After a brief test of the main contenders, back to the first of two consecutive sprint stages, a chance for the sprinters to shine before a few risk being eliminated in the mountains this weekend… or by the commissaires this afternoon.
Stage 5 Review: a fast start. A competent group of eight riders got away including Edvald Boasson Hagen, fourth overall at 16 seconds. BMC Racing took up the chase and they covered 48km in the first hour and kept the breakaway at two and half minutes. A show of strength from BMC? Possibly but needing to show strength is sign of insecurity too and come the final the red jerseys were missing. It meant Sky had six riders on the final climb who’d sat comfortable all day.
The day’s breakaway was swept up and Fabio Aru launched the first serious attack on the Planche des Belles Filles with 2.3km to go, surging like a gamboling foal. Simon Yates tried to slip away and soon after Froome attacked having run out of team mates, including Geraint Thomas who’d been dropped. Froome’s acceleration was potent but Richie Porte, Dan Martin, Romain Bardet and Nairo Quintana followed, although this caused the Colombian to crack moments later. Martin used the final ramp to surge away for second place with Froome taking third and a small psychological win over Porte.
How much can we extrapolate? It’s only one climb but a 16 minute full on effort should tell us plenty. Aru looked fresh and lively confirming the impression from the Italian championships and should be a force for the upcoming mountain stages including the Mont du Chat this Sunday. Chris Froome’s closed the gap to his rivals but seems on a similar level to Richie Porte, Romain Bardet, Dan Martin and Simon Yates. When Froome’s taken yellow before he’s never lost it but didn’t look so invincible this time but he can count on the Marseille time trial when others cannot. Nairo Quintana was dropped at the end but we’ll see how he fares on longer climbs. Losers of the day were Jacob Fuglsang and Bauke Mollema, the Dane’s Dauphiné form deserted him and Aru is the clear leader of Astana now. Team Sky did have six riders on the climb but once Michał Kwiatkowski parked the others fell away quickly too.
The Route: 216km and a long day across rolling terrain with a road that rises and falls like a sine wave. The first climb at Langres is 1.3km at 6.3% and the second is 3.1km at 4.4%. The intermediate sprint passes through Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises, long home to President Charles de Gaulle and where the Tour de France stopped mid-stage to salute him. A lot of the route is exposed to the wind, passing big cereal fields and roads lined by poplar trees and the forecast of crosswinds (see below) could stir things up.
The Finish: they ride through Troyes on urban roads. There’s a left hand bend with 2km to go marked as dangerous in the roadbook but if it’s a 90° bend, it’s wide. The flat run through town continues with a wide chicane just before the flamme rouge and then a long finishing straight.
The Contenders: Arnaud Démare again? He’s in the green jersey and the big roads suit him and his FDJ’s sprint train again. Hiring Italians Jacopo Guarnieri and Davide Cimolai over the winter has boosted the team a lot and it seems they’re after Ramon Sinkeldam of Giant-Shimano too, they’re becoming more international… like in the late 1990s in the days of Bradley McGree, Baden Cooke and Bradley Wiggins.
Marcel Kittel lost his Quick Step train in Vittel which at least kept him away from the danger. He should be back again here and we’ll get a contest with FDJ.
Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) has been consistently close so he only needs a touch of luck for a win. With each passing day Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) is getting better but how to beat the names cited so far, he needs a wilder finish with a maze of bends to beat the big trains.
Among the others Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) was close in Vittel but lacked the speed in the finish, Dylan Groenewegen (Lotto-Jumbo) still needs a clear run at the line and
|Marcel Kittel, Arnaud Démare|
|Bouhanni, Kristoff, Groenewegen|
Weather: hot and sunny with a top temperature of 34°C. The wind will blow at 20km/h from the SW and could gust to 40km/h.
TV: live from the start at 12.05pm CET with the finish forecast for 5.30pm CET. Think of rationing of your viewing because today’s stage doesn’t promise much action until the final 10kms.