Tour de France Stage 6 Preview

A likely sprint finish awaits as today is followed by three consecutive stages in the Pyrenees.

Stage 5 Wrap: it took 20km until the breakaway went clear after a hard fight, Thomas De Gendt dragging a group clear. The chemistry wasn’t good, several riders were not doing their share in the breakaway. So De Gendt spoke to Greg Van Avermaet about an attack and soon enough others eased up for a pause pipi and the Belgian pair made their move and were joined by Andrei Grivko of Astana and condemned the others, including Rafał Majka, to a long day of potato hunting. Behind there was a Mexican stand-off among the teams with nobody willing to work. Even Etixx-Quickstep said no despite Julian Alaphilippe being ready to inherit the yellow jersey and in the end Team Sky took up the work with Luke Rowe before Tinkoff and Movistar lent some legs.

Normally De Gendt is the superior climber while Van Avermaet stood to gain the yellow jersey. Would they do a deal where De Gendt got the stage in exchange for towing GVA to the finish? No and Van Avermaet took off on the steep Col du Perthus to do the dubbelslag, the double strike of the stage win and yellow jersey and shorten his odds for the Olympic road race.


Behind there was plenty happening. Movistar deployed the whole team, using the gentle Col de Néronne to start ejecting riders and then continuing on the Puy Mary, the day’s big climb. Why? Probably to bury Alberto Contador but he held on and was only distanced by a late attack by Romain Bardet. Contador lost 33 seconds to his rivals and lost face with his team given Majka decided to go in the breakaway and Kreuziger didn’t help when he was dropped.

Others were dropped including Vincenzo Nibali as the gradient began to bite. Or was he? It looked equally possible that he sat up. Given the improbability of a Giro-Tour double was this a case of reculer pour mieux sauter, to take a step back in order to be able to jump further? He can aim to pick off a stage or just hone form ahead of the Olympics and seem unfazed by duty towards Aru. (Co-) Incidentally L’Equipe reports that the Bahrain team interested in hiring Nibali is stalling and could push back their start to 2018. Several other outsiders were ejected along the way, Pozzovivo, Cofidis, Sepulveda, Rui Costa, Craddock, Poels, Landa and Tom Dumoulin were among the outsiders cast aside by Movistar but this was not what they were working for. The Spanish team burned through their riders, much ado about nothing. Still among those not dropped Thibaut Pinot looked to be clinging on, bolstering questions over his form; Adam Yates was dangling on the back too.

How far can Van Avermaet go in yellow? That depends on the others, on yesterday’s ride he could defend his five minute lead over the Col d’Aspin on the first stage in the Pyrenees. Perhaps the bigger question is how much his BMC Racing team will commit? They know GVA will lose the jersey so how much energy do they spend on it knowing van Garderen and Porte have greater plans.

The Route: a scenic 190.5km without any major obstacles, the roads drags up and down but without anything serious as the route crosses several river valleys, gorges and the causse plateaus that sit in between. This is tourist country, the region is packed with British and Dutch visitors.

The Côte de Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val is scenic as the road lifts away from the Averyon valley but it’s 3km at 5% and on a wide road and above all 40km from the finish, hardly a launchpad to victory and in time the route descends to the plains and possibly for the first sunflower sightings, a Tour de France cliché.

The Finish: it’s a fast and flat finish as they approach Montauban via some big boulevards, some of which have immovable street furniture to be wary of. The final kilometre sees a left and then a right turn but both are sweeping bends rather than sharp corners before a 380m finishing straight.

The Scenario: can a breakaway stick? Surely not. Etixx-Quickstep had a shot at the yellow jersey yesterday but chose not to chase the breakaway so they’re ready to work today and several other teams will be only too happy to help. Direct Energie want to back Coquard, Lotto-Soudal will toil for Greipel and Dimension Data will want another stage win with Cavendish before he goes home. The early hills suit the formation of a breakaway but the flat run in suits the chase.

The Contenders: there’s a sense that in each of the sprints so far you could run them again in some kind of real life Monte Carlo simulation and the results would keep varying as teams and individuals change their tactics and plans. There’s still no top dog.

