With the Pyrenees in the rear view mirror there’s less to look forward to this week in terms of terrain and scenery. But we’ve still got the biggest race on and it’s rare to see the top sprinters go head to head in the season, the Tour is one of the few times it happens and today should be the day.
The race cuts across Brittany but there’s coastal section for the finish where crosswinds or simply the fear of a crosswind could be enough to panic the peloton.
- Km 142.0 – Côte de Dinan 1km 4.2% – category 4
North and straight across Brittany. It’s mainly rural but the race passes through plenty of villages, meaning crowds and street furniture from start to finish. The sole climb of the day is soft and only serves to spice up the show for the crowds.
However the race reaches Cancale with 23km to go and turns west to track the coast. The road is not wide and – see forecast below – there could be a crosswind.
An urban finish right along the sea front in St Malo without too many obstacles. With the wind coming in off the coast there are two options, either sprint right on the right of the road to benefit from the shelter offered by barriers, hoardings and spectators or go right to the left because nobody can sit on your wheel and get a draft.
A bunch sprint with 98% probability, 1% for a breakaway staying away and 1% for a surprise late attack in the final kilometre. Each of the sprinters’ teams have one stage win each and they’ll be equally hungry for more success and therefore a joint effort to reel in any escapees is guaranteed. We’ll see Lotto-Belisol, Argos-Shimano and OPQS leading the charge whilst Cannondale can monitor matters.
The last 20km risk the self-fulfilling prophecy of crashes. Because of the crosswind and the narrow roads many will want to be at the front so they’re not caught out by crash or a split. But this means too many riders are trying to get to the front. Also with large crowds expected it only takes a spectator leaning forward for a photo to wreak carnage on the bunch.
Want a name? Well the stage finishes outside the town’s casino which suggests an element of luck. But would you bet against Mark Cavendish? Actually if the price was right you’d look at André Greipel and Marcel Kittel of course.
If you’re tempted to groan at the prospect of another bunch sprint, don’t. I can understand why some resent 200km just for the action to come in the final two minutes. But there’s a real science and skill at work with the leadout trains, positioning and even the subtle fighting for place. It’s also an evolving field of cycling, whilst Mark Cavendish has overtaken André “the hare of the Landes” Darrigade for Tour stage wins, Darrigade didn’t have a lead out. This isn’t to knock Cavendish, instead it’s to say part of enjoyment of a sprint stage is not to wait for a rider to surge in the final 200 metres but instead to observe the action during the last hour.
Weather: warm and sunny with the temperature getting close to 30°C (86°F). A headwind from the north of 20-25km/h means a crosswind for the final 20km. Enough to split the race? Not if the forecast is accurate but enough to make the riders nervous in case the wind gets up, meaning pressure on all to be at the front.
TV: live from 2.20pm Euro time. With a sprint finish this might not be the day to watch for hours but tune in to salute the Breton fans massing by the roads. The coastal section from Cancale is expected around 4.40pm with the finish around 5.10pm.
A hotbed of French cycling and home to Bernard Hinault, France’s last Tour winner as well as Louison Bobet, the first man to win the Tour three times in a row. Today’s route nods at both of them. The region is packed with villages and everyone has its kermesse or village festival. Inevitably a bike race is part of the scene and this is probably the region with the most cyclists per capita although this is only an guess and by cyclists I mean those who race or try to ride for fitness and fun as opposed to popping to the shops.
The region juts out into the Atlantic and “enjoys” a varied climate where locals say the weather is nice several times a day… the subtext is that it rains several times a day too. Bretagne is the same as Grande Bretagne or Great Britain, literally Big Brittany. The climate is similar to the British Isles. Other similarities exist, for example the Bretons are often proud of their Celtic heritage and whilst many a local bike race across France takes place to the sound of accordion music piped over the PA, in Brittany you can get a blast of the cornemuse, otherwise known as the bagpipes. Today’s stage finish in St Malo sees the town’s name carried far with the disputed islands in the South Atlantic known as Islas Malvinas to Argentines, the Falkland Islands to the British but in French they’re les îles Malouines because of St Malo. The town of St Malo is a walled city and was long a base for piracy.