The longest stage of the Tour and a hard final hour in the Morvan’s mini-mountains before the finish in the industrial town of Le Creusot.
The Town Where Time Stood Still: 2008 is a long time ago, in France it’s the year they banned smoking in bars and restaurants, when Mark Cavendish won his first Tour stage in Châteauroux and when the scientists turned on the CERN large hadron collider. Did something happen in the particle accelerator, a wormhole formed that bent time, casting Cavendish to the same place for the same sprint again? Probably not but it is a remarkable span of time, especially for a sprinter. It was a fast stage, 48km/h with a hectic start and a nervous peloton traversing crosswind terroir. We should note Cavendish hopped off his sprint train to hitch a ride on the Alpecin-Fenix team and came around to win, closing the door slightly on Tim Merlier but not enough to trouble the commissaires. Nacer Bouhanni was third, Arnaud Démare fourth and both had struggled with 2km to go but got back into contention, they’ll keep believing in an opportunity. Cavendish is pulling out a lead in the points competition but we’ll see what the Alps bring this weekend.
The Route: 249km and the longest stage of the race. This isn’t an anecdotal stat, today is a marathon and so the relatively small climbs later can have a disproportionate effect. There’s not much to write home about for the first 150km as the race crosses one of France’s empty areas, it’s farmland and villages where a share of the houses are abandoned, shutters closed in the daytime.
The final picks up the route we would have had from Copenhagen had the start not been switched to Brittany and the traverse via Châteauroux and Vierzon designed in response. There’s 3,000m of vertical gain today, two thirds of this comes in the final 100km so it’s lumpy but not severe, the finale is accessible for many riders.
The climbs are listed as 5% but that’s the average from start to finish, they often have their steeper moments. The Croix de la Libération out of Autun is 4.6km at 5.3% average but after a gentle start past the town’s ramparts and a small descent the final 2km are a more selective 7.5%.
The Signal d’Uchon is the big climb of the day and the official profile doesn’t capture how hard the final two kilometres are, but it’s only two kilometres. At the top is the special 8-5-2 second time bonus. It’s a good launchpad for a move, there’s no immediate descent but a false flat down past a lake and then chased by a twisty descent that opens up but there’s another climb to come, 2km at 5%, a big ring climb before another twisty descent to Montcenis.
The Finish: it’s out of the town of Montcenis on a narrow road and descent into Le Creusot but there’s rollercoaster moment with a sharp climb after the 3km to go point. Then the road drops down into town, there’s a tight bend with 1.5km to go and it’s onto the approach road, it’s a slog up which peaks at 5% before a small dip that’s not on the profile and then it rises again to the line.
The Contenders: it’s a big day for a breakaway and especially for riders who don’t fancy their chances in the Alpine ski resorts this weekend. The local pick is Julien Bernard (Trek-Segafredo). He won’t pedal faster because of this but he will probably have this in his diary for a breakaway which has a decent chance of making it as 80% of the field is over five minutes down on GC. Ide Schelling (Bora-Hansgrohe) will want to be in the break too and this could give him an option on the finish even if sprinting up the climbs is bound to blunt his legs and Anthony Perez (Cofidis) sat up yesterday to freewheel in, a giveaway he’s got today’s stage in mind.
Sonny Colbrelli is the reductive pick of the day, he can go in the breakaway and he can win what’s left of a sprint, likewise Michael Matthews (Bike Exchange). Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) can also win the sprint but are less likely to get in the breakaway. If they don’t then this means several teams to chase and set up a reduced sprint.
Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quickstep) would be the archetypal rider for today but unlikely to get any room to attack unless the GC teams get frisky, instead Kasper Asgreen could be one to watch. Can Ineos try any ambush moves? They are probably waiting for the Alps but watch Richie Carapaz who was attacking on small climbs in the Tour de Suisse, he could try a surprise move on the Signal d’Uchon but staying away is the harder part, it’s hard to see such fireworks.
Magnus Cort Nielsen (EF Education-Nippo) is suited to the stage, in great form and several team mates are worth watching. Team DSM can play several cards too, think Tiesj Benoot or Søren Kragh Andersen. Ag2r Citroën have Benoît Cosnefroy and Dorion Godon.
|Magnus Cort, Omar Fraile, Ivan Garcia Cortina|
|MvdP, Colbrelli, Godon, Cosnefroy, Schelling, Bernard, Perez|
Weather: sunshine and a few thin clouds, 24°C.
TV: the stage starts at 11.00am CEST and could be interesting if there’s a fight to get in the breakaway. The finish is forecast for 5.25pm CEST and tune in for the final hour to see the climbs and twisting roads of the Morvan.
Off on a tangent: today’s stage crosses a lot of empty space, a part of France that isn’t in the tourist brochures. But there is a photography project which captures the feel of the place, the Atlas des Régions Naturelles. Abandoned shops, empty houses, architectural monstrosities and silent landscapes are all document. If you visit the website – best on a big screen – you can search by region, or rather imaginary region as the artists have created their own regions rather than use the administrative ones of today. Look for the “Morvan” or “Autunois” on the map, click “rechercher” on the top right to get the photos. The big difference between these often bleak images and today is that the Tour is coming to town. You can see the field art on TV but television just doesn’t how much the whole route adopts the Tour’s colours, rusty bikes get sprayed yellow and placed in people’s gardens, jerseys and bidons are displayed in the shop windows, bakeries have polka-dot cakes. It’s a big day for a lot of small places.