willing to risk throwing away a decent placing to win a stage or improve on GC. They would all rather come seventh overall than win a stage. Even the domestiques are under much tighter discipline, much greater pressure to conserve energy to help their leaders, than they are at other races.

You can see this at work in team selection too. Garmin’s most exciting rider is probably Dan Martin, but there’s no room in their Tour team for a guy whose role would basically be to ride around waiting for a hill to try an attack on. And within the confines of the Tour and the iron discipline of team goals that makes sense, even though he’d be one of the first three names on the list if they were simply going with their most talented guys.

The best thing that could happen to the Tour from the point of view of exciting racing would be for it to return to something closer to being the Roubaix of stage races: The highest prestige but not the be all and end all of a rider’s career.

Beth July 5, 2011 at 6:05 pm

Well, eh bien, your analysis/predictions were absolutely spot on! Contador is getting his legs back, fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you feel that he’s even here. I hope that we won’t be talking about him much until into the 2nd week. It has been SO nice to have other riders and other things to talk about. I’m a big Evans fan myself. And Farrar. So the last two days have been great so far as I’m concerned. BTW, I have my finger on the pulse of the race commisaires, and as soon as I saw that little contretemps between Cavendish and Hushovd, I knew for sure they were going to be all over that. I don’t agree much with it, but I have learned how the commisaires think, and I had no doubts at all about what they would do.

PT July 6, 2011 at 5:02 am

A great days racing which was topped for me (an Aussie) by Cadel taking the stage. Fantastic finish with so many different scenarios playing out. Thor H – amazing ride. Is he turning into the Gar-Cerv GC guy now? Alberto turned up at the front and had a little go while Andy and Cav are still largely MIA.

Thanks for the commentary too.

LeonG July 6, 2011 at 8:53 pm

Interestingly, Andy could not follow!

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