After two dramatic days Stage 3 promises calmer weather, just as there’s still the prospect of crosswinds and rain. This is the gourmet’s stage where the locations along the way read like names on a menu.
Stage 2 Wrap: with strong wind and pouring rain from the start the race began to split apart with six groups scattered over the road and there was still 150km to go. The lead group included GC contenders Ilnur Zakarin, Sergio Henao, Julian Alaphilippe and Tony Gallopin. Alberto Contador and Richie Porte were there too but were ejected. The race saw groups forming, splitting and regrouping. Contador would eventually get back to the front as part of large group but Richie Porte cracked under pressure and ended up losing 14 minutes.
Just as the race was regrouping six riders got away including Philippe Gilbert. The Belgian champion took off solo and looked to have a decent lead until he reached 8km to go where the course turned onto the long straight road to the finish and put him in a direct in the headwind. The agony of trying to hold off the bunch had him pulling faces à la Voeckler. He’d be caught and the bunch sprint looked inevitable.
Sonny Colbrelli jumped, sat down to change gears, and kicked again and held off the other sprinters. A big surprise win as Colbrelli has been a force on hillier days. But this was a hard day and the sprint proved to be a test of stamina as much as speed with several riders sprinting in oversized rain jackets and others saying just gripping hold of the bars proved tough given the cold and wet conditions. Colbrelli’s triumph was a surprise but he fully deserved the win.
The Route: 190km as the race continues its procession towards the sun. This is the gourmet’s stage: a start in Chablis and intermediate sprints in Epoisses and then Mércurey but of course it’s energy food for the riders. This is wine country and while it can make mouths water it means sloping terrain with vineyards that offer no protection from the wind.
The Côte de Grandmont marks the start of the hilly phase of the stage. Listed as 2.4km with an average gradient of 4.9%, it’s a regular climb up to the mountains prize point… and then the road keeps on climbing soon after. It’s nothing big but this marks the start of several short, sharp climbs that aren’t marked and it’ll begin to blunt the sprinter’s legs. Much of the route is exposed but this section runs along a ridge topped wind wind turbines, a clue and the forecast is for a mischievous three-quarters tailwind. This hilly parenthesis ends atop the Côte de Charrecey, 2.1 km at 6.7%, a big wide road with a steady gradient but with a rasping surface to make it just that bit harder. From the top of the climb there’s 25km to go on a main road to the finish in Chalon-sur-Saône, some of it past famous vineyards.
The Finish: fast and flat. The race rounds those identical roads you get on the periphery of any large town or city in France but with few obstacles and a long run for the final two kilometres beside the Saône river. With 400m to go the road rises a few metres to meet a bridge that spans the river and then it drops back town, the only technical detail in the finish.
The Contenders: we haven’t had a straight sprint yet. It’s likely today but two days of full on racing means many legs will feel wooden today. The hills and crosswinds could further dent a few chances, the wind could scythe the peloton again and the hills shouldn’t drop riders but they could could dull the legs. This means Marcel Kittel has his work cut out today, a dragstrip finish awaits but he’s got to get there first. Alexander Kristoff and Arnaud Démare are the two other strong picks because of their form, power and crucially their positioning during the race, they’ve not been caught out so far. André Greipel will find the course to his liking too.
In the next wave of picks comes Dylan Groenewegen while Bryan Coquard has been struggling and finished second last yesterday, a case of “retreat to better advance” as a French general once said or is Le Coq cooked? John Degenkolb should be in the mix too and these latter two will prefer the hillier nature of this course.
|Marcel Kittel, André Greipel
|Démare, Degenkolb, Groenewegen, Coquard
Weather (updated 10am CET): rain clearing and the sun might even come out later but temperatures will stay cool with a max of 9°C. There will be a tailwind for much of the stage but on the hillier section between the two KoM points the higher ground will be windier and it’s forecast to gust at 40km/h otherwise it’ll be calmer in the valley.
TV: coverage starts at 3.30pm and the finish is forecast for 4.40pm CET. Tune in to catch the action on the wind-exposed finishing circuit.