The race leaves the Alps for the Rhone valley and a likely sprint finish with Alexander Kristoff and Nacer Bouhanni the top picks.
Prologue Wrap: Alberto Contador dethroned Chris Froome from the hotseat after the most trialling of time trials with a lean and mean looking Richie Porte also pipping Froome. Just 3.9km but the top-10 was spread across 40 seconds. Surprise of the day was Julian Alaphilippe, tipped in the preview but more for curiosity and he finished fifth. Disappointment of the day was Fabio Aru, over a minute down in 36th place but all the more reason to attack. Disappointed of the day was Tony Martin who labelled the course “a circus” on Twitter, wondering who really wanted to see a course like this only to discover a lot of replies telling him people liked it.
The Route: the race leaves the Alps but with a few climbs along the way, no mountain passes but enough to award the mountains jersey with only one point available to just the first rider over the top. The first climb is listed as 1.6km at 6.4%, a sprint for someone to take polka-dot points but as the profile shows the road keeps on climbing up and up. Two more short marked climbs and then the race formally exits the Alps via a scenic gorge as they emerge into the Rhone valley for the feedzone, head past Belley – the finish of Stage 4 – and onwards for a likely sprint finish. The last 40km see the race track the river Rhone.
The Finish: St Vulbas is a small place, population 1,068 but before you imagine a quaint village it’s really a place dominated by a giant nuclear power station and the finish line is in the middle of an industrial units and warehouses. More the better for the sprinters who get wide roads. It’s as flat as it sounds but there is a level crossing with 900m to go. Don’t worry, it serves the power station and is unlikely to operate when the race arrives.
The Contenders: what chance the winner wears a red jersey? Take your pick between Alexander Kristoff of Katusha or Nacer Bouhanni of Cofidis. Kristoff is the prime pick because he’s won a stage of the Tour of California against decent opposition, showing fine condition to come back into contention for the sprint on a hilly day.
Bouhanni by contrast has won three stages of the Tour de Picardie but against more modest opposition and he’s still in ascendant form. He’ll fancy his chances as he’s beaten Kristoff in a straight sprints this year in Paris-Nice and comes with his sprint train of Bozič, Soupe and Laporte.
Next come a range of sprinters who seem to have question marks hanging over them. Bora-Argon 18’s Sam Bennett was last yesterday, it didn’t matter but suggests he might not be in the top condition needed for today after a hard crash in the Tour of Belgium. Moreno Hofland (Lotto-Jumbo) looked off the pace in the Giro and hasn’t won for a year, a drought for a sprinter. Jens Debusschere (Lotto-Soudal) can sprint well but is an infrequent winner. Niccolo Bonifazio is handy on a hillier course. Edward Theuns has just won a stage of the Tour of Belgium so worth looking out for. IAM Cycling have two sprinters in Jonas Vangenecten and podium dancer Sondre Holst Enger.
John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) still seems to be working his way back, a win today would be great but not essential and he’s still wearing that finger splint and so Zico Waeytens gets the chance. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) might like tomorrow’s stage more but he’s heavier these days and could participate in the sprint and there’s always the chance teammate Steve Cummings takes a flyer.
|Alexander Kristoff, Nacer Bouhanni
|Debusschere, Theuns, Bennett
Weather: sunshine and some clouds and a top temperature of 22°C. No wind to worry about.
TV: the finish is forecast for 5.10pm Euro time. It should be available on the same channel you watch the Tour de France and/or Eurosport. If not then cyclingfans, cyclinghub and steephill.tv have schedules and streams.