The last of the sprint stages, today’s race will sweep across the champagne region of France before the fizz of the finish. Again this looks like a day for the sprinters but with the first summit finish looming tomorrow the GC contenders will try to ride in economy mode.
If it is a sprint finish the final kilometre has a dangerous narrow point followed by a sharp turn turn.
As you can see from the profile the route features more climbing on top of the 207km of racing. Nothing is steep rather plenty energy will be spent just to cover the ground. These things all add up, a compound interest rate of fatigue is applied. Today’s route is also exposed, the monoculture of vines for wine means little shelter for long stretches although this is the same when passing by fields of corn, wheat and sunflowers.
Intermediate Sprint: flat and almost straight, just a kink in the road before 1km to go and a wide road in town.
The Finish: flat, almost downhill at times. The urban finish sees some sharp turns through town, especially between 3km to go and 1km to go. See the railway line and flamme rouge? The railway goes over the road and it narrows here making a pinch-point and then just after the road hooks left, a double danger just 750m from the finish line.
Again this looks like a day for the sprinters. Yesterday had an uphill finish and André Greipel did well. It’s easy to see his big bulk and think he’s doomed once the road rises but as a junior he was German national hill climb champion – no, I’m not joking – and remember he was the only sprinter to survive Monday’s stage to Boulogne so in fact he’s well suited to that kind of finish. Today is all about positioning, being in the right place to go under the bridge and then the left turn, to have a lead out from the corner until 200m to go. We could see Cavendish get this, putting his positioning and speed to work. And don’t forget Goss, he sprinted in too big a gear yesterday and the other day his team didn’t get the lead-out right, maybe today things click into place? These three sprinters seem a level above the rest but it’s the last chance for a sprint and maybe we’ll get a wild finish and an outsider?
There’s also another race on today only you won’t see it, the race to save energy. Tomorrow sees the first summit finish and if it’s not long, it is very steep. Every bit of rest counts so the GC contenders will want to ride in economy mode today and avoid trouble.
Weather: it looks fine, a mild 20°C (68°F) but a stronger breeze of 20-30km/h. Maybe not enough to split things up and it could just give a tailwind.
TV: as usual it starts around 2.00pm Euro time with the finish expected between 5.00-5.30pm. With a sprint finish likely tune in for the last half hour.
Local rider: FDJ’s Anthony Roux was born in the area but doesn’t live here any more. But he’s won on the local roads and don’t be surprised to see him up the road. He finished second last yesterday so he might be ill… or it’s a ruse to lose time overall so he is given more room to go up the road by Radioshack.
Food: more a case of drink since the race starts in the Champagne area. It’s big business these days with the major houses buying up grape juice to make their sparkling wine. In the recent boom years consumption soared, reaching a peak in 2007 and leading to juicy margins but the fizz has dropped out of the market now. If you are hungry then the race finishes in the Lorraine region which has swapped backwards and forwards between Germany and France and where you can get a flammekueche, dough baked with cheese and bacon on top, a sort of Franco-German pizza.
Do: try the French phrase “jamais deux sans trois” or “never two without three” which implies Greipel might get a third win today.
Don’t: call it an easy stage. 207km in the legs, plus a few more between the start line and the départ réel.