A sprint stage on paper but beware the crosswinds today and there are some very awkward roads with little room to spare.
Politt-esse: born into a cycling-crazy family, Nils Politt started racing from the age of 4 and racked up the wins on the road, track and cyclo-cross culminating in both the German U23 road race and time trial titles before turning pro. Like many, the wins just got harder in the pro ranks. Many might know him from the stage of Paris-Nice where he was outfoxed by Jerôme Cousin in a two-up breakaway; or the second place in Paris-Roubaix in 2019. Close and very promising but only a stage in the Deutschland Tour to show despite being a frequent presence at the front of the bunch in the classics and Tour with his trademark rictus. Now he’s got the big win.
The wind helped a frantic peloton was ripped to shreds at the start with both Ineos and UAE having riders caught out which probably meant a truce, nobody could test Pogačar’s team. Instead a group of 13 strongmen had barged clear and once the race turned into the shelter of the Ardèche gorge the wind dropped. All these riders knew they had a chance of winning a Tour stage but how to convert hope into reality? Nils Politt was the first to attack with 50km to go, it seemed very early but opened a flurry of moves.
You can make different attacks, from outright demonstrations of power to sneaky surprises and Harry Sweeny seemed to invent a new stealth more, the “ravito-bluff”, attacking while grabbing a mouthful of food. It worked, he was joined by Politt, Imanol Erviti and Stefan Küng. André Greipel chased but was he happy to see Politt away? Perhaps, they’ve both club mates with the Radsport Schmitter Köln. The four rode hard, exploiting the tailwind to get a gap. With a minute’s lead, Sweeny used the late climb to accelerate and test the others, this cracked Küng. Politt made a clever attack, dropping back a bike length to build up speed and attacking off to the right just as Sweeny was to the left of Erviti. The Basque is a diesel and didn’t jump immediately, Sweeny hesitated and with that Politt was free, his trademark rictus grin turning into a smile well before the flamme rouge as he celebrated.
The Route: a long day, 219km and a route that runs parallel, but well inland, to the Mediterranean coast. It’s a classic route with lots of roads shaded by plane trees and almost always exposed to the wind. There are some narrow, awkward sections. The first of these comes with the climb to Pic-Saint-Loup, a rough backroad by the eponymous vineyards. Then later after 160km through Minerve and the surrounding Minervois area come more difficult roads, a twisting road with several pinch-points over narrow bridges. The road opens up again for the approach to Carcassonne.
The Finish: the habitual route into town, the same finish as in 2018. It’s a flat finish on big boulevards alongside the Canal du Midi in Carcassonne. There’s a sweeping right hand bend under the flamme rouge and then a gentle left hand bend with 600m to go and the road rises a few metres to the line.
The Contenders: sprint or breakaway? Carcassonne is a regular on the Tour route but there’s never been a bunch sprint for the win. This is partly because there’s been a hilly approach, a time trial or the propensity in the past for a rider to attack late and get a win. Today’s relevant factors include few teams being up for a sprint and the risk of crosswinds.
Breakaway picks include Magnus Cort (EF Education-Nippo) who has won here before, Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), Ivan Garcia Cortina (Movistar) and Oliver Naesen (Ag2r Citroën). DSM haven’t been very visible this Tour – they’re having a tough season so far – and Søren Kragh Andersen and Nils Eeekhoff can play the breakaway card if the team doesn’t have to back Cees Bol.
With the Pyrenees on the horizon, this is the last chance of a sprint before next Friday. So Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-Quickstep) and a refreshed Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) are the obvious picks.
|Wout van Aert, Mark Cavendish
|Cort, Stuyven, Naesen, IGC, SKA, Asgreen, Philipsen, Bouhanni, Turgis
Weather: 27°C and sunny, a WNW wind at 20km/h but it could gust to 40km/h.
TV: the stage starts at 12.05pm and finish is forecast for 5.20pm CEST.
The 3km 3 second tangent: new today is that the 3km rule doesn’t apply, instead it’s at 4.5km to go and so before any of the city streets of Carcassonne. Why? It’s not obvious, yes there have been calls to extend the 3km rule (for a history and explainer of the rule see here) in the wake of crashes but the finish today is vanilla. Remember the rule only applies if there’s a crash or a mechanical, not a split. This means riders jostle to avoid a split… which increases the chance of a crash. But the rule has a purpose, it is a safety measure and no bad thing, especially when coupled with the three second rule. The problem is balance between safety and regulatory complication, that the sport risks being decided by small print rules that readers of niche blogs understand but the public – expecting the simplicity of timed race – doesn’t. Anyway today looks more like a logistical exercise in moving the 3km time measurement systems to 4.5km with an evening’s notice rather than a conceptual rethink.