Tour de France Stage 3 Preview

The Tour de France returns to France but stays in the Basque country for a likely sprint finish in Bayonne.

Victor-ious: well it wasn’t a cheese dream, when Victor Lafay looked around on Pike Bidea and saw he had only Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard for company he might have felt like pinching himself for a moment. He’s shown flashes before, Tirreno-Adriatico here, a Giro stage win there. But now delivery with a Tour de France stage win and in a style, a late attack under the flamme rouge saw him give the front group the slip and he held off the sprint of Wout Van Aert and Pogačar.

The front group had formed on the Jaizkibel. Earlier three strong riders in Edvald Boasson Hagen, Neilson Powless and Rémi Cavagna were away, Powless harvesting more polka dot points and as the best climber and playing on the mind of the other two in case they made it to the Jaizkibel as he’d be too agile for them. But no chance, UAE were chasing and a lot of Pogačar’s key riders were being deployed.

The Jaizkibel turned the day into a mountain stage as the peloton shrank down to 24 riders, Thibaut Pinot, Ben O’Connor and Louis Meintjes the GC contenders ejected while Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard continued their duel, Pogačar taking the time bonus at the top, Vingegaard shaking his head when it came to coming through and the pair were swept up on the descent.

On the run into San Sebastian Wout van Aert was working a lot, chasing attacks from Pello Bilbao and Mattias Skjelmose in person, presumably this morning’s Flemish newspapers are as frustrated as Van Aert’s fist shaking yesterday given he wasn’t given more support for the stage win. Brute force could have worked, or Jumbo-Visma could have played it more delicately but Van Aert’s time will come even if some beef is starting to simmer, whether within the team or towards UAE.

Lafay gets a Tour stage win for Cofidis, €11 million a year underdogs – and that includes women’s and paracycling teams – against the big squads. We’ll see if they have the budget to re-sign him, there’s talk he’s on the move already.

Embed from Getty Images

The Route: 193km along the coast to France and the city of Bayonne, famous to many for its cured ham and birthplace of Roger Lapebie, winner of the 1937 Tour de France and the first victory by a rider with a derailleur. Talking which there’s still 2,500m of vertical gain so it’s a stage for the sprinters but it’ll tire some of them.

There are two route changes, one is a long-standing one, no corniche road on the coast, it’s scenic but subject to erosion and a protected zone so it’s been scratched for some time. Then After St. Jean de Luz the route heads away from the coast and tackles some of the Basque foothills. Here there’s been a last-minute change of course and the route heads a little further inland than the original plan and this means a touch more climbing. The rise out of Souraïde isn’t a categorised climb but it’s 2.3km at 4% and crucially with some 10% sections up to the Route des Crêtes (ridge road). It’s all on terrain where riders will be working their derailleurs all the time as the slope keeps changing before the course reaches an express road into Bayonne with 15km to go and the sprint trains can get to work.

The Finish: a flat boulevard finish around Bayonne. With 2km to go there’s almost a U-turn, it’ll slow things down but it’s all on wide roads with the line close to the Petit Bayonne old town.

The Contenders: a sprint stage so take your pick as it’s open to all and obviously no hierarchy has been formed among the sprinters. We can deduce and reduce as the hillier course suits Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck), at his best as quick as Fabio Jakobsen (Soudal-Quickstep) and Dylan Groenewegen (Jayco-Al Ula) but likely to be fresher after 2,500 vertical metres even if these two have a good chance, plus after two days where Mathieu van der Poel’s had a go, now he can lead out his team mate. Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Dstny) ought to be a good pick but his win rate’s really declined of late.

Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) has won Tour bunch sprints already but always on lumpy days with an uphill run to the line, think Albi, Lavaur or Privas so he’ll like the climbing en route, less so the dragster finish in town. The same for Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek) and Biniam Girmay (Intermarché).

The climbing all day including the tricky parts in the last 40km are bound to make things harder for the likes of Mark Cavendish (Astana), Sam Welsford (DSM) and Alexander Kristoff (Uno-X), they can be in the mix but a win would be a surprise, stages that suit them better are coming soon.

Jasper Philipsen
Van Aert, Jakobsen, Girmay
Groenewegen, Ewan, Pedersen

Weather: sunshine and 23°C, a light NNW breeze of 10-15km means a headwind on the run into Bayonne.

TV: KMO is at 1.15pm and the finish is forecast for 5.20pm CEST. Tune in early if you want images of the Basque coast or later for the final hour.

Riots and protests: a quick note as it’s been an FAQ in the emails of late, France has seen riots and readers have been wondering about the impact on the race. Clearly it’s a bigger issue than a bike race but you’ll find your fill of debate and news about France elsewhere while this blog does bike racing. The trouble has been largely in the big urban areas, the very opposite of the rural venues the Tour visits. The race tours a certain type of France rather than all of it and maybe that’s a problem. For now if it’s not visiting the parts in the news the race still relies on police support, every road junction is staffed by a gendarme, so this could be an issue as cover and overtime has been deployed elsewhere.

