Tour de France Stage 6 Preview

A transition for the sprinters as the race heads to Montpellier. The race crosses the Rhone delta, land of a thousand camp sites and a million mosquitoes.

The profile might suggest an easy day – it’s the flattest day so far in the Tour – but strong crosswinds are forecast, a force of nature to split the bunch. But don’t get your hopes up for an action-packed day where the overall contenders get tested in a stage that resembles a Belgian semi-classic. There’s a good chance the wind dies down for the stage finish.

Stage 5 Review
The early break went and of the five teams in the move, four have sponsorship worries for 2014.

  • Europcar have yet to decide whether to continue and there’s no word on a potential co-sponsor
  • Vacansoleil-DCM hope to continue but outside the World Tour so this could be their last Tour for some time
  • Euskaltel-Euskadi are struggling too
  • Sojasun say they’d like to back the team but only if there’s co-sponsor to share the financial burden.

Managers and riders need to be seen. Most visible was Thomas De Gendt and the Belgian didn’t abdicate his efforts. He seemed to be on the ultimate training ride, high tempo pacing in the break interrupted by a series of hill efforts and even a sprint winning most of the mountain points and the intermediate sprint. The move seemed doomed but the bunch left it late to chase however it opened up the throttle just in time.

A foreseen conclusion in the cité phocéenne, Marseille brought a bunch sprint. Mark Cavendish’s win was a half surprise. Half because we thought he was ill and so would not win but whenever you write him off he pops up. Edvald Boasson Hagen was second but note he could only follow Cavendish, tucked in his slipstream the difference between this and popping out and overtaking the British champion is substantial.

The Route

  • Km 68.0 – Col de la Vayède 0.7 kilometre-long climb at 7% – category 4

The day starts in one charming town to finish in another. Aix and Montpellier finish high in polls in France as desirable places to live although the pro cyclist might find these areas too windy over the winter. The stage has exposed roads where Mistral wind can cause havoc.

There’s not much more insight to bring to the route. Although note as the race approaches Montpellier it uses the routes départementales rather than the main road into town. Not that these are tiny roads but they twist a bit and have a few pinch points and other obstacles.

The Finish
An air of disappointment as the Tour rides into Montpellier… only to ride out again and finish on the outskirts of the city. Montpellier has a large square that’s the hub of the city, ideal to host the race but instead finishes on an anonymous road by the town’s rugby stadium. It’s a practical choice as the city doesn’t want a traffic lock-down.

Stage 6 final kilometres

10 hazard warnings but it’s not so bad as the race uses some dual carriageway roads to skirt the city and signs just show which side of the barriers the race will take. There’s a big danger at 2.5km to go when the race cuts from one road to another via a narrow access lane, a real pinch-point where the bunch could be caught out as it’s forced to funnel into the smaller space. Once passed the rest of the run in is fine, a long straight that’s an even width.

The Scenario
Almost a guaranteed bunch sprint. A flat route with many straight roads make it easy for the bunch to manage a breakaway. With Mark Cavendish (OPQS) back to winning ways it’s hard to bet against him. But this only means André Greipel and Peter Sagan are more hungry. The flat run suits Marcel Kittel too, the German is not sprinting for intermediate points and Argos-Shimano deliberately rode the Stage 4 TTT at cruising speed to keep their legs supple.

The prince owns everything in the kingdom, except the wind.
Victor Hugo.

The wind could be a factor but the forecasts seem to vary. Aggregating their predictions suggests a decent Mistral blast but only for the first half of the stage. In other words a team looking to split the race risks wasting energy because it can all come back together in the second half.

Weather: hot as the thermometer could reach 30°C (88°F) in the shade but even warmer on the tarmac. The stage could be defined by crosswinds with the northerly Mistral set to blow but more for the start and middle-section of the day rather than the end. The closer the race gets to the finish, the more this will calm down with 20km/h breeze from the north-east, a mild tailwind and only enough to waft aromas from roadside BBQs at the riders.

TV: live coverage starts soon after 2.00pm Euro time. Like yesterday, this is a day with the action packed into the finish. Tune in around 4.30pm to watch the sprint tension build.

History: Montpellier has been a regular staging point for the race but stands out as the first African stage win of the Tour when Robbie Hunter won the bunch sprint.

X-Ray Vision

The Tour has a mobile X-ray unit at the finish. Nobody wants to use it but this is a very welcome addition that allows an immediate diagnosis of injuries. In the past a rider would be driven by their team to a local hospital and queue for an X-Ray and then drive to the team hotel. Even if there was nothing broken it meant lost recovery time for a battered rider and the accompanying soigneur or team doctor spent an hour or more as glorified chauffeur instead of attending to the whole team.

