More Brittany and the finish at Mûr-de-Bretagne. It’s a small climb but in recent years it has bothered several GC contenders like Tom Dumoulin and Vincenzo Nibali.
A la Julian: watch enough cycling and you learn foreign language vocabulary. Etape, bidon, col and so on. Yesterday perhaps supplied you with some new German: Opi and Omi, informal, diminutive words for grandpa and grandma, terms used in the Netherlands and Flanders too. They were brandished on a cardboard sign by a spectator so keen to be spotted by her family that she failed to notice the peloton and felled Tony Martin. He took down so many riders that the peloton looked like like a game of Mikado. It took time to regroup with a peloton that slowed, but didn’t stop. Then there was another giant crash with 8km to go just as the road was descending, this time with no outside provocation and another messy scene with many riders on the ground and others blocked by the carnage. The evening’s medical bulletin reported 21 riders required treatment from the race doctor, probably double that needed help from their team medics and soigneurs.
Deceuninck-Quickstep team got to work on the steepest part of the Fosse-aux-Loups climb, they had a plan to spoil things for the sprinters and while Davide Ballerini and Matteo Cattaneo didn’t last long, Dries Devenyns gave a big uphill leadout to Julian Alaphilippe. The world champ attacked with 2.3km to go and nobody else could, or would, respond at first. Pierre Latour tried soon after and looked strong couldn’t bridge across, he’d moved too late. We should note Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič, marking each other for a moment in the chase and both clear of the rest. They’d be caught but Roglič still managed to sprint for third. As for van der Poel it wasn’t to be, no tribute to his Opi, despite the special jersey, and he says he’s not got the form he had in the Tour de Suisse but he didn’t look clinical either, out of position and making big moves from far back. Alaphilippe stayed away to win and celebrate, sitting up for a long victory celebration that might have cost him a couple of seconds in time but was too good to miss, he’s a showman first and foremost.
A group of 20 came in behind Alaphilippe at eight seconds and then big time gaps started appearing. Miguel Angel Lopez and Ben O’Connor lost 1m49s, Richie Porte 2m16s, Alejandro Valverde and Tao Geoghegan Hart 5m33s. With this Ineos’s plans for any 1-2-3-4 attacks go out the window; instead they can either hold tight as mountain helpers or go in breakaways as luxury relay riders if Thomas or Carapaz can bridge across.
The Route: 183km and not as a hilly as yesterday. It’s along the coast for the first 100km although not always the sea front as the road is often in land as it tracks the shore. With 20km to go the race reaches a climb at Mûr-de-Bretagne, it’s the road into the town, then it’s out, down and onto the main road climb which is passed once for a finishing circuit. It’s a long open road and not a particularly technical climb but climbing it twice will thin down the peloton and blunt the legs of some of the heavier riders. There’s a special time bonus point with 8-5-2 seconds for the first time across the finish line.
The Finish: a different approach, in the past and indeed earlier in today’s stage the race has come out of Guérledan on the main road and taken the road down which runs straight into the climb which has allowed riders to begin the climb with some momentum. Not now, there’s a right turn onto the foot of the climb to slow things. It’s 2km at an average of 6.9% but this isn’t an average climb, it’s got 500m at 10-12% before the 1km to go point and then the slope eases off to the line. It’s all on a wide road without anything technical.
The Contenders: with half the field over five minutes down already there’s space for the right breakaway but how to pick riders who lost time but aren’t sore with injuries? This should still be a relatively controlled stage, several teams will want to set a sprint finish of sorts. Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quickstep) was the best yesterday and can do the same again. Only this time he doesn’t have to attack. He still can, but this time he can mark rivals and cover moves before trying to round them in the finish which will deliver more bonus seconds. Michael Matthews (Bike Exchange) was the best sprinter yesterday and can feature again. Primož Roglič (Jumbo Visma) is already hustling for time bonuses while he has two team mates in Wout van Aert and Jonas Vingegaard who could win, WvA used up a lot of energy in the chase after a crash so can do better than his sprint yesterday suggested. Mathieu van der Poel could still strike but he was well out of the picture yesterday so just placing would be a start.
|Julian Alaphilippe, Primož Roglič|
|Michael Matthews, Wout van Aert|
|Gaudu, Pogačar, Higuita, Latour, Vingegaard, MvdP|
Weather: sunshine and clouds with the chance of rain, and a top temperature of 15°C. A light tailwind of 10km/h on the finishing climb looks likely.
TV: the start is at 1.20pm CEST and finish is forecast for 5.45pm CEST. Tune in for the race to the finishing circuit around 5.00pm.
Further language lessons: we’ve done German grandparents, now for local geography. Mûr-de-Bretagne is a town. Yes mur is French for wall and in cycling it can mean a short, steep climb, think of the Mur de Huy (similarly the Muro di Sormano in Italian). But here it’s Mûr with an accent, not mur and it’s a place name, not a wall, what linguists sometimes call a false friend. So today’s stage finishes at Mûr de Bretagne, rather than on the Mur de Bretagne. It doesn’t matter that much, just as if you said the Alpe de Ventoux enough people would know you probably meant Mont Ventoux (even if it isn’t in the Alps) ; or if you talked about the Koppelmuur in Geraardsbergen instead of the Kapelmuur. Still, if you really want to sound like a local call it the Côte de Menéhiez.