A sprint stage as the race leaves the Alps. The latter part of the race has some exposed roads and it can be windy but the latest forecast says it’ll be calm.
The Route: the rest day is over with riders “enjoying” a stay at the hypoxic height of 2,100m above sea level which must have messed with sleep patterns, one of the ironies of a grand tour is that while riders get more and more tired, sleep doesn’t come easier. Anyway, today should allow riders to ease back in, there’s no brutal start to the stage. Instead it’s 190km out of the Alps via big valley roads. The race passes Chambéry via balcony roads, almost within touching distance of Samuel Dumoulin‘s bakery, and some hairpins. The Col de Couz is a long drag up a big straight road, if Bike Exchange and Bahrain want to pressure Mark Cavendish and his green jersey they can’t count on gravity alone. The same for the intermediate sprint which is placed on the Col de la Placette, a real mountain pass but another gradual drag up a main road.
The race then skirts around the Isère river and the foot of the Vercors plateau as it heads towards Valence, passing by many walnut orchards which offer protection from the wind. The climb out of Hostun is another gradual drag… but crucially it’s more exposed to the wind. Then a gradual descent across the plains to Valence.
The Finish: the Tour has had finishes in Valence in 2015 and 2018 but each time a different route and today is no different. So the uphill finish that helped Peter Sagan get one over Alexander Kristoff and Arnaud Démare is gone. Instead this is a big boulevard finish, a dragstrip course and more in line with the 2015 version. There’s a bend with 350m to go but a dual-lane roundabout rather than a 90° corner and then a 325m finishing straight.
The Contenders: a sprint stage but with fewer sprinters’ teams to chase now. Alpecin-Fenix are without their two fastest sprinters so Jasper Philipsen is their obvious pick but has less of a leadout to help. We know Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-Quickstep) can get the better of Philipsen, even when he had a royal Alpecin train. We’ll see how he’s coped with the Alps, whether they have blunted his legs or not. So far he’s passing every test, the next one is the Ventoux tomorrow in searing heat.
Nacer Bouhanni (Arkéa-Samsic) has placed several times but often because he’s been behind and surfed the slipstreams rather than striking out on his own, it’s a big deal to come out and around the others but he’s got train to help. Jumbo-Visma’s Tour has gone off the rails but Wout van Aert can still salvage a stage win. Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) could feature but probably would prefer a howling wind today. Otherwise Cees Bol (DSM) should be close which gives him a shot.
With Cavendish up for the win and in green Deceuninck will be chasing but there’s a chance for the breakaway, for example if Arkéa-Samsic and DSM send a rider up the road then they need not chase which in turn boosts the chances of staying away. But still a small chance.
|Mark Cavendish, Wout van Aert
|Jasper Philipsen, Nacer Bouhanni, Cees Bol
|Colbrelli, Pedersen, Sagan, Matthews, Laporte
Weather: warm and mostly sunny, a top temperature of 28°C. The wind is the interesting bit, forecasts over the last 48 hours have suggested a 30km/h wind which is the rule-of-thumb windspeed for echelons to form. But the latest ones have said it’ll drop and won’t be a factor… take your pick. If it is blowing then the final hour should be more lively.
TV: the start is at 1.10pm and finish is forecast for 5.30pm CEST.
Off on a tangent: today’s stage finish is in Valence, a small city in France and capital of the Drôme department. Until the 1990s it hadn’t hosted the Tour and has done so three times since. For the capital of a départment – there are 101 in France including the overseas ones like Martinique in the French West Indies – this is a relatively small count although Guéret in the Creuse department has only had the Tour once, mind you it has a quarter of the population of Valence. Much smaller places can and do welcome the Tour. But it’s not for every town nor every mayor. The standard tariff is €70,000 for a stage start and €120,000 for a finish, plus VAT but with a bit of flexibility and increasingly on top of the hosting fee comes all the works needed to remove traffic calming measures… or like today end up having the race finishing on the periphery outside a McDonalds and a Decathlon retail shed where only minor works are needed to tidy up the road and make it wide enough.