The prince owns everything in the kingdom, except the wind.
Victor Hugo, La légende des siècles
An air of summer holidays as the race heads across the south of France on the 14 July, the French national day. Whilst those in Paris are treated to a North Korean style military parade, the south should see a hard day’s racing. At first glance this looks like a day for the sprinters. But there are two surprises waiting for the riders in the final 40km: the Mont St Clair and a crosswind.
- Km 194.0 – Mont Saint-Clair1.6 kilometre-long climb at 10.2% – category 3
The Route: the start in St Paul Trois Chateaux sounds charming with the name implying three castles. It is a nice place but dominated by a giant nuclear power station which saps the charm a bit. Once under way the route is flat and exposed and the race will speed past vineyards and fields of sunflowers.
The Intermediate Sprint: held in Mas de Londres, “London village”, this seems like a tribute to Mark Cavendish on the day L’Equipe crowns him as the “greatest sprinter of the Tour de France”. Held on a rural road, there’s a slight drag to the line.
Mont Saint Clair: 23km from the finish, this short sharp climb can do some damage. It climbs out of Sète, a town sandwiched between the sea and a lagoon. 1.6km at over 10% means it’s a hard climb especially as it has a brief section above 16% as the road passes the cemetery. Cycling historians will remember the name as it was often used for the defunct Midi-Libre stage race. When used in this race the finish was selective but this time I think it’ll just prove awkward for the sprinters. They might lose time but they should be able to get back… although this will cost them energy.
After the race passes along the coast. The route here is flat and exposed and if gaps open up on the climb, teams can grow them by driving hard as there will be a crosswind from the right. It need not take much organisation given many will be rushing for the finish. Indeed the pressure to be at the front could incite a crash.
The finish: it looks like a hill but actually the profile is exaggerating a lot, this is flat. Instead the main difficulty comes from the sharp corner in the final kilometre although it is more of a sweeping bend that passes under a bridge.
The Race: a sprint or a breakaway? I think this is for the bunch sprinters but the wind, the hills and the French national holiday could make this less likely. Orica-Greenedge have plenty of motivation to try and win one and we should see others with an incentive to haul back the breakaway.
Weather: sunny but not too hot. 27°C (80°F) and a 30km/h wind from the north-west. This matters because on a flat coastal roads the bunch is exposed to the crosswind. The race can split apart here but 30km/h is not enough to guarantee trouble.
TV: coverage will start at 2.00pm. The finish is expected between 4.50-5.30pm Euro time.
Do: watch the French riders. FDJ’s Marc Madiot keeps a CD in the team bus with the Marseillaise, the French national anthem and plays it loud on the morning of the 14 July. There’s always extra motivation to shine today. But the French revolution is already taking shape with Pinot, Rolland and others, this time local hopes don’t rest on a few fugitives trying to storm the finish line.
Don’t: stray too far. I gather Europe’s biggest nudist beach is nearby.