A stage for the sprinters, 200km before a likely sprint royale.
Stage 3 Review: there was a small battle to get in the day’s breakaway, a skirmish before six riders were away but they were never allowed to take much more than two minutes for most of the stage despite nobody representing a threat. Still the crosswind and hilly terrain seemed to keep the peloton on edge. With the gap falling a move went from the peloton, a counter-attack but it came to nothing and the promised uphill sprint awaited.
The early slopes were hard but there was still a big group. Richie Porte tried an attack, Contador tried to dance on the pedals but quickly sat back down. The final slope to the line was gentle but many were in the red. Peter Sagan seemed to be waiting for the others. Greg Van Avermaet jumped and as Sagan replied his foot came out of the pedal with all the casual routine of Japanese salaryman returning home after a day’s work and removing his shoes in the home hallway. The Slovak clipped back, checked what was happening and resumed sprinting to win the stage. It’s classic Sagan, while others need everything to go their way just to have a chance of winning, he can make mistakes, make amends and still win.
The Route: they leave Luxembourg via Schengen, the town shared across the countries (Luxembourg, France and Germany) and no passports needed. It’s then due south and along the old border between France and Germany, or at least what we call France and Germany today, something for history buffs rather than cycling but otherwise there’s not a lot to say about the route, the ambitiously-named Saint Privat La Montagne isn’t really in the mountains but the Col des Trois Fontaines is the first mountain pass of the Tour, 1.9km at 7.4% in the roadbook but longer in reality with some 4% approach roads.
The Finish: flatter than the profile suggests and all on big boulevards. Vittel is not a big place and the final kilometres are in the countryside, it’s only with 3km to go that they enter town and then begin a clockwise sweep that pivots around… the Vittel bottled water plant, the brand of water belongs to Nestlé and is a big sponsor of the race. The route is less grim than it sounds, they sweep pass grand hotels, a swanky station and other lavish buildings that celebrate the town’s status as a spa town. Once under the flamme rouge – note it’s a floating banner these days, that inflatable arch has gone – it’s slightly uphill to the line, 1.5-2% in the finishing straight.
The Contenders: it’s hard to see past Marcel Kittel, he was the strongest in Liège on Sunday and the fast flat finish suits him once again. But this is not a time trial and no two sprints are ever the same so there’s plenty that can happen but his solid Quick Step team is here to redce
Every rider wants to win a stage but Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) has been looking forward to today for a long time as he’s the local rider and this would be a win in front of home crowds. He’s in the mix and could pop up… but often when he hopes to win Arnaud Démare surges past and it could happen today as Bouhanni is still building his form. The FDJ rider’s train came off the rails on the way to Liège but he still finished second, if they can keep it tight then he’s in with a chance. André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) should be close too if he can get a clear run to the line, the same for Peter Sagan (Borha-Hansgrohe), a certainty for uphill finishes but more likely to place rather than win in a bunch sprint. Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) will be interesting to watch, his fourth place in Liège was a surprise and he did it the hard way with a long sprint in the headwind. Dylan Groenewegen (Lotto-Jumbo) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) complete the first list of contenders.
|Arnaud Démare, André Greipel
|Sagan, Cavendish, Kristoff, Bouhanni, Groenewegen
Weather: sunshine and a pleasant 24°C with a light breeze from the east, 15km/h which as a crosswind for most of the day won’t trouble the riders much but offers a tailwind for the sprint.
TV: live from the start at 12.20pm CET with the finish forecast for 5.10pm CET.