Slowly the route changes as the race heads south and Stage 3 starts to include more climbing. The race crosses the Auvergne region in central France and the finish includes a second category climb that’s designed to thwart the sprinters.
It could be a lot hillier but the race picks its way through the Auvergne without using the famous volcanos. If the weather was better – see forecast below – the riders would get views of the Puy-de-Dôme, once a theatre of high drama in the Tour de France. The route includes two climbs, the Col de Potey which is 3.3 km at 5% and the Côte de la Forêt de la Comté, 3.5 km at 3.8% and they’re both easy and we’re unlikely to discover the identity of the final winner of the mountains jersey.
For the third and final time the race includes a circuit finish, entering the town of Brioude to then head out on a 28km loop that includes the Côte de Mauvagnat, listed as 2.7 km at 6.7% but in reality much more significant because as soon as the race leaves Brioude the road starts to drag upwards. The road is wide but it’s heading up and the kind of place where a sprinter can shelter if the bunch is going fast but it’s still tiring. The road narrows as the race passes through the village of St Just, and then comes the categorised climb itself, rising up through woodland on a rough old road with sections at 8%. It’s an ideal place to attack because a rider can quickly be out of sight of the bunch. Better still for a fugitive the descent is not the place to coordinate a chase being narrow and with a series of awkward corners.
But with 11km to go things get easier when the descent ends and the race heads back to Brioude for the finish. But the road still twists and turns and there’s a short uphill section with 4km to go, it’s harder than the profile suggests. After this the race heads into town on a big wide road. There’s a roundabout with 1km that’s narrow and then it’s downhill to the finish.
This stage look less suitable for the sprinters and the odds are against Elia Viviani retaining his lead. Some might be able to hold on going over the final climb – if they do, remember them for Milan-Sanremo – but many teams will want to send a rider up the road today in the hope a breakaway sticks so the racing could be fierce for the first hour or more if the right move doesn’t go away.
The finish is selective but not enough to shred the field alone, it will take team tactics, rider commitment and some luck. But it’s the place for Philippe Gilbert and Sylvain Chavanel to have a go, the only thing is that many will be expecting this. There’s time to regroup on the run in and so expect a sprint amongst several names. Think of riders like Tony Gallopin (Radishack), Julien Simon (Sojasun), Borut Bozic (Astana), Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2r), Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida), Nico Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff), Peter Velits and Gianni Meersman (OPQS), Xavier Florencio (Katusha), Simon Gerrans and Michael Matthews (Orica-Greenedge)… and if the sprinters are there, then Heinrich Haussler (IAM)or J-J Rojas (Movistar).
Ag2r’s Romain Bardet is from the finish town today. It might be too much to expect him to win but he might well show. Certainly local knowledge will help for the finish. And if you don’t see him on the stage you will some other time. Note he’s sitting way back on the overall but that’s because he gave his bike to team mate Maxime Bouet after he punctured on Stage 1.
The good news is the wind will drop. The bad news is rain is forecast all day with temperatures going no higher than 10°C (50°F).
It’s not for the riders but after a cold day in the rain maybe they’re allowed some aligot. It’s made of mashed potato and melted cheese, mixed with garlic and butter and it forms a stringy paste packed with calories.