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
|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.