Maybe something random will happen today? Otherwise it’s a dull dash across northern France where many TV viewers in France will be having a siesta on the sofa before the adrenalin rush of the sprint finish. Meanwhile the riders risk being cold and wet whilst dodging crashes, today is the day to spectate rather than participate.
But the last kilometres are trickier than they look with tight turns and a gradient to the finish line.
Note as of today you’ll find the standings in each classification at the bottom of the page.
The route: flat and straight. The race is speeding eastwards across France to make to the Planche des Belles Filles summit finish for Saturday. There are no categorised climbs and the race organisers have not tried to do something wild with the route. Not every day can have an action-packed climb. The trouble at the moment is that a handful of riders attack at the start and off they go, there’s no scrap to form the breakaway. This will change once the terrain doesn’t suit the sprinters.
The day starts with a tribute to Jean Robic, the départ réel marks the very spot where he took the yellow jersey in 1947. Like it or not the Tour wallows in nostalgia like few other sports. But past exploits are worth remembering. Talking of history the race sweeps through landscapes today’s stage passes many battlegrounds from the 1914-18 war. It also passes through a town called Crèvecœur-le-Grand, or “big heartbrake”. A great place for an Elvis-themed hotel.
The intermediate sprint: a long straight and flat approach, nothing tricky here.
The finish: harder than it looks. From the map above it doesn’t look too bad but it gets narrow when the race takes the quay alongside the canal where’s the sharp left onto the road and then another when they leave the waterfront. Also see the roundabout just before the flamme rouge? It looks like you can go both ways based on the Tour’s map above but in fact you need to pass this on the right as the route heads off to the right. Then it’s a long wide boulevard all the way to the finish although as the profile shows, it’s uphill at 2.8% for the final kilometre, with a max of 4% before it eases for the line.
André Greipel must be the obvious pick today. He’s finished second on Stage 2 and won yesterday and comes with a team capable of a great sprint train. But nothing’s certain and after yesterday’s crash others will have injured their pride. Cavendish often bounces back well from these setbacks. Expect Goss to come close. Sagan is almost sprinting for points rather than stage wins but will surely have a go.
Green jersey tactics: Peter Sagan’s versatile abilities have allowed him to score points in the uphill finishes but also in the two sprint finishes and the intermediate points. He’s now over 50 points ahead of Goss, Greipel and Cavendish and if the pure sprinters can close the gap today and tomorrow, Sagan could strike later when they cannot, especially in the intermediate sprints on mountain stages. Greipel didn’t contest yesterday’s intermediate sprint. Is this a sign people realise Sagan’s hold on the green jersey is irreversible and Greipel was keeping his legs fresh for the finale? Probably but Greipel can now ease back even more knowing he’s got a stage win whilst Goss might have to keep plugging away knowing he might not get a stage win but consistent sprinting could get him closer to green.
Transfer time: once the racing is done the teams have a two hour drive to get to the hotel, the first of several long transfers. Riders are tired and hungry and no matter how comfortable the team bus they want to get to the hotel to relax.
Weather: Rain is forecast and cool temperatures of 17°C (62°). Normally rhe wind isn’t expected to rise beyond a gentle 10km/h breeze from the south. But there’s the possibility of a thunderstorm which could make the wind gust to a wild 65km/h.
TV: the same as usual, video from around 2.15pm Euro time and the finish expected between 5.00pm and 5.30pm. But with several sprint teams reluctant to work too hard the arrivals have been later than planned.
Local rider: Francis Moreau was a pro in the 1990s who combined track riding with the road. He was a pursuit specialist but soloed to win Paris-Bruxelles. The finish town of St Quentin is a unremarkable place but won the title of France’s “most sporting town”, in part thanks to a large number of inhabitants with licences for sports, including cycling.
The town has an amateur squad that put Jeremy Hunt and David Millar into the pro ranks and, later, Romāns Vainštein, a Latvian rider who won the World Championships in 2000 in a career that bloomed as briefly as a hibiscus flower.
Food: the Picard region seems to have preserved a lot of dishes from medieval times. Salted lamb, cooked duck and stewed apples. It’s not high gastronomy and it’s not for the cyclists and it’s not quite unique to the region either. But you won’t go hungry.
Do: …do something else? Today’s stage doesn’t look too exciting. There’s not even a single climb and the sprinters’ teams are still able and just about willing to shut down a breakaway. Still this is the Tour and the sprint sees the worlds best scrapping it out. Plus you never know what can happen on the road.
Don’t: say it’s easy. A dull day in front of the TV is one thing but for the riders it’s still five hours with frayed nerves in the finale. Just because the route is flat and it looks like a day for the sprinters doesn’t make it a freewheel across France. There’s never an easy day in the race, the risk of crashing is high and besides 200km a day takes its toll. Here’s Fabian Cancellara yesterday:
“In a way a day like this, which is over five hours of racing, is easier – it certainly is when you go through the data on your SRM files but on the other hand, for the mind it’s not easy”