What a relief, in more than one sense of the word. Today’s stage features plenty of sharp climbs and narrowroads and should make for a lively finish to watch and a hectic day inside the bunch.
Stage 4 Review: a heroic event marked by feats of stamina and endurance. Not quite the stage but the efforts of TV commentators to find something to talk about. We had a breakaway with two Cofidis riders, presumably under orders to show themselves after finishing last in Monday’s team time trial (hampered in part by four of their riders crashing in the approach to the previous day’s sprint). One team absent from the move was Fortuneo-Samsic, presumably saving themselves for today. Still there was a touch of suspense in the finish with the breakaway having just enough time to raise hopes they’d make it but the long finishing straight and the headwind extinguished their chances. A big crash with 5km to go brought down plenty but among the GC candidates only Ilnur Zakarin lost time; Ag2r La Mondiale’s Axel Domont had to quit the race, a blow for the team. The sprint was nervous with riders cagey about launching too early. André Greipel seemed to be surging past Fernando Gaviria but the Colombia retook the lead just in time to take the win, two out of two when he’s been in sight of the finish line.
The Route: 204km and a gentle start along the coast past Concarneau and then the race heads inland and starts a series of climbs. There are four categorised climbs but they’re only selected highlights, the course is constantly up and down with many sharp hills, tight bends and narrow roads.
The race heads to the Montagnes Noires, the black mountains. It’s not high altitude but expect steep roads and the ridges are lined with wind turbines although today the forecast is for a still day. The Côte de la Roche du Feu (“Rock Fire Ridge”, when Vikings invaded locals would light a fire as a warning beacon) is the first third category climb and 2km at 6.8% with a steep middle section through the village, the kind where you can tell the slope of the road from the way the houses and garden fences sit into the hill.
The Menez Quelerc’h is 3km at 6.3% with a portion at 10%. It’s on a small road and has a narrow pinch-point early via a railway bridge but otherwise is long ramp up to the top.
The Montagne de Locronan is no snowy peak but still 2.2km at 6% but there’s much more to it than that. They climb up into the village, it flattens off but there are pavé and a very narrow road past the church before riding out of town, slightly downhill and then it kicks up for 900m at 8% to the top of the climb.
The next climb is to the bonus point and what the French call a raidard, a steep little climb. It’s 700m at 9% and starts out of a sharp climb meaning positioning matters a lot on the approach. Only the bonus point isn’t at the top of the climb, the road soon rises up again, turns and then rises more. After a brief descent on a main road the route flights right on a very tight bend and takes some more narrow roads over an unmarked climb and then heads for Quimper, today’s finish.
The Finish: the final kilometre is narrow and uphill, it rides from woodland into an ordinary residential road for 700m at 7% before levelling out, there’s a left hand bend and soon after the road rises up again this time at a more gentle 3%. It’s all on a wide road.
The Contenders: today’s stage has an air of Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Julian Alaphilippe (Quick Step) is an obvious pick for the stage win and the yellow jersey is within reach too. He’s a sharp finisher but prone to the odd mistake because he’s sometimes too keen to win, too quick to use up energy. Team mate Philippe Gilbert can play his part too but he’s not got the explosive finish that was his lethal weapon.
Can Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) hang on? The Paris-Roubaix winning version may find this too hilly but the Tour de Suisse Sagan may have this just within reach, it’s up to the others and their teams to eject him otherwise if he’s in contention once they round the last left-hand bend he’s a likely winner.
Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) is arguably a better climber than Sagan and sitting ninth overall, what ever plans the team have for Tom Dumoulin surely they can release Matthews from team duties today and tomorrow. In case of a sprint from a reduced peloton the likes of Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) and Magnus Cort Nielsen (Astana) could feature too.
What chance Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing)? He’s had a brief spell in yellow but there’s more to his repertoire than the team time trial. He’s not been far off in Liège-Bastogne-Liège and has won a mid-mountain stage of the Tour de France already. It’s just at the risk of falling between two stools, if he’s in the finish then either the likes of Alaphilippe are fresher or Sagan is more powerful.
If things get very attritional what about Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)? He’s a safer pick to finish in the top-10 today. The same for Geraint Thomas (Team Sky).
Can the breakaway make it? Yes but the early move that goes clear from the start risks being swamped by a later move. But who to pick for a move with 25km to go? So many teams have strict, defined ambitions for this Tour and therefore won’t be firing riders up the road at random meaning fewer names to chose from. Still Arthur Vichot (Groupama-FDJ), Julien Simon (Cofidis), Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie) and Michael Valgren (Astana) fit the bill.
|Julian Alaphilippe, Peter Sagan,
|Gilbert, Valverde, Colbrelli, Thomas, MCN, GVA, EBH|
Weather: warm and sunny, not as hot as recently with just 28°C at the finish and cooler inland at times.
TV: live from the start at 12.20pm CEST with the finish forecast for 5.20pm CEST. The race should reach the first of the day’s categorised climbs around 3.10pm CEST and the third category climb of la Roche du Feu at 4.00pm CEST.