27 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 6 Preview”

  1. Oh, how I hope for a replay of Marseille to La Grande-Motte in 2009, but sadly the weather forecast doesn’t seem to be playing ball. Then again, you never quiet know with the Mistral. Whatever happens, it should still be edge of the seat stuff.

  2. Great preview as always, thanks.

    I’m concerned for the future of the teams looking for sponsors. In particular, Euskaltel-Euskadi seem to be in a very parlous state. Fingers crossed for all concerned.

    • Thanks for the word, Tommy B, it has a down-home ring to it. Of course, I thought you’d meant to say “perilous,” but then it occurred to me perhaps there is such a word meaning “worthy of discussion” (cf. “remarkable”) or some such. I see now that it’s an old (14th. cent.) contraction/variant of perilous. Not aware of it being in common usage in the US. Elsewhere?

      • “Parlous” isn’t so unusual in British English. Not as bad as “dreadful” but probably worse than “dismal”…

        Great preview by the way!

        • in Australia it’s not uncommon but only in the phrase ‘parlous state’ as used here. Often used to refer to one’s own finances!

  3. The locals will tell you a mistral blows for one, three or six days. There are many other strong winds in the area which are sometimes confused with the Mistral. The Mistral blows from the north down the Rhone valley when the pressure systems are set right. Once it reaches the end of the Rhone valley it spreads out and then turns left along the coast, normally as far as the Italian border. Once the riders have crossed the Rhone valley, life should be a little easier.

    Could make for some interesting early racing for the GT contenders.

  4. I can confirm from personal experience earlier this year that it can get quite windy around Les Baux de Provence, but the Café de la Fontaine in Maussanne les Alpilles does great burgers…

  5. The manager of VacanSoleil has announced in the Dutch that TVM is interested in a return to cycling. Problem is that they still have a contract with a speed skating team for 2014. (Speed skating is a very big sport in the Netherlands, with expensive sponsor contracts.) So they will need to find a sponsor for one year.

  6. On paper this stage could be a bit dull, but as its the Tour, anything could happen crosswinds, echelons, splits, time losses, GC contenders in the wrong place at the wrong time. Oh well, here’s hoping.

    Do they still have the cheese prize, Cuer de Leon(spelling??) or something and wasn’t it for the most aggressive rider?

  7. Pretty sure I’m in a minority of one on this, but I wish there was some way of handicapping teams that sandbag on some stages (e.g. the shameful effort of Argos in the TTT), or benefitting riders that take part in the breaks or intermediate finishes (e.g. Greipel for the points). No idea how this could be done in a race situation, maybe via access priorities to the team cars, and it’s likely impossible to police, so it’s just wishful thinking. Guess it would have unwanted implications for the race and jersey competitions too, but I don’t like to see people “stealing” wins off the backs of other teams’ efforts.

    • By contrast I salute the sandbagging. The race is all about saving energy where you can and deploying it at the right moment when you can take advantage of others.

      But note the team cars in the race are ranked by order of team classification in the race. This means the teams with the best results get the first car but the “sandbaggers” Argos-Shimano find their car in 22nd place. This matters as a rider needing a spare wheel has to wait and worse, those on duty to get waterbottles have to drop back a long way and then ride all the way back.

        • That’s quite an oversimplification. There are several races going on, and it seems to me that a team that contests every stage/classification will have a hard time winning any of them.

          • Why would Argos ride as hard as they could in a TTT, when they had no realistic prospect of a high finish and are not in any sort of contention on GC? They got in within the time limit, they did the smart thing – i.e. conserve energy for stages that may suit their skillset.

            As it turns out, it didn’t exactly pay off over the next two stages, OPQ and Lotto both did well in the TTT and have took the last two sprint stages. So, sandbagging is no guarantee for success.

  8. Because giving your best is a goal in itself, because you and your rivals and the public should want to know exactly how good you can be, because it’s not the same being 22nd as being 8th, because it’s written nowhere that riding a good TTT should diminish your performance over the following days when it could even improve you, because you never know (ar at least should never know) what the final victory in Paris might depend on, and because it brings bad karma, and justly so.
    And as a spectator, I am staunchly against specialization in cycling. If we don’t want to see sprinters against TTists, or climbers against rouleurs, why have them all in the same race. This is like watching a decathlon on track and field and expecting an athlete to spare himself on the javelin throw so that he can perhaps win the 1.500m.

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