Some low-rated climbs and an inevitable sprint finish? The map is not the territory and the last climb should be too much for most sprinters.
Stage 2 Wrap: nobody wanted to attack. For good reason, this was the nailed-on sprint finish so why fatigue yourself only to get reeled in? Still you wondered whether the Delko team car was going to receive a phone call from the race director explaining they were invited to animate the race and so they’d better get on with it. Julian Alaphilippe was notable taking bonus seconds at the intermediate sprint, racing Valverde-style for every second he can grab. The sprint arrived and Dylan Groenewegen won. He’s had the prestige of the Champs Elysées, the rough and tumble of Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne last month but is this his best win? The uphill finish and the margin of victory shows his versatility.
The Route: 210km south up the Loire valley. The stage is backloaded with the action in the second half as the race heads towards France’s chain of volcanoes and a finish not far from the Puy-de-Dome. The first two climbs are fine, 2.3km at 5.1% and then 5km at 5% and then it’s across open farmland.
With 35km to go the race enters the finishing circuit and gets a first chance to inspect the small climb before the finish, crosses the line and then heads through the pleasant town of Châtel-Guyon and then begins the climb. It’s listed as 4.6km at 4.7% but is harder twice over because it starts climbing before the marked climb and it’s more like 5km at 5.6%. Harder still because the KoM point with 22km to go isn’t the end of the climb, the road drags on and so any sprinters dangling in the wind are prone to being dropped here. It’s a pre-Milan-Sanremo test, a Cipressa but the Italian climb is faster thanks to a smoother road surface, today’s climb is a rustic chip and seal and so tilts away from the sprinters. The climb after the KoM point to the intermediate sprint with its bonus seconds is good attacking terrain, especially because the ensuing descent is on twisting roads and no sooner than it joins a big steep road outside Volvic – the town of the eponymous mineral water – it turns off and twists about making it hard for a bunch to chase. There’s still five kilometres of flat roads, enough to condemn a lone rider.
The Finish: wide roads without too many obstacles, the principal difficulty in the final 5km is the climb of the “Croix de Fer”. Not that one in the Alps but a 1.2km climb at 5-6% before the flamme rouge and then a quick run to the line.
The Contenders: Julian Alaphilippe (Quick Step) will find the finish suits him and better still he ought to know the roads given they pass close to his home and on his training roads. He’ll be even more motivated given he’s first in line to collect the yellow jersey if Arnaud Démare cracks. Partly because of this and because he’s prone to being the runner-up more often than not he’s not a certain pick for the stage win even if he’s likely to be back in the throne again tonight. Can team mate Elia Viviani hang on? If so he’ll be picked for Milan-Sanremo but this should be too much for him.
Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott) suffered a late puncture yesterday and can seek revenge today with a course made for him, the climbing will shake out rival sprinters but he could be in the mix. Magnus Cort Nielsen (Astana) will hope for the same – watch team mate Michael Valgren too – and we’ll see if John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) can make it over too, he lamented being out of place for yesterday’s sprint so we’ll see if he has the legs today.
Tony Gallopin (Ag2r La Mondiale) started off at Cofidis winning sprints and the course suits him, he can win from a reduced group but might also try an attack because few punchy riders will be hard to bring back. Others likely to try include Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie), Tom-Jelte Slagter (Dimension Data) and maybe Gorzka Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida).
Will Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) get in the breakaway? He tried yesterday, today suits him more but the following days are even better for him.
Lastly if it’s hilly it’s not impossible for Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) and André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) to win but they’ll need the bunch to take it easier for them uphill.
|Julian Alaphilippe, Matteo Trentin|
|MCN, Gallopin, Valgren, Calmejane, Slagter, Teuns, Izagirre, Garcia Cortina, Démare, Greipel|
Weather: sunshine and clouds earlier on and 10°C but it’ll cloud over and could rain later. If there is a shower the wind will get up. This matters as the main climb of the day is exposed so dropped riders will have it even tougher.
TV: You should find it on the same channel as you watch the Tour de France. It’s on Eurosport and you can rely on Cyclingfans and steephill.tv for links to feeds and streams. The finish is forecast for 4.30pm.