The day for the sprinters, today’s stage is flat and almost featureless… but that means the terrain is exposed the weather forecast promises a crosswind, only it’ll be a weak one but just enough to set the peloton on edge.
If you can’t beat them, join them: a De Gendt breakaway, but Aimé rather than Thomas and no relation ansd Lotto-Soudal sent Matthew Holmes who took the mountains jersey for his efforts. The pair were reeled in early and a counter move went with Frederik Frison, Alexis Gougeard and Yevgeniy Fedorov and if they gained a minute this vanished quickly with around 20km to go.
In the final 15km it first looked like some riders were pulling up the handbrake to save their legs for another day, only a lot more were being shelled out by the pace to leave a peloton of about fifty. Onto the final climb and Nathan Van Hooydonck led for Jumbo-Visma and Christophe Laporte attacked, taking… team mates Wout van Aert and Primož Roglič with him. Zdeněk Štybar was the only rider who could follow but he cracked at the top of the climb to leave a Jumbo-Visma 1-2-3 going clear.
A year ago Christophe Laporte was on the verge of his first World Tour level win, it was Stage 6 of Paris-Nice into Biot but Primož Roglič got the better of him in the uphill sprint to the line. Now in 2022 Laporte and Roglič were team mates and with 20 seconds’ lead and a peloton struggling to chase the only question was who would win? Roglič in order to take every bonus second possible? Laporte for a home win? Van Aert as he’s just the fastest? In the end it was Laporte got the nod and the new recruit took the win and deserved too given he launched the move. With hindsight it’ll mean a home win ensures positive local coverage. Roglič in second took six bonus seconds on top of the 22 second cushion he took on the line.
The Route: two early climbs to tempt the early breakaway as there’s a mountains jersey to get, watch for Matthew Holmes and Alexis Gougeard. And then nothing, it’s south across the vast empty space between Paris and the Loire river, there’s so little going on that we’re left to remark there’s a sprint in Pussay and to note the race goes through Angerville which sounds irritating but it’s a quiet place that’s home to Tony Gallopin… perhaps he’ll be out to watch as he’s not racing? It’s a land of agribusiness with giant wheat fields and, increasingly, wind turbines. The big question is whether they’re spinning much, the terrain is very exposed to the slightest breeze and it looks like there might just be enough of a crosswind for teams to exploit.
The Finish: after the long ride south, the race crosses the Loire river and then does a U-turn to head back up north, crossing the Loire again to ride into Orléans. Once over the long bridge there’s the flamme rouge and then a left-hand bend with 300m to go.
The Contenders: today’s the big flat sprint finish, a dragster course. So it’s advantage Fabio Jakobsen (Quick-Step) and it’ll be interesting to see Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) in action as he doesn’t need to win, just score and he’ll take the points jersey, and this week is a trial run for the Tour’s points competition. Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) is in form while Dylan Groenewegen (BikeExchange-Jayco) has had some wins this year but seems a bit hit or miss. Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) is still hunting for his first win of the year and today is a big ask but first we’ll see if he’s back in the mix.
|Wout van Aert, Jasper Philipsen, Dylan Groenewegen
Weather: cool and sunny, just 7°C. Crucially though it’s cold because of the easterly breeze, it’ll blow up to 25km/h in gusts and as a rough guide, this is the minimum wind speed required to split the field and the open terrain lends itself to this.
TV: the finish is forecast for 4.00pm CET. It’s on France TV and Eurosport/GCN. Watch and then you can can hope to see the final hour of the opening time trial for Tirreno-Adriatico.