A stage of two halves with a flat start followed by a hilly finish as the race changes terrain abruptly with a finish on roads that read more like a wine menu than a bike race. After some skirmishes and sprints now the race will change with some sharp climbing.
Stage 3 Wrap
Perrig Quémeneur (Europcar), Julien Fouchard (Cofidis) and Romain Feillu (Bretagne-Séché) set off in a futile move, so much so that Quémeneur later told the press he didn’t believe in a move “for one minute”. Nor did the bunch. FDJ didn’t let their advantage go beyond four minutes.
Despite a brief attempt to accelerate into a crosswind the race headed for the inevitable bunch sprint on the Magny Cours motorsport circuit. Formula 1 met rail transport as several teams put their sprint trains into effect and it was Giant-Shimano who saved their effort and punctually delivered John Degenkolb who sprinted to the line like a muscle-man in the gym, his legs pressing the pedals as his arms pumped the handlebars. Twice a runner-up already Degenkolb did the dubbelslag – the double strike – as he took the yellow jersey too.
136km of rolling roads that offer little to get excited about. Then things pick up for the final 65km as the race reaches La Clayette. After here the race crosses the Haut Beaujolais and there are three King of the Mountains points in succession, two of which are cols rather than côtes, passes rather than climbs. Language aside none is hard but the average percentages don’t warn of the irregular slopes. They’re big ring climbs where many can shelter in the bunch.
With the Col de Crie done there’s a long descent on one of those awkward roads where it’s not steep enough to freewheel but not flat enough to pedal hard. 10km later the race flicks left through Beaujeu and takes a narrow road that twists and turns through exposed vineyards. It’s scenic for viewers but high stress for the riders.
The climb up Mont Brouilly starts before the official start of the climb, an extra 600m of ascension before the village of St Lager and a sharp right to start the climb. The profile says the ascension reaches 25% but not if riders avoid the inside of the hairpin bends. It’s steep in places and there’s a fuller explanation with photos in yesterday’s Roads to Ride piece. But if you’re in a hurry just note it’s not as hard as some say but it is irregular, steep in places and narrow all the way which means a fight just to get to the start of the climb and a battle uphill. The top is near when the riders enter a dark pine forest, a few hairpin bends and their out to cross the top of the climb and take points for the second category King of the Mountains climb.
Once over Mont Brouilly the road drops fast and in time resumes to road to Belleville. Anyone in the lead by now will be annoyed because their Belleville rendez-vous is delayed by a tour of the town’s ring road before riding up the main street. It makes for a grander entrance but gives chasers more time to work. The road rises to the line, not by much but enough to avoid the 11 sprocket.
Expect another early break but this time it could be more crowded with riders willing to take their chance because Mont Brouilly is hard and maybe one or two sprinters could get over the top but it’s likely the sprint teams will not be chasing the breakaway all day because they can’t contest the finish.
Behind riders in the bunch will wait their time for the final climb. The previous three third category climbs aren’t hard enough to rip things up but a rider will need to be well-placed and more so on the narrow run to the climb.
If the hostilities start on the climb there’s time – 14km – to pull things back before the finish in Belleville but many will be dropped. The dream scenario is full-on hostilities for the last 20km but it’s more likely any time gaps remain small. The climb is hard but it’s hardly the Galibier and even if it was twice as long there’s still 14km to the finish. It all makes for a tactical finish, a clever way of saying it’s hard to pick a winner.
Nobody’s shown themselves yet but I’d pick Sky’s Geraint Thomas out of the hat. He’s been sprinting so far and can climb well and knows he can’t afford to lose time. Team mate Edvald Boasson Hagen is another pick but not having such a good race so far. Rui Costa has been stealthy so far despite his rainbow kit and is another good choice especially when backed by Przemo Niemiec. But both lack the sprint speed in case of a group finish, the same for Vincenzo Nibali. EDIT: I forgot to add Simon Gerrans for whom this wine-country finish resembles the Corkscrew, the only question is his form as he builds for the Ardennes.
FDJ’s Arthur Vichot is suited to this punch finish. Sylvain Chavanel is primed for action, I’m not convinced he can climb with the best but he can descend and catch anyone who goes over the top 30 seconds faster; Tony Gallopin’s got a quick finish if he can get over the climb with the leaders. Ag2r pairing Romain Bardet and Carlos Betancur have the right cards to play assuming Betancur’s weight loss is achieving results. There are many more to watch, Garmin-Sharp’s André Cardoso is a good climber, Zdenek Stybar might try his chances on the Brouillyberg.
Enough names for now. Finally watch out for Thomas Voeckler, he sat up in yesterday’s stage for no reason but it looked like a tactical retreat to give him room to go up the road today. He’s still chasing form from his collarbone break but that only suits the hypothesis because he might try a long range move when if he was on top form he’d play for the GC with the rivals.
Weather: another fine day with sunny skies and a temperature of 18°C (68°F) but a touch cooler at altitude. There won’t be much wind either but even the slightest breeze will be felt on the exposed slopes of Mont Brouilly.
TV: the final hour is live with coverage starting at 2.55pm Euro time and the finish expected for 3.50pm, watch as much as you can because the final climb might provide action but the approach could be as tense. See steephill.tv and cyclingfans.com for broadcast schedules and pirate feeds alike.
Guide Wolber: time to celebrate two local riders. The first is Bernard Thévenet who is from La Clayette, a town en route pronounced “La Klet” and in fact he’s originally from a small hamlet to the north called Le Guidon, French for handlebar. Destiny? No, but amusing nonetheless. Thévenet is the Frenchman who finally ended Eddy Merckx’s reign in the Tour de France. Often known as le tombeur de Merckx, the man who brought about Merckx’s downfall he should be celebrated for plenty more and not just as a rider, he’s been a good TV pundit and today’s he’s a friendly presence at races. The second pick is Fumiyuki Beppu who was not born in the region. The first Japanese rider to complete the Tour de France, before turning pro Beppu moved to France to ride for amateur team La Pomme Marseille, a route taken by others like Dan Martin and Daryl Impey and has stayed in France ever since. He’s from just to the east of today’s finish and rides with Trek Factory Racing… but isn’t doing this race despite being the pro who probably knows these roads better than everyone else.
Eat and drink: No tourist guide could ignore the finish, Mont Brouilly is synonymous with wine in France and the chapel at the top of the climb is Our Lady of the Grapes. The final 20km of today’s roadbook reads like a wine menu and helpfully the early part of the race will pass hundreds and maybe thousands of tender charolais cattle standing in grassy fields waiting for their fateful day.