A day characterised by long straight roads more than the climbs, this should be one for the sprinters.
Stage 1 Wrap: the early break went and it stayed away. Thomas de Gendt looked like he was out to mop up the mountains points but as the race reached the finishing circuit the breakaway’s lead wasn’t coming down. Only Dimension Data seemed committed to the chase and this wasn’t enough. De Gendt moved with a lap to go and only Axel Domont could follow. As ever De Gendt barely attacked, he just set such a high pace that all the others were asphyxiated and Domont looked like he was on a motor-pacing session as he fought to hold De Gendt’s wheel. On the final time up the climb De Gendt upped the pace again and cracked Domont rather than attacked him to go solo for the stage win, the yellow jersey as well as a lead in the mountains and points competitions. This morning’s L’Equipe makes an interesting remark that De Gendt has made a career out of taking big wins during stage races while compatriot Jurgen Van den Broeck, now at Lotto-Jumbo, spent his best years trying to win a big stage race and is on the verge of retiring “in complete anonymity”.
The Route: 171km around more of the Forez hills used yesterday. The race starts uphill and the climb of the Croix Blanche has 5km at 5%, a good launchpad for the day’s breakaway. The profile makes the course look mountainous but note the change in elevation is gradual, we’re talking 5% slopes rather than much more, a theme for the whole day.
They cross the finish line with 31km to go and begin a hilly circuit with more 4-5% gradients but the selective part is the narrow road from 25km to go 15km. After this the road widens and returns to the finish.
The Finish: a 4.6km long finishing straight. The difficulty is the gradient, the road rises up to the line at 4%… again. Nothing steeper but just enough to force riders to think about timing, tactics and gearing.
The Contenders: a sprint or a breakaway? Several teams have come with sprinters so we can expect them to chase if they don’t get a rider in the day’s breakaway. Teams can send riders up the road in hope but one thing the can’t do is collect the mountains jersey because De Gendt’s raid yesterday earned him 16 points and winning all of today’s climbs would only bring in 10 points.
The slight uphill finish shouldn’t disadvantage any of the sprinters in the field with the possible exception of Alexander Kristoff who doesn’t seem to be in top form at the moment but should still be a contender.
It’s hard to pick a winner, nobody is on a winning roll and no sooner do you cite a name does doubt appear. Edvald Boasson Hagen has been racking up wins of late but the straight speed run to the line isn’t ideal for him and he’s not the certainty for a stage like this he used to be. Nacer Bouhanni is back after his head injury from the Tour de Yorkshire so to start winning is a big ask. Bryan Coquard is still waiting for that World Tour win. Arnaud Démare hasn’t raced for a month but he’s suited to this dragstrip finish with a slight slope. Otherwise Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrein-Merida), Ben Swift (UAE Emirates) and Michael Schwarzmann (Bora-Hansgrohe).
|Arnaud Démare, Edvald Boasson Hagen
|Nacer Bouhanni, Sonny Colbrelli, Bryan Coquard
|Kristoff, Swift, Theuns, Schwarzmann
Weather: a top temperature of 20°C in the plains, half that higher up on the Forez plateau with some sunshine.
TV: the finish is forecast for 4.20pm CET. It should be on the same channel you watch the Tour de France and/or Eurosport.