A sprint stage? Maybe the final sprint stage of the race. Warmer weather will greet the riders and a series of small climbs makes this a draining day.
Stage 3 Wrap-Up: the stage was cancelled because of snow on the road. The pictures say plenty and it was unlucky as the finale had some great roads to showcase to the world. Ideally the Dauphiné or Tour de France returns as they’d look even better on a summer’s day. Until then they’ll be a closer look on this site at the new Extreme Weather Protocol later today.
The Route: 195km due south. After a start that reads like a wine menu the race starts climbing. The race could have taken the more gentle Rhone valley route but instead sticks inland with some hillier roads. Nothing much but it all adds up to make the promised sprint just that bit harder. The early Col de Brouilly is easy and not to be confused with yesterday’s Mont Brouilly. Later on the Côte de Givors is placed halfway up the much longer climb of the Col du Croix Regis (10km at 3%), perhaps to encourage the bunch to speed away from Givors, a sad looking place full of abandoned factories.
The race drops off the Mont Pilat mountain for a straightforward intermediate sprint in the Rhone valley before the climb near St Uze. It’s a sharp ascent with 3km at 7%, enough to shake-out a sprinter or two. They’ll have time to get back on but it adds to the fatigue for the sprinter and team mates tasked with towing them back.
The Finish: a flat sprint through town on large roads as they pass through Romans-sur-Isère but with 450m to go there’s a difficult roundabout surrounded by a polynesia of traffic islands and then it’s back to a flat wide road for the sprint.
The Contenders: some riders may fancy their chance in a breakaway. Tomorrow’s stage can suit the sprinters but there’s the small matter of Mont Ventoux before and some more hills along the way. More importantly several teams have fluffed their chances so far. The longer the race goes on the more the chances of a breakaway rise and so far several teams, notably Etixx-Quickstep, Katusha and Cofidis so they’ll try to contain any moves.
Can we blame the cold for Alexander Kristoff and Marcel Kittel‘s lack of results so far? Both are pedigree sprinters but have floundered uncharacteristically this week. Take Tuesday’s finish in Commentry, Kittel was 65th and if Kristoff contested the sprint he was fourth and in a whole second back. Today will provide the answers if it’s been the cold or something more fundamental. Between the two Kristoff seems the safer pick given his better results.
Nacer Bouhanni has a track record of winning when his back is up against the wall. Beaten by Démare on Monday then by Matthews and the commissaires on Tuesday we can imagine both he and his team are bubbling with rage. Of course anger isn’t enough to make the pedals go round but he has been present in the sprints when Kristoff and Kittel have not and today’s stage might have more clement weather but it’s got some climbing too and if Cofidis stick a rider or two on the front on the climbs they can further tilt things to their advantage given Bouhanni has often won sprints on hillier days, see his stage in the Dauphiné last summer for example.
Offence is the best form of defence and Michael Matthews can extend his lead in the yellow jersey with a good sprint. He was faster than Bouhanni the other day and can and should place today.
Niccolò Bonifazio was just behind Bouhanni and Matthews. The Italian is a good sprinter but better suited to uphill finishes (and a long range pick for Sanremo). In a flat sprint Arnaud Démare is faster.
André Greipel is still on the mend and so a less obvious pick. By now there’s a long tail of names like Ben Swift, Wouter Wippert and Jonas Van Genechten who could emerge from the Brownian motion of a bunch sprint.
|Alexander Kristoff, Nacer Bouhanni
|Arnaud Démare, Michael Matthews, Marcel Kittel
|Bonifazio, Greipel, Wippert, Swift, Van Genechten, Petit
Weather: dry. Sunshine and clouds, a top temperature of 12°C and a 20km/h tailwind for much of the day.
Local rider: Pierre Latour lives very near today’s finish. The Ag2r La Mondiale rider is a 22 year old second year pro. He is listed all over the place as “Pierre-Roger” Latour but the double first name is wrong, he’s Pierre, just Pierre. It stems from a mix-up long ago on a results sheet from which his name was copied into the UCI database. Even his team perpetuates the mistake when friends and family don’t.
Latour made a name for himself last year when he matched Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana up the Port de Balès in the Route du Sud, the Pyrenean stage race just before the Tour de France. He jumped ahead on the climb in order to tackle the pass at his own pace which moderates the ride in some ways, yet augments it too as the idea of just riding away up a giant mountain pass in order to pace yourself better than Nairo Quintana is a sound theoretical idea but not easy to put into practice. To prove it was no fluke he had a solid summer with seventh overall in the Tour of Austria, fifth in the Vuelta a Burgos and third in the Tour de l’Ain plus a stage win there, impressive for a 21 year old first year pro. Ag2r La Mondiale knew he was good and signed him on a three year deal when almost all neo-pros a get standard two year contract. Last summer they extended, and presumably revalued, this contract to keep him with the team until 2018. By which time they’ll call him Pierre.
TV: coverage starts at 3.00pm Euro time and the finish is forecast for 4.40pm. If you can tune in to Tirreno-Adriatico’s finish forecast for 4.10pm before to double-up on the action then channel hop to Paris-Nice.