There is a clear top four though. Mark Cavendish has two stage wins yet doesn’t feel like the certainty to win again. Marcel Kittel was good in Limoges on an uphill finish that didn’t suit him but this only puts him back level among the others after two earlier disappointments. The nearly man so far is André Greipel so today could he his turn; the finish passes the Tonton Flingeur roundabout, a tribute to the classic French film so perhaps a Teuton Flingeur wins? As ever Peter Sagan can place well but beating everyone is a tall order.

Outside of this top four Bryan Coquard has the speed for a flat finish too, see his second place on the Champs Elysée last year. Dylan Groenewegen was very fast two days ago as he surged past many in the uphill finish and it’ll be interesting to see how he fares with some mountains in his legs. Alexander Kristoff hasn’t been the certainty we expected but don’t write him off.

Then comes a third wave of riders like Edward Theuns, Dan McClay and Christophe Laporte but the win seems elusive.

Marcel Kittel, Mark Cavendish
André Greipel
Sagan, Coquard, Groenewegen

Weather: hot and sunny with a top temperature of 32°C forecast for later on in the stage.

TV: the finish is forecast for 5.20pm Euro time.

51 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 6 Preview”

  1. It was disappointing to see Etixx-Quickstep not take the opportunity to put Alaphilippe into yellow. If EQS were a French team, I wonder if that would have made the difference?

    • Alaphilippe was struggling on Pas de Pyrol and Col de Perthus so they don’t want to pace high to drop their own rider from GC contention.

      • Also, following Patrick Lefevre’s pre-race comments, they have shifted focus already to D. Martin and the Pyrennees, he could go for a stage+yellow there.

  2. Another potential, but possibly less likely reason Nibali deliberately lost time is so that he can get into a break and then allow aru to attack out of the main group with a teammate upfront to help once he bridges in one of the later stages.

    • Possibly, it has become an Astana trait in recent GT”s.
      But somehow I can’t see Nibali playing the dutiful Scarponi role. More likely he hasn’t got the legs after his Giro efforts and will go stage hunting, particularly if his proposed Bahrain move is stalled / off.
      Good for the viewers but less so for Aru, I would venture.
      Still, he could be a very useful wildcard tactical option for Astana, depending how the race pans out.
      We can perhaps expect to see some fireworks but it’s just if he’s got the form to carry it off?

      On the Bahrain team subject, has the bad publicity knocked things back?

  3. Seems a few teams struggle with the Gordic knot of double captaincy this year: Nibali undermining Aru, Kreuziger not helping Contador when dropped, Gerrans and Matthews sprinting on different sides of the road. I’d put BMC in the category too, if Porte hadn’t (partly) chopped the knot by puncturing.

    Co-captains are a thing for role playing games that never works out in real life!

    • I’m not sure Kreuziger failing to help Contador fits the pattern. This is what happens when a team is folding and someone like Kreuziger is looking for a job still.

    • Not sure if any of those are good examples:
      Nibali and Aru hate each other
      – Sagan is the other Tinkoff leader, and they may have already given up on Contador for GC
      – Gerrans and Matthews are idiots and need a strong DS to make them agree to a plan for each stage and stick to it
      – Porte got caught out because his team were all on the front pulling for Van Avermaet – they should have had put one guy each with TJVG and LRP in case of mechanicals

      On the other hand:
      – Quintana and Valverde worked well last year and everyone wishes Quintana attacked more but that can’t be blamed on the twin leader approach
      – Dan Martin and Alaphilippe worked well together in the Dauphiné and I expect plenty more from them in this race
      – Péraud and Bardet worked out well in 2014 as well

      • “Quintana and Valverde worked well last year and everyone wishes Quintana attacked more but that can’t be blamed on the twin leader approach”… it wasn’t a twin leader approach, it was a twins-like Schleck-brothers approach, where the strongest one did slow down at least a couple of times in key moments because the weakest one was suffering.
        That said, I agree that co-captains can actually work quite well in cycling, indeed, but quite often one of the two ends up don’t liking that so much, at the end of the day 🙂

  4. On a slightly superficial note, firstly what a beautiful area the Cantal is and it looks largely unspoiled too.

    Secondly, as Inrng pointed out, the race roads have all been recently re-surfaced.
    But did you notice much of the road graffiti yesterday, it didn’t look ad-hoc or amateur to me?
    Suspiciously uniform in style, unless the fans take stencils with them these days?
    Any thoughts Inrng or anyone out there?

