The longest stage of the race with a lively uphill finish. There will be a tailwind that’ll turn into a gusting crosswind later on.
Bibendum: the Michelin Man was well ahead of its time as a marketing method, the branding featuring a cartoon-style mascot called Bibendum. The name means “a drink” or “drinking” in Latin but the name isn’t about thirst or alcohol, instead the French phrase boire l’obstacle literally means to “drink an obstacle”, like clearing a hurdle, the idea being that Michelin tires can take on anything the open road can throw at them. The same is true for another jovial character in white, Tadej Pogačar, who floats over cobbles when not soaring over the mountains. While Simon Clarke won the stage thanks to an ice-cool poker play in the finish letting others make their moves before sniping a fine win on the line, Pogačar won the day too thanks to a late move with Jasper Stuyven that allowed him to take time on all his GC rivals. The gain was only 15 seconds in the end, modest and it used a lot of energy. But a sign he can pick his moment to ride away on terrain normally the preserve of Van der Poel or Van Aert and while rivals were changing bikes, he was swapping turns with Jasper Stuyven on a day when others might have hoped to get lucky given they can’t see how to beat him in the mountains or a time trial. He barely seemed to need his team either, none of whom were with him for the latter cobble sectors.
Wout van Aert had huge day too, just not the kind he wanted. He crashed early and his yellow jersey was conspicuous at the back of the peloton. Unable to race for the win, he came into his own later when he helped tow Jonas Vingegaard back to the rival GC contenders after the Dane had a jammed chain. Jumbo-Visma had a set of clumsy bike changes, Vinegaard first taking Nathan van Hooydonck’s bike which was visibly too big, then getting another from Steven Kruijswijk before waiting for one from the team car, it left the team looking like they’d bought a consignment of bikes online and were having a party to try them on for size. Meanwhile Primož Roglič was taken out by a crash and dislocated his shoulder, he popped it back himself but this and the injury cost him, he had help from three team mates but ended up chasing for the rest of the stage, effectively pursuing the group ahead which was being towed by Van Aert who, having saved Vingegaard, then pulled to shrink Pogačar’s lead which kept him the yellow jersey. Roglič lost two minutes on his GC rivals; Ag2r Citroën’s Ben O’Connor fared worse losing three.
The Route: 220km and the longest stage of the Tour with 2,500m of vertical gain, but a course with few secrets. It starts in Binche, home of the Intermarché-Wanty team. The race passes Les Lacs de l’Eau d’Heure, a scenic spot in Wallonie – that hopefully doesn’t smell bad – and then crosses the Ardennes. Once in France the race runs parallel the Belgian border down to Longwy and near Luxembourg.
The final 20km is in the Chiers valleys (chier is a vulgaire word). The first climb isn’t much, a big ring job on a wide road. The second is harder, the route drops into the outskirts of Longwy and then there’s a snaking ben on the left to line out the peloton before hitting the climb, it’s only 850m long but averages 12% and there’s some 14% to eject sprinters, take it fast and riders losing ground here will struggle to recover. There’s a flat section over the top, a right turn into a small road and back downhill again on boulevard roads in Longwy.
The Finish: with 2.3km to go, a left turn to start of the climb to the finish, here the road rises a little more than the profile suggests before the start of the the Rue de la Banque, the steep part of the finish, a pinch-point where contenders need to be well-placed, and then they climb with 8-10% biting soon before the slope eases to 6%. There’s a left turn where it’s steep on the inside but worth the shortcut and then comes the flamme rouge, followed by a sharp bend to the right and the climbs at 3-4% to the line, easing for the final 100 metres.
The Contenders: the Tour has been to Longwy before and Peter Sagan won, you might remember his shoe coming out of the pedal before he calmly clipped back in and won the sprint. Today has the same finish but with an added climb before so it’s more selective, it’s not an uphill sprint but a climb, a descent and then a sprint again.
Who to pick? It’s not easy at all because of competing scenarios. Normally a breakaway has a good chance because plenty of riders have lost time, many riders will be licking their wounds, and others thinking of tomorrow’s Planche des Belles Filles summit finish. But the forecast for a cross/tailwind could make plenty nervous as well, any move could get mown down by the big teams upping the pace later on.
For the breakaway… Magnus Cort (EF Education-Easypost) is suited to the stage but has to be cooked by now, maybe Alberto Bettiol tries to make-up for his surprise chase work yesterday? Benoît Cosnefroy (Ag2r Citroën) has a good kick for today’s finish but is still an infrequent winner, team mate Bob Jungels has his mojo back and we’re almost in Luxembourg. Marc Hirshi (UAE) is way down on GC and suited to a finish like today. More outside picks could be Victor Lafay and Simon Geschke (Cofidis), Andreas Kron and Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal), or Kevin Geniets (Groupama-FDJ) and Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) but all are infrequent winners. Matej Mohorič (Bahrain) is a more regular winner who might find the final climb hard to win from but his style would be to have gone clear by then already.
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) feels like an easy pick for almost any stage but today’s within his range of course. Likewise for Tadej Pogačar (UAE) because the peloton comes in he’s got a good chance. Dylan Teuns (Bahrain), David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) and Tom Pidcock (Ineos) should like this kind of finish too.
|Mohorič, Cosnefroy, Teuns, Pidcock, Jungels, Bettiol
Weather: sunshine and clouds, 20°C and a tailwind which get stronger in the stage and become a 3/4 tailwind for the finale, apparently gusting to 50km/h at times and if sustained can spice up the stage.
TV: the stage starts at midday and the finish is forecast for 5.30pm CEST. Tune in early in case there’s action at the start – last year’s stage to Le Creusot didn’t look too exciting only to have a wild start – but otherwise aim to be in front of your screens for the final 30 minutes.
Food and drink: today’s start is in Binche, home to a brewery and if you want something local to eat why not try some escavèche, a jellied fish preserve pickled in vinegar (photo from beertourism.com) and typical of the Binche-Namur area. Once made of eel, these migratory fish have declined in numbers such that the dish is more likely to be made from trout or pike. The dish has disputed origins in Persia and north Africa where a sikbaj was meat preserved in vinegar, it became popular in Andalusia when much of Spain was an Islamic caliphate, it stayed and spread, finally reaching what is Belgium today under the Spanish Crown. So what is a very local dish to Binche and the surrounding area has more exotic origins.