A scenic stage in Provence, but the Mistral wind is up and it could be a tricky day for all.
McNuts: back in 2018 in the Dubai Tour Brandon McNulty went in the early break, the kind of thing his Rally team were expected to do to merit their invitation. Only he almost stayed away and his team’s PR officer at the race was so disappointed they posted an expletive message to Twitter about him being caught but obviously deleted it within seconds. Yesterday the UAE team had more time to compose a message about McNulty’s win as he went in the early breakaway, attacked his rivals on the hardest climb once and stayed away to win solo by almost two minutes, a form of victory he, his team and the rest of us are getting used to seeing after his triumphs this season in Mallorca, the Ardèche and now… well in the Ardèche again but this time in Paris-Nice making it McNulty’s first World Tour win.
Behind Wout van Aert sat up on the Col de la Mure, visibly sipping from his bidon rather than bent over his bike and that settles the question of what his intentions are. All along he’s said he’s aiming for the cobbled classics but he still rode everyone off his wheel in the Omloop. Jumbo-Visma were quickly out of team mates with just Rohan Dennis left but he did a solid job on the climb and once he was done, Roglič could look after himself, riding down attacks from Dani Martinez, Aleksandr Vlasov and Simon Yates. But can he keep this up with some of Jumbo-Visma’s riders carrying injuries and in a race where today is risky and the final stage is famous for ambushes.
We should note the peloton was decimated by illness too, 18 riders didn’t start and many suffering from illness, not Covid-19 but some ‘flu-like virus being reported and more could fall victim, it takes one rider clearing their nose in the peloton to create the kind of viral content others would prefer to avoid. With this in mind there’s a Sword of Damocles hanging over the race.
The Route: the longest stage of the week and a scenic ride across Provence. It’s 23km to Venasque where the Col de Murs starts, which despite the name, isn’t wall-like, it’s 10km and largely a steady 4-5% and followed by a long descent and valley road to Apt and then it’s the Col de Pointu, which despite the name, isn’t very pointy. All day the climbs are like this, pronounced climbs and often lifting the race from one landscape to another but rarely steep.
The final climb of the Col d’Espigoulier has its steep parts at the start but rolls well. There’s a fast descent and then a bonus bump in the road to Lascours for the intermediate sprint before the finish in Aubagne.
The Finish: there’s a 180° bend with 600m to go but it’s a wide road, a team bus could take it at speed and then it’s flat to the line.
The Contenders: a good day for the breakaway but the forecast crosswinds today could make the peloton nervous and so the escapees can never get much of a lead. Still, if we want to think of the breakaway, let’s pick from those who aren’t going to be reserved to help their GC leaders because they don’t have a GC contender any more. Groupama-FDJ’s Quentin Pacher and Kevin Geniets, Ivan Garcia Cortina of Movistar, Jasper Stuyven of Trek-Segafredo and Oliver Naesen chez Ag2r Citroën fit the bill.
The finish suits Bryan Coquard (Cofidis) as he can float over the Espigoulier when other sprinters can’t but if he’s there, there’s a good chance Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) are too and they’ve probably got more in the tank left after a windy day, even if it’s hilly as well. Look out for Biniam Ghirmay (Intermarché) and Ethan Hayter (Ineos) too.
Weather: sunny and cool conditions, 12°C but crucially it’ll be windy with a 20km/h breeze from the SE but this will gust to 40-60km/h.
TV: the finish is forecast for 4.00pm CET. It’s on France TV and Eurosport/GCN.