The Tour goes to France, swapping beer-producing Binche for Epernay, capital of champagne wines. The finale 50km have plenty of fizz, with steep climbs amid the vineyards and a sharp ramp to the finish line.
Stage 2 Review: the stage win for Jumbo-Visma and you can see why Wout van Aert got the call-up, he was taking very long turns for the team and they finished 20 seconds ahead of Ineos, a big margin. The story of the day was one proximity, the next ten teams all within 21 seconds of each other. Movistar, Trek-Segafredo and Ag2r La Mondiale were outliers, the Spanish team the surprise, Ag2r La Mondiale less so given their past record and current injuries and while Porte’s taken bigger time loss than many expected.
The Route: 215km due south with names like Binche and Fourmies that evoke late season one day races and 150km to Reims. Then it’s out into the “Montagne de Reims”, nothing Alpine but this is part of the area where grapes for champagne are grown and as well as the tourism promotion it means sharp climbs amid the sloping vineyards. They’re hard work but they’re spaced apart which allows the race a brief moment to regroup, for riders to make up position.
The first climb isn’t counted by the race but it’s the Rue de la Montagne and climbs for 2km at an average of 5% with a steeper second part, all on a regular road. The second climb out of Nanteuil is rectiligne, a straight line up a regular road to the first mountains classification point of the day and followed by a regular descent down to the Marne valley. Then it’s across to the “Côte de Hautvilliers”, better known to locals as Côte des Morts, the climb “of the dead”, and it’s 1km at 10%, all on a narrow road to Hautvilliers – where Dom Pérignon is buried – and then across to the next climb by Champillon which isn’t as technical but is the longest and highest of the categorised climbs.
The final climb is out of the valley to Mutigny and a sharp ramp, just 900m but 12% and narrow too and with the 8-5-2 seconds time bonus. From the top there’s 16km to go, a quick descent through the vineyards before things calm down with wide and flat roads into Epernay…
The Finish: …only with 5km to go there’s a stinker of a climb, it flicks off the main road into town to tackle a small lane that drags up before 700 of 8% which steepens just before the top and then chased by a steep and narrow descent into town. Here there’s 3km to go on boulevards as they circle town and, instead of finishing outside any of the elegant champagne houses, they head for a residential housing estate. It’s not as swank but it’s there’s logic, the road drags up under the flamme rouge before kicking up one last time to the line, first with a straight ramp of 6% and then after a right hand bend the road goes up then eases off, up then eases off, then up again like some infernal interval session with the final 300m at over 10%.
The Contenders: There’s a long list of riders capable of winning today but Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quickstep) is the prototype rider for today, he’s agile on the sharp climbs, confident on the narrow descents and the 10% slope to the finish line is perfect for his sprint. He’s got plans for today and has ridden the final 40km in recon. But it’s all so obvious, surely he’s going to be man-marked to the point of riders queing to be on his wheel.
Dan Martin (UAE Emirates) has mentioned today as a stage he’s got his eye on and he’s ridden the finale too. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is another prototype rider for today but hasn’t been as convincing this season. Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) is another prototype for today.
Now for three tandems, Bahrain-Merida have Dylan Teuns and Matej Mohorič with Dauphiné stage winner Teuns probably better for the uphill finish. Alberto Bettiol (EF Education First) is a strong rider and in form but has a low win rate and if he could make the selection, how to win from the group while for team mate Michael Woods today might not be hard enough. Lotto-Soudal’s Tim Wellens and Tiesj Benoot have terrain to suit, it’s midway between the Flanders and Ardennes climbs.
What chance the sprinters? Zero for the pure sprinters, but Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) will hope things aren’t too frantic in the finish and they can contest the uphill finish. Greg Van Avermaet (CCC) should feature but does he sprint for polka dot points or save energy for the finish, Michał Kwiatkowski is probably on bodyguard duty for Ineos and Michael Valgren is Dimension Data’s best shot.
Finally it’s been champagne for Jumbo-Visma so far but Mike Teunissen has his work cut out, he was good on the steep, cobbled Mont Cassel in the Four Days of Dunkerque but today is much harder, we’ll see if it’s Wout van Aert‘s chance today but for all his power and punch this is a tricky, hilly finish.
|Max Schachmann, Alejandro Valverde, Wout van Aert, Dylan Teuns|
|Matthews, Sagan, GVA, Wellens, D Martin, Bettiol, Valgren, Teunissen|
Yellow story: to the outside world the yellow jersey is iconic and, short of polling data, at a guess it’s more famous than any one rider. Within the sport it’s respected too, join a group ride anywhere from Paris to Peoria, Parma to Perth and it’s rare to see anyone wearing yellow, there’s a cultural element of veneration.
Weather: sunshine and clouds, a top temperature of 24°C and light tailwind for most of the stage until the hilly finish when the road twists around a lot and the wind becomes more important because of the uvine monoculture, nothing but vines meaning no shelter from even a slight breeze.
TV: the stage starts at 12.10pm CEST and finish is forecast for 5.30pm CEST / Euro time. The final 90 minutes should be exciting with the hilly terrain and glorious for tourism-boosting aerial shots of the manicured vineyards.