Tour de France Stage 10 preview

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.

The Route

  • 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.

The Finish

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.

The Scenario
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.

Sprint Science
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.

16 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 10 preview”

  1. Didn’t realise that about the Falklands. Informative as ever. Thanks again!

    Incidentally, I think Philippe Thys was the first to win the Tour 3 times.

  2. Yes, a mine of information to enrich the experience.

    I think this will be a very British day on the Tour, with the Ferries from the South Coast of England full to the brim with both the wizened and the neophyte bike mad Brits. Could be a good day to be Chris Boardman, with more of his £1k cycle-to-work scheme product clustered together than in a Halfords distribution centre.

    True to form, Cav won’t be able to win on such a British occasion (too many nerves?) and so I’d say Greipel, Cav, Kittel, Sagan will be the order of the day. I hope I’m wrong.

  3. It says NNE-NE wind on the weather website I’m consulting. Which means, first, a long, long day against a mild headwind, with a useless breakaway struggling for cheap airplay. And second, actually, more of a tailwind towards the finish than anything else. I think t should favour the “last km surprise” scenario, featuring especially a light, powerful rider, I would say someone like Castroviejo or Tuft, but probably both of them will be saving themselves for tomorrow (as if sprinting for 2.000 metres could make a hell of a difference).
    I’m also intrigued at the lack of cooperation between the two Argos-Shimano sprinters. If Kittel is the fastest, and Degenkolb the most resistant, they could combine efforits, no? Like Degenkolb launches a surprise very long sprint, say 700m from the finish, and Kittel sits behind Greipel’s (sizeable) behind, waiting for his heart say no more.

  4. Regarding appreciation of sprint finishes: Does anyone else wonder at the usual frontal camera perspective during the sprint finish? I find it really hard to tell what’s going on from the live pictures, always need to wait for the overhead replay, if that comes. I guess the TV commentators seem to know what’s happening because they have a non-TV side view?

    Watching the last couple of kilometers live from overhead should be fun — anyone know if the camera selection offers this?

    • I dislike the frontal view as well. I suppose it exists so we can see the sponsor name as the rider crosses the line. Would much rather see the aerial view of the finish. So hard to tell who is doing what from the front.

  5. Good piece as always.

    Re Louison Bobet: he was the first to win the Tour three times in succession (’53-’55). The first to win three times was Philippe Thys, either side of the First World War.


  6. I can’t see anything other than a win for Mark Cavendish today and can see Greipel and Kittel taking the other 2 podium spots.. after tipping Dan Martin at 55/1 on Sunday, odds on Cav winning are a shade tighter at 6/5 but still the most likely outcome in my opinion.

    Kittel to beat Sagan in a match bet at 4/6 also appeals, Sagan will be outside the top 3..

  7. If sagan is clever he presumably needs to do a “boasen-hagen” and sit on Cav’s wheel for these sprints. He has such a healthy lead now all he needs to do is come in second in the wheel of the winner and give up a small number of points? Can’t look beyond cav anyway, as I imagine if he hadn’t crashed the other day I think he still would’ve beaten Greipel even without a lead out (he’s done it plenty of times before).

    Looking ahead, tomorrow should see a decent shakeup of the top 20 – eg Schleck and Rodriguez dropping down & Evans / kwiatkowski moving up. Anyone care to tell me how Dan Martin’s time trialing is comparative to others? Can he consolidate a top 10?

    • I think Sagan has been pretty clever in the out and out sprints to pick the best wheel to sit on to assure 2nd or 3rd spot. It could be argued that Cav is not the automatic choice to sit on, as if he has a bad day he tends to rein in his effort quite early.

  8. Inrng,

    As always your articles go well beyond cycling and provide a very interesting background to the area the Tour visits. That’s why I would like to add one little thing to your description of St Malo. It was known for its privateers (nothing to do with the MTB magazine!), not its pirates.

  9. I do like these type of days, call them transition stages if you want, they can involve all sorts of different riders. The mountain stages are undoubtedly spectacular and very awe inspiring but tend to involve a section of the peloton. Most of the peloton (the suffering) is invisible to the tv viewer. So yes, I am a fan of these odd stages.

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