A sprint? Probably but the hilly course and the lack of sprinter’s teams mean it’s not certain and the final could be hard to control.
Poly-Valence: Michał Kwiatkowksi is one of the most versatile riders in the peloton and won the prologue in Valence. While one Sky rider cleaned up, another wiped out with Geraint Thomas taking a corner too fast, sliding out when otherwise could have won the stage; he will now hope to “do a Froome” this week and given the risks he was taking yesterday he hasn’t come here to work on his tan. All the GC riders finished where expected although Warren Barguil fared worst. He and his team are getting more and more questions from the French media about when things will turn around, much like Fabio Aru endured in the Giro.
The Route: 179km north-west from the Rhone valley towards Saint Etienne and a finishing circuit around the Loire river. It’s uphill from the start, climbing away from the Rhone valley to the first KoM point at a steady 5% for much of the way, a climb used before in the early season Boucles Drôme-Ardèche and with 5 points on offer for first place at the top in the mountains competition, not enough to secure the jersey but almost. The race crosses the Ardèche plateau via two successive climbs on long steady roads.
The riders enter the 12km finishing circuit and do two and half laps. It’s got one categorised climb but to get to it there’s another climb as they leave the town of Saint Rambert, more of a drag along the road with 2km at 3-4% followed by a dip and they climb to the Grangent dam which they ride across and then snake up to the KoM point, 1.5km at 4-5% before a reciprocal drop back down to Saint Just.
The Finish: after dropping into town the final 400m are uphill and more so than glancing at the roadbook suggests so expect a few “this is steeper than expected” comments later today although given it’s climbed twice before the finish is contested nobody will be too surprised. It’s a 5% rise to the line which tilts the finish away from the heavier hulk sprinters.
The Contenders: a sprint? Probably because several teams have brought sprinters and it’s either today or tomorrow for them or nothing all week so they’ll work hard to set up a sprint, especially since those looking to do a breakaway will probably fancy their chances on tomorrow’s route. But do the sprinters teams have the horsepower?
The uphill finish means it’s advantage Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) and Bryan Coquard (Vital Concept) but neither are riders that win regularly. Coquard has had a torrid start to the season but has found winning ways recently but of his 36 career wins, he’s yet to win in the World Tour but his comparative advantage today is his weight – 61kg.
Among the more traditional sprinters Bora-Hansgrohe’s Pascal Ackermann won the final stage in Romandie while fellow German Phil Bauhaus – why do all the German sprinters have non-Germanic names like Phil, Pascal, André, John, Marcel etc? – won a stage in this race last year. Dutch neo-pro Fabio Jakobsen (Quick Step) has had a great start to his season and might be the fastest if this was a dragstrip finish. Wanty-Groupe Gobert have two options in Xandro Meurisse and Odd Eiking. Julien Simon (Cofidis) could be close too. Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott) might try too.
Also the course is ideal for a late attack from a finisseur, leftfield picks are Fabio Felline (Trek-Segafredo), Michael Valgren (Astana), Jens Keukeleire (Lotto-Soudal), Benjamin Thomas (Groupama-FDJ) and Jay McCarthy (Bora-Hansgrohe).
|EBH, Bryan Coquard, Fabio Jakobsen
|Bauhaus, Ackerman, Meurisse, Simon, Impey
Weather: sunshine, the chance of rain and a top temperature of 21°C at the finish, cooler along the way.
TV: the finish is forecast for 4.30pm CEST and the final hour will be live on TV.