The longest stage of the race and a probable sprint finish.
The Loges des Gardes unlodges Vingegaard: the day’s breakaway was reeled in by the UAE team but still allowed Jonas Gregaard to extend his lead in the mountains competition, he won’t keep it until Nice but his team is deserving its invitation.
The Loge des Gardes climb is a new climb but has few secrets, the 8% slope at the start thinned out the field and saw many dropped. Clément Champoussin supplied the first attack but it was a boomerang move, he flew out of the group, he flew back soon after. Jonas Vingegaard was the next to attack, perhaps thinking attack was the best form of defence because he was out of team mates. Only Tadej Pogačar could follow as the two quickly opened up a gap. Pogačar sat on the Dane’s wheel, at one point smiling to the camera. The pair cancelled each other out and were reeled in. David Gaudu attacked and got a decent gap. Then Pogačar went after the Frenchman and Vingegaard tried to respond but couldn’t get across. He began to flounder, his head shaking in the agony and this tell signalled trouble and one-by-one riders came past him. While Pogačar was celebrating the stage win ahead of Gaudu, Vingegaard was on his way to sixth place, 43 seconds down on the stage.
Pogačar’s in yellow and good luck to anyone trying to take the jersey off him. Vingegaard can try but surely won’t want to try anything spectacular for fear of it rebounding, better to recover and then try something more cautious. Gaudu would sign this morning for second place in Nice. Simon Yates might bide his time, he almost won the race on the last stage, we’ll see. The much promised duel isn’t over but we’ve got a good idea who is the stronger right now.
The Route: the start in St. Symphorien means crossing the Monts du Lyonnais. It’s over the hills to help a breakaway form with some hard terrain from the start. There are 13 points for the taking if a rider can clear the three climbs first but Uno-X’s Jonas Gregaard leads the competition with 14 points so any move going clear is after the stage win.
Then comes a dash down the Rhone valley. There are two late climbs, the first isn’t hard but it is exposed to the wind but it doesn’t look like the wind will be too strong. The second of which to Aleyrac was a 2nd category climb when tackled in 2015 on a day when a few heavyset sprinters were dropped. It should be a sprint finish in St.Paul.
The Finish: flat run to the finish with some street furniture in the final 5km, some central dividers and then a roundabout just after the flamme rouge which can be taken on both sides but the right looks faster, just. With 300m to go another roundabout but this time it’s closed off, passage to the right only, but it makes for a crucial chicane.
The Contenders: a likely sprint finish as if a break goes early there’s plenty of time to get the measure of them and bring them back later on. It’s down to the breakaway being loaded with rouleurs to make this hard but several teams will be playing their sprint cards today and so willing to chase as once today’s done, that’s it for the flat stages.
Tim Merlier (Soudal-Quickstep) was the pick for Fontainebleau only to get stuck by the wild finish and lack of lead-out trains but he’s still an obvious pick. Jumbo-Visma have the team to work all day for Olav Kooij and get a second stage win so far this week. As said in the preview for the opening stage there are many good sprinters here but not the bankers who win again and again. Sam Bennett (Bora-hansgrohe), Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) and Alexander Kristoff (Uno-X) could be in the mix. Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) has a stage win already and doesn’t win sprint after sprint but looks in excellent form.
|Tim Merlier, Olav Kooij|
|Pedersen, Bennett, De Lie|
Weather: a top temperature of 20°C with some sunshine. There’s no Mistral wind down the Rhone valley, instead a southerly breeze meaning a headwind for much of the stage but it’ll be about 10km/h most of the day but it could gust to 30km/h later on, so a slender chance of crosswind action.
TV: the stage starts at 11.20am CET, TV coverage starts soon after 3.00pm and the finish is for 4.40pm.
Sausages: today’s start is in St. Symphorien – St. Sym for locals – which styles itself as the “world capital of saucisson“. Obviously a cured French sausage is bound to have its capital in France but anyway, it’s said a quarter of France’s saucisson production comes from here. This includes the Cochonou brand, the riders will pass the factory on their way out of town. The brand’s a staple of the caravane publicitaire at the Tour de France where close to half a million sample sachets are lobbed to the waiting public, one packet for seven metres of the entire route. With its iconic Citroën 2CV cars in red Vichy table cloth livery, it’s so French… or is it? Yes, but the company is part of the French Aoste Groupe which is owned by Spain’s Campofrio which belongs to Mexico’s Sigma Alimentos, itself a subsidiary of Mexican conglomerate Alfa. Salchichón?