    • Some graffiti can be done by the local authority as publicity for the helicopters, some was done by protesting farmers the other day.

      But never underestimate just how prepared some fans are, they come with their camping cars packed with everything possible for the full roadside experience from BBQs to pots of paint and then the work involved to paint the road, first drawing the outline of the words in chalk to ensure it looks right before applying the paint at night so to ensure the paint dries without being ruined by passing vehicles.

      • Thanks Inrng – the subject would make an interesting article, if I may venture?
        One for the ‘funded’ site perhaps anyway. Great stuff.

    • On my last two visits to the Alps – one just after the Tour had been through and one when it was in the town – I noticed quite a bit of Team Sky “graffiti” on the climbs. “Team Sky”, “Go Sky Go” “Go Froomey Go”, that kind of thing. Clearly a stencil had been used and where the print was repeated, it was all in a neat line. Nothing amateur about it.
      I’ve seen the same nonsense on the roads connecting the Pave’ of Paris Roubaix.

    • Local authorities have preemptively stenciled the road themselves, at least for a couple of iconic climbs in Italy and Belgium, presumably as a branding exercise.

  5. It looked to be like Nibali totally sat up to save his legs for stage wins and the Olympic Road Race. I thought it was a bit of a two fingers up to the team and Aru as well – Aru punctures or has a mechanical and Nibali isn’t there for a quick wheel change…

  6. On another note; how long can van Avermaet hold on to yellow? 5 minutes in hand is a lot?

    Maybe not directly comparable, but I get flashbacks from 2011, when Voeckler took yellow “a la Walkowiak” and just clung to it almost to the end.

    I know van Avermaet is not a climber, but he did climb damn well yesterday, though!

    • As much as I would like it to happen I think he would have needed the full 15 minutes he had at 50k to go. When you see him go like that though you’d have to think he’d be a potential winner at Lombardia, especially the Bergamo finish.

      • Absolutely. Liège too, without saying. In fact, he’s the only rider nowadays who has a decent shot at all 5 monuments. I’ve been tweeting that to him for years, I hope he starts believing it. But he’s yet to win his first one.

        • I love how people talk about certain rider’s prospects of winning all 5 monuments when they nearing their mid-30s and haven’t even won ONE yet.

          Boggles the mind.

    • How much to BMC want to spend on it. Even today they will be expected to pick up the chase from the start of the stage until the sprinters teams take over but they might say “no thanks” (which gives the breakaway contenders some hope to cling on to) and instead back TvG and Porte in full by saving all their resources for the mountains and what’s to come. That said they have guys who can work on the flat today and simply won’t be around to do much in the mountains, their job has been protection on the flat stages so Burghardt and Quinziato can be employed today.

      • Agreed. There are diminishing returns for the expense of keeping a jersey for a further day in the circumstances the wearer is guaranteed to lose it in a few days.

      • Given how he appeared to be climbing yesterday, and with a five minute lead, I think he should be able to hold on today and tomorrow. The sprinters’ teams will still want to chase today while there is a chance of a win. On Friday there is only the Aspin, and he can afford to get dropped probably as much as two or three km before the top and still hold on to some of his lead, provided he doesn’t panic.

        My prediction (ha!) is a new leader on Saturday evening, but GvA will survive in yellow until then.


        • I think so too. Probably the GC contenders will go full gas up the Aspin, and we saw yesterday when Movistar was doing damage how quickly the gap dropped. But a strong guy like GVA will probaly be able to keep the difference below 5 mins. But not on Saturday.

  7. I’ve had a chat with cycling buds about Contador post 2011.. He has won 3 GT’s but always had misfortune at the Tour..

    My take is that his struggles & losses but courage have endeared him to the majority of cycling fans. The sentiment of most fans to Contador in 2016 differs drastically from his 2010/11 days.

    This year, probably no win, but with injury and struggles, he is definitely riding into another great story in Tour history.

