A stage for the sprinters but a day’s racing in Brittany which means up and down roads. The defining characteristic of today’s route is the narrow rural roads along much of the route before the tricky finish in Pontivy.
The son in the name of the father and the Holy Spirit: Mathieu van der Poel’s first champion was his father Adri, it’s only in the last few years that he began to appreciate the exploits of his grandfather, Raymond Poulidor, “Poupou” to the French and “Papy” to Mathie. As if Poulidor’s career belonged to an unrelatable black and white past. But his path to the Tour de France put him on the same page and crossing the finish line yesterday he pointed to the sky in tribute, a gift to the heavens he couldn’t present to his grandfather during his life.
It was the manner of the win that impressed as much as the DNA lineage and sentimental tribute. Van der Poel attacked on the first climb to the finish line to take the eight second time bonus solo as everyone struggled behind, Julian Alaphilippe struggled, perhaps paying for Saturday’s efforts. Then the final time up the climb Nairo Quintana made an attack and van der Poel covered him. Next Sonny Colbrelli made another and van der Poel chased him down. Then he waited for what felt like an eternal second and took off again to leave the likes of Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič watching like spectators, the pair would finish eight seconds behind and leading in all the GC contenders, except Geraint Thomas who lost 23 seconds.
The Route: 182km and lots of narrow roads. A lot of the peloton will get a feeling of déjà vu, notably Warren Barguil as the start rolls by his house but also everyone else who has done the U23 Tour de Bretagne or other races in the region. The Côte de Cadoudal is a staple of the GP Morbihan and featured in the 2016 European championships won by Peter Sagan and has been in the Tour many times, it’s got a short “wall” section and is more like 5% than the 3% suggested by the roadbook.
The Finish: a downhill dash into town and after the 3km point there’s a narrow run along the banks of the Blavet, first north, then up and across the bridge, before back down the quays and a narrow turn onto the finishing straight. Here things get more regular with a 1.5km run to the line but there’s a slight kink at the end, the line isn’t visible from afar and it’s slightly downhill for the final 200 metres.
The Contenders: Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) is the obvious pick for a sprint but his leadout train isn’t as good as he is, they’re good but not world class. Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) has the better train but they’re also prone to launching him too early.
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) is after a stage win and always a menace in sprints but this finish doesn’t have any features, as in an uphill slope, to advantage him and [update 8.30am] Belgian media say he’s going to sit out the sprint and aim for the time trial instead. Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain) also won’t find much to suit in the finish today.
Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix) had a bad crash on the opening day, injuring both knees so will Mathieu van der Poel sprint instead or do they play the Jasper Philipsen card? Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-Quickstep), well why not? But even in his pomp he often needed a sprint stage or two to get going. Cees Bol (DSM) gets a run for the line, Trek-Segafredo will probably back Mads Pedersen today and
Weather: an increasing chance of rain later into the stage, a top temperature of 16°C.
TV: the finish is forecast for 5.35pm CEST. Tune in for the final hectic half hour at least.