The profile above suggests a sterile stage with a flat route and a sprint finish. But today’s stage hugs the exposed coastline for a long time and there’s an uncategorised climb before the finish to derail the sprint trains.
- Km 38.0 – Côte du Mont Huon2.1 kilometre-long climb at 4.1% – category 4
- Km 69.0 – Côte de Dieppe1.8 kilometre-long climb at 3.9% – category 4
- Km 74.0 – Côte de Pourville-sur-Mer1.9 kilometre-long climb at 4.4% – category 4
- Km 143.0 – Côte de Toussaint1.9 kilometre-long climb at 4.5% – category 4
Mørkøv Mania: Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank’s Michael Mørkøv has an unbeatable lead in the mountains competition, he can finally spend the day in the bunch safe in the knowledge that his jersey is safe. It’s time to applaud the Dane. A track rider, he spent four years working as a carpenter meaning his day revolved around woodwork, whether riding the boards or sawing them. His team came to the race with modest ambitions, Omega-QS’s Danish DS Brian Holm even said they looked like a bunch of “charity riders” at one point and it’s true they are a team on a modest budget built for Alberto Contador and without him, they don’t promise a lot. But three days on the rampage means a track rider is the race’s best climber and well done to him. As for the name, Mørkøv is a Dane but the name almost sounds Russian which will delight new team sponsor Oleg Tinkov and you pronounce it a bit like “moer-kurf”.
Back to the race. As you can see from the map above the race follows the coast for much of the day but the forecast – see below – is not suggesting anything too severe. Still the route is exposed and when the wind gusts the fight for position in the bunch is just that bit harder. The weather also means a headwind once the riders turn inland.
The intermediate sprint: just at the point where the race turns inland at Fécamp. It’s through the town for the first two kilometres with some corners before a straightforward sprint.
The finish: the race heads into the finish in Rouen along the River Seine but there’s a small climb with 11km to go. It’s not categorised but it’s uphill at 4%. The road is wide, so wide that soon after it starts there’s an extra lane for traffic to overtake slow-moving vehicles, whether they’re trucks or bulky Belgian bikers. But it’s just enough to blunt the legs of the sprinters before the road heads down into the finish.
It’s an urban finish with the approach going through the town but without anything too drastic. There flamme rouge kilometre sign is on a bridge which riders turn right onto and then under the sign and then left onto the finishing straight for 750m to the line.
This looks like a classic sprint stage and we should see Orica-Greenedge and Lotto-Belisol go ahead to head whilst Mark Cavendish rides like a pinball to position himself. We also have Mark Renshaw, Tyler Farrar, Kenny Van Hummel, Alessandro Petacchi, Oscar Freire, J-J Haedo and Yauhueni Hutarovich. Peter Sagan will be there; he could win but he’ll want more points. Meanwhile Marcel Kittel is on the mend from an intestinal virus so his aim will be to finish the stage with his white shorts still intact so team mate Tom Veelers is the man for the sprints. If I had to bet, I’d pick André Greipel today.
The Caboose: André Greipel is clearly the rider to follow in the sprints. Indeed this was what Cavendish did on Monday when he beat him.
- Greipel is powerful, he was one a handful of sprinters able to stay with the main bunch over the hills yesterday.
- His bulk makes him the ideal wheel to be on.
- He prefers a long range sprint rather than pouncing for the line with 50m to go.
So what do you do? In times past all trains in the US had to have a caboose. This was a wagon hitched to the back of the train that was staffed and had brakes. The idea was that if the engine up front propelled the train then the caboose – or brake wagon – could be used to stop it in an emergency. What’s this got to do with cycling? Well teams deploy sprint trains and one solution for Lotto-Belisol is to attach a rider as a caboose wagon to the back of their sprint train, so sit on Greipel’s wheel so that when the German Gorilla rampages for the line the team mate behind does not. In an instant a gap opens up and other riders have to work hard to catch Greipel. It’s not an original idea but it can work.
Weather: clouds with a bit of sunshine poking through at times. A top temperature of 22°C (71°F) and a breeze from the south-west. It’s not enough to make anything tactical.
TV: as usual from 2.15pm Euro time with the finish expected between 5.00 and 5.30pm. The racing is never 100% predictable but today does look like a sprint finish so the last half hour should contain most of the action.
Local rider: a retro pick with Jacques Anquetil. The five times winner of the Tour was born and died in Rouen. A time trial specialist with a smooth pedalling style and sharp cheekbones, he was known to keep a comb in his back pocket and always looked fresh, even if he’d just surrendered time in the mountains. Holder of the hour record, a force in the classics, he is one of the all time greats in cycling. In 1961 he took the yellow jersey on the opening day of the Tour and kept it all the way to the end. He was popular but seen as a calculating rider, especially in juxtaposition to Raymond Poulidor and Anquetil’s reputation took a dip with outrage over his ménage à trois with his wife and step-daughter.
Food: not food but drink. The cool coastal climate of the Normandy region lends itself to apple production and a lot of this is made into cider or cidre.
Do: learn to enjoy sprint finishes. Otherwise the next three days could be boring.
Don’t: ignore the riders at the back of the race. Several are ill and riding to stay in the race. Saur-Sojasun’s Brice Feillu has been “quarantined” by his team in a bid to avoid spreading the virus with a separate hotel room and he is driven to the race in a team car whilst the others take the team bus. The Tour is one of the few sports events where the last guy on the day is a hero and where you can “lose” at the start but recover and, just maybe, win later.