A sprint stage and a good chance for Tim Merlier to get another win. The course has been designed with crosswinds in mind but it looks like Mother Nature’s holding her breath and it’ll be a calm but cold day.
Merlier finishes earlier: a hectic finale. The climb out of Milon-La-Chapelle saw Neilson Powless and Tadej Pogačar launch and for a brief moment Jonas Vingegaard was caught out. Onto the next climb of the 17 Tournants and Pogačar went again, this time taking the six second time bonus and while this time Vinegaard followed, but lost out in the sprint. Pogačar kept going over the top and Vingegaard followed along with Pierre Latour but the Dane wasn’t pulling; he had Olav Kooij for the sprint and soon they sat up to leave Latour. Still, this set the tone, a fourth category climb here, an intermediate sprint there and Pogačar is a jack-in-box, ready to spring at any time.
Despite these attacks the field wasn’t shredded. Soudal-Quickstep guided Tim Merlier into the finish and when Quickstepper Florian Sénéchal got a gap this forced Bora-hansgrohe to chase and Danny van Poppel was used up. This prompted Sam Bennett to launch his sprint early while Merlier could bide his time, let Bennett fade and sprint past for a clear victory.
The Route: 163km and roughly south-east but the route has several pronounced changes of direction, a feature presumably designed to help ensure crosswinds at one point… if the wind obliges. Only today it looks calm so this should be a sprint finish.
The Finish: how long is a finishing straight? Today’s route picks up the D152 road with 13km to go and stays on it to the end, but there’s the autoroute junction and then the village of Ury to navigate. From here it’s one long straight road of 9km, sheltered by woodland. There is a roundabout with 500m to go but everyone goes via the left and it’s two lanes, the difficulty is that the exit is slightly over on the right, it’ll line out the bunch.
The Contenders: Tim Merlier and his Soudal-Quick-Step have come for stages like this although he lacks a pure lead-out rider but the likes of Yves Lampaert and Florian Sénéchal are capable. Today’s flat route and the dragster finish suits him well and as we saw in the UAE Tour he’s just proving better than the others.
The finish today has fewer traps so teams won’t get caught out so easily. Sam Bennett (Bora-hansgrohe) should be close and Alexander Kristoff (Uno-X) is suited to a course like this, especially given the cold conditions and he’s got Søren Wærenskjold as a powerful lead-out.
Is Jonathan Milan a sprinter or lead-out? The Bahrain rider is fast for a long finish to the point that trying to come off his wheel and go past seems hard for his rivals, yet he lacks the torque for a jump in the final 50 metres compared to the pure sprinters.
We can ask if Arnaud De Lie is a sprinter? Yes he’s got the power and bulk but there’s a lot more to him, so much that you wonder if preserving him from risky finishes makes sense. He can still win and while out of position yesterday seemed so quick in the closing metres.
A big boulevard finish ought to suit Arnaud Démare but that’s because he’s had a big train in the past, now Groupama-FDJ are trying to get him to manage without so that they can bring him and David Gaudu to the Tour de France and race on two fronts. He’s missed some racing, had Covid so that makes him a harder pick still.
|Sam Bennett, Alexander Kristoff
|Kooij, Démare, De Lie
Weather: grey, cold at 7°C and the chance of rain. But it won’t be windy so this means the stage is likely to be defined by the sprint finish rather than the peloton being cut to ribbons by the crosswinds. They’ll be a SW wind at 5-10km/h but it could gust to 20km/h but even in the exposed terrain that’s probably insufficient for crosswind chaos.
TV: coverage starts on France 3 for locals, GCN-Eurosport or whatever channel you watch the Tour de France on around 3.15pm CET and the finish is forecast for 4.40pm CET. If it’s just an expected sprint, tune in late to watch them thunder up the long finishing line.