    • Totally agree, the way he fights, the never-give-up attitude, as well as the “carelessness” he has when not in contention for the GC, make him the rider of a generation. Not to mention the beautiful stanza when standing up climbing.

    • I was thinking along similar lines. Contador has had a major crash at the last three Tours, and a few minor ones too. This can’t be solely down to bad luck, surely. Are his reactions slowing? Is he feeling the pressure as he comes to the end of his career and younger rival push him? Not enough protection from his teammates? Doesn’t seem to happen to him in other races, or to other big names with the same frequency.

      • I often wonder if the reason Contador lacks the punch he did, and doesn’t have the “luck” he did is that he no longer rides for Bruyneel. Notice that he doesn’t climb the way he did, can’t time trial the way he did and doesn’t concentrate the way he did. If you have extra powers everything is easier. He doesn’t have those extra powers anymore. And I think it’s proof he’s riding clean.

  8. I think Sondre Holst Enger should be mentioned in the third wave of sprinters.

    6th two times, and was hit by the crash on stage 1 (was on Mørkøvs wheel)

    • Just to say I like thta the link to Potato Hunting refers to when GVA won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. I wonder if there’s any significane to that…

  9. re: Adam Yates – It seems to me that he usually hangs in the back half of the reduced peloton one climbs. More often than not he’s the back marker. He only ever seems to go forward when there are 5 or fewer, or if he’s about to jump. Has anyone else noticed this? Or is it my imagination?

    I don’t think we can read much into him being a back marker again yesterday, he looked more comfortable than Alaphillippe to me.

    • He pretty much confirmed this in an interview yesterday. He says he doesn’t pick out stages he can win and takes each stage at is comes. He said he sees himself riding for GC and didn’t see point in wasting energy going for an attack or deliberately losing time so he is not seen as a threat as that is not how he likes to ride.

      • Agreed on Yates. I was worried initially seeing him dangling at the back but his peddling style gave away that he was most likely riding well within his limits (at least in comparison to Alaphillippe, who was absolutely on the rivet). I doubt he’ll be able to hang with the “big 2” when the hammer really drops but I’m interested to see how he goes in the next tier. Porte looked very easy yesterday; what a shame about his time loss.

        In terms of teams, Movistar looked very strong yesterday. Sure, Sky took over afterwards but they slowed it right down – GVA lost zero time to them after Movistar peeled off – was this because they just wanted to take it easy or because Froome isn’t feeling too good? There was lots of coughing post-stage, which we’ve seen before, but is there anything more to it?

      • They even have a small sloping gantry for them to stand on so photographers are not standing in front of each other, in the same way the seats slope in a sports stadium etc. There is a lot of duplication for this moment but there are all doing different things before and after.

  10. Nibali looked like he deliberately eased off as he looked quite fresh when he started getting dropped. It will be interested to see how it pans out as it is well known he and Aru are not best friends.

    Also I think Nibali doesn’t share a room at the hotel (or at least wasn’t in first few days of the tour) so is he going to go full on lone wolf? I reckon he knows he hasn’t got legs after the Giro to threaten GC so is going to go stage hunting as I can’t see him working for Aru.

    If Contador keeps losing time it sets up some potentially interesting long range attacks in the later part of the tour, added with threat of Nibali attacks and also Aru likes to attack. Could this lead to burning a few of team sky’s super domestiques keeping them all in check and help Quitanna?

  11. I think this is done with Kontador. He is already quite far in GC and it is pretty sure he will loose more time in the pyrenees. I don’t know whether there is much sense in continuing this: he should maybe better save energy for Olympic road race and/or Vuelta.

  12. The Monte Carlo simulation reference set me off on a train of thought. Part of the essence of MC simulations is that you repeat many times. Could you have a sprinter’s day that instead of a 200 km drag with one sprint at the end, consists of 10 times a 20km mini criterium. With a full peleton. You still get the attrition element that people like about the long stages, but there’s a lot more action to watch. It wouldn’t be anything like that boring stage 3 this year. I’m not sure how you should count it though, as 10 full stages or make some sort of classification for the day and count that as a stage.

Comments are closed.