A scenic tour out of the city of Saint Etienne with a tough finishing circuit that could allow the overall contenders to show their form already, if not then some of the more versatile sprinters on the startlist will seize their chance.
The Route: 170.5km, first via a large loop over the Col du Pilon to the Loire valley and then the flanks of the Forez, a hilly wooded area of the Massif Central with two fourth category climbs. There’s every incentive for an early breakaway with the variety of ascents including the second category climb at St. Romain-les-Atheux where the first four riders get 5-3-2-1 points respectively, slim pickings but just enough to reward someone with the polka dot jersey.
Then comes a finishing circuit with three times up the climb to Rochetaillée on the slopes of Mont Pilat, it’s listed in the race website as 3.4km at 5.4% but it’s a touch steeper as it tracks up a gorge, there’s 6-7% here. Crucially it’s on a narrow and winding road, it’s vital to be at the front here which sets up a vicious spiral of riders trying to get to the front so the pace goes up so it becomes even more important to be at the front. They cross the top of the climb by the castle and begin the descent which is on a wider and less steep road than the climb.
The Finish: down into town again and then a gradual right hand bend within the final kilometre before 500m long final straight that’s slightly uphill.
The Contenders: remember 2015? The race began that year with a circuit race and Peter Kennaugh won the stage (pictured). This circuit aspect is familiar and the same kind of punchy rider can hope to win, if anything the finishing circuit here is harder because it’s either up or down.
Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) is an obvious pick, he sprints well and can do a climb or two, plus he has been racking up wins recently in Norway. The likes of Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrein-Merida), Ben Swift (UAE-Emirates) and Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie) can do the same too but they might find the climbing too much if the peloton gets frenetic.
Some teams have a real interest to drive the pace and this stage allows the likes of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Michał Kwiatkowski (Team Sky), Diego Ulissi (UAE-Emirates) or Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal) are good picks if the race goes into overdrive and who else but Valverde in the city of the Les Verts? Outside picks are Davide Cimolai (FDJ) and Daryl Impey (Orica-Scott).
|Michał Kwiatkowski, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Alejandro Valverde
|Gallopin, Swift, Cimolai, Colbrelli, Coquard, Ulissi, Impey
Weather: overnight rain clearing to leave a cool day with a top temperature of 20°C. A 20-30km/h wind will blow from the north. A lot of the finishing circuit is sheltered but it means a headwind on the descent into town, the most exposed part of the final loop.
TV: the final hour should be on TV and the finish is forecast for 3.00pm CET. It should be on the same channel you watch the Tour de France and/or Eurosport.