The first mountain stage is here and the racing is going to change. There should be a struggle to get in a breakaway at the start and battle for the stage win at the end as the race heads to the volcanic landscapes of the Cantal.
Stage 4 Wrap: a photofinish was needed to separate Marcel Kittel and Bryan Coquard. Normally there’s a gulf between the two, one is on a big budget team with a powerful lead out train; the other rides for a team that relies on invites and a sprint train that’s more of a regional stopping service. Still this was the finish to suit Coquard and he made the most of it. He confessed afterwards he’d seen Kittel sprinting the previous day and didn’t rate him and opted to follow Sagan in the sprint only to find Kittel back on top of his game and winning the stage.
The Route: barely a metre of flat. The road rises and falls again and again even before the categorised climb in St. Leonard, home to Raymond Poulidor and then more climbing as the route gets near 1,000m above sea level near the 90km point. It’s after 160km and Salers that the race tackles the first mountain pass, the Col de Neronne. It’s an easy climb as the road climbs up a valley, expect side shots from the helicopter as it hovers beside the road as the race enters the volcanic landscape.
The Pas de Peyrol is the big climb, it starts steady then rears up and the final 2.5km are consistently between 11-13%, a big change of rhythm. There’s a flat section across the top that the profile doesn’t show and then a long descent with one or two dangers – Alexandr Vinokourov broke his leg in 2011 here – but otherwise fast.
The Col du Perthus is listed as 4.4km at 7.9% which would be hard if it was like this. Instead it’s much steeper for most of the way. The profile says it starts with 7% but the 10-12% slopes arrive immediately and it stays this way for the next two kilometres with only a brief flat section in between before rising up all the way to the top. It’s harder than expected and the place where teams can ratchet up the pace to eliminate or test rivals who’ve survived the Pas de Peyrol. The descent is in two parts, the first part is easy and gentle, then there’s a bump uphill and then the second part is steeper and more dangerous part with some sharp turns, the kind where it’s easy to overcook things.
The Finish: the Col de Font de Cère begins on the big Route Nationale and then with 6km to go they turn onto a small road which climbs to the KoM point among the chalets and ski slopes above Le Lioran on a steady road. The descent is much smaller and has some bumps and tight bends on the way down before they drop back into the ski resort and pick up the main road which gradually bends to the finish. The last 600m rise at 6-7%.
The Scenario: there should be be a fight to get in the breakaway for a change and the process of selection means that once it goes it’s bound to contain some heavy hitters who could stay away all day, as long as they’re down on GC already. The main GC teams will not let any rivals go clear, there’s little chance that, say, Richie Porte is allowed any room to go in the early break. It’ll be a hard day for Alberto Contador, if he lost seconds in Cherbourg he could lose minutes here.
The Contenders: want to win the stage and wear the yellow jersey? It’s up to several teams to eliminate Peter Sagan from the front group today on the climbs, if he’s not ditched on the Pas de Peyrol then the Col du Perthus can be used. The Slovak’s chances of a win today are low given the climbing but it’s up to his rivals to make the race hard enough to get rid of him otherwise if he makes the front group over the penultimate climb then he’ll be hard to beat.
First among the contenders is Julian Alaphilippe. He’s almost a local, the stage is in his local Auvergne region, albeit in the opposite corner to his home. He can climb well as we’ve seen in races from the Critérium du Dauphiné to the Ardennes classics and he can match Peter Sagan for power in the uphill sprints. Etixx-Quickstep have the team to eject Sagan too, especially if Dan Martin gets to work although he’s a contender for the stage win too. The yellow jersey awaits.
Alejandro Valverde is a good pick and if anyone can beat Alaphilippe it’s Valverde as the Spaniard has regularly got the better in the Ardennes but he’s not the prime pick today because the finish isn’t so steep. Also do Movistar want him to win? Yes but it would mean having the yellow jersey which is nice but a burden given their superior ambitions. Jesus Herrada is another option for a sprint finish from a reduced group and Ion Izaguirre is in fine shape too, Movistar can afford to let one rider slip away and still protect Nairo Quintana.
Orica-BikeExchange have three options in Adam Yates, Simon Gerrans and Michael Matthews but in order to increase their odds they may want to use up riders in order to thin the group, for example to get Gerrans working to ensure Sagan is dropped which could put Matthews in trouble too, it won’t be easy to control.
Wilco Kelderman, Rui Costa, Bauke Mollema are other punchy riders who don’t have much chance in sprint against the names cited above but could barge clear on the final climb and find the others hesitate as they’re not GC threats so allowing them to take a surprise win. Tony Gallopin has a shot at the win, he can climb well and sprints fast but as mentioned already this week can get nervous in the finish. Jarlinson Pantano found winning ways in the Tour de Suisse and sprints well, this suits him.
The local pick is Romain Bardet who grew up in Brioude, just a short spin away. He sprints faster than many think but wins are rare and he won’t get much room. He could try to force matters on the familiar descents but the Route Nationale section to Le Lioran won’t suit a lone rider who’s taken 20-30 seconds on the previous descent.
For breakaway picks it’s a lottery. Rafał Majka is 17 minutes down but does he have the freedom to do what he wants or is he helping Sagan? Thomas Voeckler is well down on GC too but his exploits over these roads in 2011 represent a high point that, aged 37, he’s struggling to replicate. The winner that day ahead of Voeckler was L-L Sanchez and an outsider today. Otherwise Stephen Cummings, Thomas de Gendt and Jan Barta are among the obvious escape artists who pose no threat to the GC riders with Cummings having good jump to win.
|Julian Alaphilippe, Alejandro Valverde|
|Pantano, Yates, Gerrans, L-L Sanchez, Cummings, Kelderman|
Weather: sunshine and warm with a top temperature of 26°C along the way, cooler at altitude. A light tailwind of 10km/h will help push riders along.
TV: the race reaches Salers at 3.45pm Euro time and a good point to tune in for the climbs to come. The finish is forecast for 5.15pm Euro time.