A time trial or a wine trial? Today sees a stage win up for grab among the TT specialists, a prestigious win and a pre-Tokyo test too while the top-10 can move too, and all amid some of France’s finest vineyards.
Siesta: anyone viewers hoping for a siesta on the sofa had their day ruined. A lively start, crashes and then waves of attacks ruined a 200km procession to a sprint. Only the middle section of the stage fell into a lull, but for viewers only as the pace was still high for the riders, this stage did its bit to propelling the 2021 Tour to a likely record average speed in Paris. The large breakaway started the attacks with over 50km to go and it was like watching a points race on the track as riders tried to get a lap on each other. Matej Mohorič hit the group over the top of a small climb as Nils Politt and Franck Bonnamour hesitated and Slovenian quickly took 30 seconds while behind there was a classic stand-off, everyone was rolling through but not everyone was giving it 100%. With Mohorič’s win every long breakaway has ended with a solo triumph, nobody has had to sprint for the win. This gave Mohorič time to sit up and make a “hush” gesture with a finger on the lip, then a “zip the mouth” gesture both of which invited more questions about the Bahrain team’s police raid rather than using the win to distract from this.
The Route: 30.8km amid some of France’s most celebrated vineyards, there’s wine is almost more exciting than the course but you haven’t come here for tasting notes. It’s largely flat and without anything too technical but there are some small roads through the vineyards combined with some sharp corners, it’s a course requires riders to brake and accelerate several times, a rider can’t hold their cruising speed for long, especially in the early part. The second time check at Montagne (“mountain”) sits atop a small drag up. The Laval TT earlier in Tour had several hills, drags and even a late spike, this is much flatter.
Ride this course on a normal day and it’s like browsing Decanter magazine as you pass Pétrus, Cheval Blanc, Grand Corbin, Pavie, Laroze, Les Jacobins and many other châteaux that leave oenophiles in rapture… and often deeply out of pocket, the exchange rate between a recent bottle of Pétrus and a team-issue bike is about two bottles for one bike. Each to their own but like anything there’s value whether it’s finding a bike or local wine you may like.
The Contenders: Tadej Pogačar (UAE) won in Laval but the hilly course helped him over the specialists and he had a dry run when others went in the wet, so he should be close today but it’s advantage to the bigger TT specialists, his team mate Mikkel Bjerg could be close but seems a lighter rider than the past and has been working. Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) has been targetting today and it’s both a big goal and a pre-Tokyo test. Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) has been hauling himself around France with today’s stage on his mind after being narrowly beaten in Laval. Stefan Bissegger (EF-Nippo) was off the pace in Laval but rode in wet and lost control on a corner, today should give him more of a shot. Kasper Asgreen (Deceuincnk-Quickstep) has a great chance too. Ineos will have a harder time on a flatter course but Richie Porte has been quiet, has been saving something for today?
Among the GC riders the top-10 isn’t set yet. Wilco Kelderman has had a very consistent Tour, except for a bad TT in Laval but can hope to overhaul Ben O’Connor if he has good day for fourth place; while Alexey Lutsenko can hope to take sixth place from Enric Mas and Pello Bilbao eighth from Guillaume Martin.
|Stefan Küng, Wout van Aert
|Kasper Asgreen, Tadej Pogačar
|Bissegger, Lutsenko, Bjerg, Porte, McNulty
Weather: warm and sunny, 27°C and a light NE wind.
TV: the first rider, lanterne rouge Tim Declerq, is off at 1.05pm and the last rider, Pogačar, should arrive 5.55pm CEST.