A short stage that head directly south. They’ll cross the finish line once before tackling a second category climb and a descent back to town. If the route looks lumpy, the gradients are soft and the sprinters have their last chance to grab a stage win.
Stage 4 Wrap: Thomas Voeckler attacked but got reeled in. Other riders went up the road including Astana’s Valerio Agnoli who collected the mountains jersey but otherwise it was a fruitless move without the wattage needed to win. It all came down to the climb of Mont Brouilly and Carlos Betancur was the first to attack. Bold but he took the inside line on a steep hairpin bend and gravity did the rest. It was on a flat section that Tom-Jelte Slagter surged, an ideal place to attack because it gave him a lead and impressively he kept on going with Geraint Thomas slipping away on the final sections of the Mont. The two joined up on the descent and despite their commitment the two had a slender advantage. But the chase behind was disorganised, the classic tale of nobody wanting to work because their effort would only profit their rivals. Slagter won the stage and Thomas took yellow.
Two other impressive performances. First John Degenkolb who climbed surprisingly well and worked hard to defend his yellow jersey (hint: Sanremo). And FDJ’s Arthur Vichot who seemed to start the climb of Mont Brouilly in about 50th place but crossed the top with the first group behind Thomas and Slagter, an impressive effort… but being in the right place at the start of the climb is better. Vichot still had better luck than Andy Schleck, Sylvain Chavanel and Rafał Majka who all had mechanicals/punctures just before the climb.
The Route: the profile looks spiky but the numbers give the game away, the opening Col de Brouilly is the steepest climb of the day at 5.1% for 1.8km and the “big” Côte de Saint-Martin-en-Haut is 8.6km at 4.5%. The race heads to the finish in Rive-de-Gier before a 26.5km finishing loop. The ensuing Côte de Sainte-Catherine is listed as 12.5km at 2.8% in the race roadbook but is more a 5km section at 4%.
The Finish: there’s a descent into town. Contrary to previous days the roads are a touch wider. Note the roundabout with 500m to go, a natural pinchpoint to line out the bunch.
The Scenario: break or sprint? Normally there’d be a good chance of a breakaway sticking but this year’s route is abnormal. Few will want to let anyone take time plus this really is the last chance for the sprinters to win something so we have several teams keen to keep things together. The most likely scenario then is a bunch sprint but from a reduced pack; second is a late attack from someone like Vincezno Nibali to exploit the descent.
The Contenders: John Degenkolb was climbing very well on Mont Brouilly but he was also having to chase hard. If he’s recovered from the effort he’s the prime pick. Orica-Greenedge’s Michael Matthews finished very fast yesterday and is an ideal candidate for the sprinter-who-can-cope-with-a-climb. Nacer Bouhanni sat up yesterday but could fight for this. Movistar’s J-J Rojas has been sprinting consistently and the final climb could help shed some rivals.
One to watch is Bryan Coquard who was boasting in L’Equipe earlier this week about being more than a sprinter and making comparisons to Sagan… well they each wear green kit. To be fair to Coquard – and he’s got an Olympic medal that Sagan doesn’t – the comparison was that he can climb and sprint. Today’s the day.
Weather: yet again another fine day with sunny skies and a temperature of 18°C (68°F). There won’t be much wind either.
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: the race is now in the southern half of France and were it to rain the drop of water would eventually find its way to the Mediterranean. For most the finish town of Rive-de-Gier is normally passed at speed on the A47 Autoroute between St Etienne and Lyon thanks to a large viaduct. An industrial area the place once flourished with the manufacture of glass and weapons but today the factories are empty and crumbling. It might be suffering but we can expect the locals to turn out look sharp, Wikipedia reports that “Rive-de-Gier is reputed for its large number of hairdressers”. It thrived in part because of the Gier river which started powering local mills. Much of this water comes off the nearby Mont Pilat, a large hilly massif that offers some exquisite cycling, the home roads of writer Paul Fournel.
The local rider is Cyril Dessel. He wore yellow in the 2006 Tour de France, losing it the next day to Floyd Landis. A consistent rider during the decade, he scored a few wins here and there and retired in 2011. Today he runs a real estate business in the region and has taken up boxing.