A hilly stage with a lively uphill finish. The different finish means different teams will chase today because the slopes in Longwy are too much for most sprinters which in turn means more riders might fancy their chance in the day’s breakaway.
Stage 2 review: an instant breakaway of four riders but not necessarily a futile move. Taylor Phinney took the king of the mountains jersey and Yoann Offredo scooped up plenty of publicity for his Wanty-Gobert team. When asked what his plans were before the stage he cited the Ghislain Lambert film and team orders “to see Magicreme everywhere“, in other words his team had to get in the move. With 30km to go there was a crash at the front of the bunch which brought down many riders including Geraint Thomas, Chris Froome, Romain Bardet, Richie Porte and Robert Gesink and many more, some superficial injuries reported but nobody left the race. If the bunch sprint was a certainty, many teams saw their plans falls apart and most of the top riders came into the final 400m without help, having to watch their rivals and wait for others to make their move. Peter Sagan went first but his generous effort just launched the sprint for others while Marcel Kittel was out of the picture at first but bided his time in the slipstream before surging to the win. He was clearly the fastest in the finish. Second placed Arnaud Démare was close and will hope his team can deliver him again, this time he lost Mickaël Delage in the big crash and Ignatas Konovalovas to a puncture in the final kilometres. Mark Cavendish was an encouraging fourth after a long sprint in the headwind.
The Route: 212km across Belgium and Luxembourg before the races reaches France. The first climb is listed at Sart and 2.8km at 5.1% but the road rises long before, this is hilly country in the Ardennes and familiar to many racers from the Eneco Tour, the Ster ZLM and other events.
The climb to Eschdorf is listed as 2.3km at 9.3% and arguably the first real climb of the Tour with a pronounced gradient and hairpin bends. Along with the climb to Wiltz there’s a real opportunity to get out and take the mountains jersey and keep it for a day because tomorrow only has one marked climb so we can expect a breakaway to mop up the points.
The Finish: they ride downhill via some wide hairpin bends, pass over the railway line and after crossing the Chiers river they take the Rue de l’Abbatoir. With 2.3km the road dips down before a sharp left bend to funnel the riders onto a narrow road and the start of the climb to the finish, here the road rises a little more than the profile suggests before the start of the the Rue de la Banque, the steep part of the finish. It’s here they flick left, another pinch point where contenders need to be well-placed, and then they climb with 8-10% biting soon before the slope eases to 6%. There’s a left bend where it’s steep on the inside but worth the shortcut and then comes the flamme rouge, followed by a sharp bend to the right and the climbs at 3-4% to the line, easing for the final 100 metres.
The Contenders: Peter Sagan is an obvious pick, he’s the normally the master at these kind of finishes. But you’ll remember Zdeněk Štybar winning ahead of him in the 2015 Tour de France in Le Havre, ditto Greg Van Avermaet in Rodez that year. But those were the days when Sagan kept finishing second, he’s a more prolific winner but both of those riders are contenders today. Štybar might be tasked with trying to get Matteo Trentin to the finish because the Italian is a 10 second time bonus away from the yellow jersey thanks to the hundredths of a second recorded in the time trial and Trentin will probably find this finish too much. Meanwhile also at Quick Step Philippe Gilbert‘s problem is not the climb, it’s the way the road levels out towards the finish. He used to be invincible in finishes like this but he’s about to turn 35 this week and doesn’t have that old zip so he’s not such a firm pick
Michael Matthews is a good challenger but how to beat Sagan? Does he ask his team for a high tempo on the steepest parts of the climb to try and put Sagan and the other sprinters into the red knowing he just might be able to outpace them or just simply stick to Sagan and hope for the best with 100 metres to go?
There’s a long list of other contenders who will queue on Sagan’s wheel. Diego Ulissi might prefer a slightly more sustained climb but is still very good for a finish like this and maybe UAE team mate Ben Swift can hold tight for the sprint. FDJ will count on Arthur Vichot who looked good in the Tour de Suisse but the level of opposition here is so big that a win seems unlikely. Orica-Scott have Michael Albasini, a specialist at uphill finishes but a rare winner outside his native Switzerland. Trek-Segafredo’s Fabio Felline could pounce, Cannondale-Drapac’s Patrick Bevin is handy for short uphill sprints and Dimension Data’s Edvald Boasson Hagen had a great time trial, the form is there. Finally Movistar’s Carlos Betancur who is looking much leaner these days, perhaps not the winner but we’ll see if he’s back to his fighting weight.
|Ulissi, Boasson Hagen, Felline, Albasini, Bevin, Van Avermaet, Gilbert, Kwiatkowski, Swift
Weather: cloudy with some sun at times, 18°C and a 20km/h wind from the west, meaning a light crosswind for 90% of the stage before a headwind for the final 20 minutes until the reach the finish in Longwy where they zig and zag to the finishing straight with a tailwind.
TV: live from the start at 12.15pm CET with the finish forecast for 5.20pm CET.