Anyway the riots may not affect the Tour, other actions might. We’re likely to see protests, we’ve seen climate activists stop the race last year, breaking with the tradition of passive protest and the deal where protestors don’t stop the race, in exchange for having the cameras dwell on them and their banners. This year welfare changes have seen big protests which have also faded but they’ve not finished, the government pushed a pension law through using Article 49.3 of the French constitution rather than putting it to a vote in parliament and if this is beginning to get arcane with talk of constitutional articles, well don’t be surprised of protestors line the race or even try to stop it at KM 49.3, that sort of thing.

71 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 3 Preview”

  1. He who hesitates is lost but full credit to Lafay who started from a long way back.
    Best start to a tour that I can recall.

    • A great start to the Tour indeed. I hope it stays interesting until the end with a strong GC battle as well as battles for the stage wins and the other jerseys.

        • @Rob. True. But he’s fairly inoffensive with his rubbish. Ned Boulting grates, though, with his love-in with Gaudu and crap calls. The other day he was calling riders “pure climbers@ who weren’t or at least weren’t anywhere near the best climbers.

      • 😂 this has made my morning!

        Superb attack from Lafay. I wanted Pidcock to win but was very happy for Cofidis to finally uncork their champagne

      • what a classless and useless comment! And how did you manage to go straight to disparaging Kirby rather than commenting on Inrng’s excellent stage 3 preview…

        • Let’s leave it at that. Many people here won’t be watching British Eurosport so have no idea about the commentary anyway and those that do will like/dislike certain presenters, it’s a matter of taste and that’s on you.

          • I’m going to have to respectfully disagree, while thanking you again for the excellent preview and apologising for the further derailment.

            I don’t know where the right place is to discuss Kirby, but I very strongly disagree that it is a ‘matter of taste’. This isn’t like Hatch adopting the phonology of a native speaker to pronounce names, Kelly’s garbled ‘bonifications’ and oddly emphasised ‘fatigue’. Kirby does not commentate on the race that is actually happening in front of his eyes, does not listen to the experts alongside him, and imposes his own bizarre narratives on the race which are often directly at odds with readily-available facts and with what we can all plainly see in the images. It’s not his verbosity, his Dad jokes, his digressions, all of which are idiosyncracies that are a matter of taste. It’s that he is incapable of doing the job he is employed to do, to commentate on and elucidate for the viewer what is actually happening in the race. In this, his own florid imagination takes precedence over reality.

            He sticks doggedly to his interpretation, and becomes angry, hurt, or defensive at any attempt to correct him. He appears to be a psychologically damaged and profoundly flawed individual, tolerated as a ‘character’, but he makes it difficult for the knowledgeable viewer to enjoy watching the race. I guess we should be grateful he didn’t choose to enter politics like notable others with similar flaws, but I know I am not alone in resenting paying for a service which leans heavily on someone fundamentally incapable of delivering it. The only good thing about Kirby is how much he has improved my understanding of spoken French, Spanish, and Dutch as I have to select commentary in the language of the host country instead.

          • I tend to agree, but would also add that this issue is made much worse by Eurosport’s decision to usually use him for higher prestige races or finishes when the far superior Rob Hatch is available to them.

          • Also I confess to having no idea what people are on about so can’t moderate or understand the arguments much.

            I try to watch races with the home broadcaster, they’re on the ground at the race rather than in a studio in an another country, talk to people at the event, and a better network of local contacts and so often have an edge on info (eg don’t be surprised if Evenepoel’s doing the Vuelta despite this being ruled out earlier, something leaked on air yesterday) and they often have two moto commentators in the race, one with the break, the other behind the peloton and so more info on what’s going on.

            Eurosport/GCN is still great, it has so many races all year and am glad to subscribe but like the variety of Sporza in April, Rai in May, FranceTV in July etc.

          • @Inrng

            As someone who likes Kirby and thinks the last paragraph from Malaconotus was a bit over the top, his main gripe that Kirby inflicts what’s in his head rather than what’s actually happening, is spot on.

            He can literally see two riders having a discussion, put words in their mouth and then use those very same words to create a narrative which two stages later is now fact in his head.

            The free flow commentary of the likes of Robbie Mac and Adam Blythe are shutdown as soon as Kirby comes on. Sean just lets it ride most of the time but one thing is certain, all of the ex pros say a lot less when they’re on with Kirby. It’s a shame because when it comes to calling the last k of a sprint, he’s normally quite good.

          • @Larrick. Like X or Y, like Kirby or Hatch, one thing’s certain – commentating for long periods when often not a lot is happening must be hard work.

      • George Guepe. I couldn’t agree more with your comments. See the post below from Malaconotus who gives a thoroughly good description of our joint suffering!

    • As seen in the Inrng twitter slipstream.

      But aren´t the tack attacks usually carried out by a single culprit, a lone individual who seldom travels to repeat the attack on another stage? These kind of incidents tend to remain isolated, they seldom get copy cats, I believe.

  2. I think JV not getting involved to help WvA when he could have made the difference may come back to haunt him later on — WvA was crucial last year and played such a big part in his overall win…

    • Definitely and as every year WvA’s loyalty to the GC project is building up to be a recurring theme in the gossip section. In any case it shows that Vingegaard is 100 % committed to his game plan of saving energy while Pogacar throws away his left and right.

      On the latter, while I applaud the things Pogacar do to actually enliven and open up the race, and even though I appreciate that he sometimes looks like he’s “just wanna have fun”, I have a hard time with the sheer senselessness of some of his decisions – like sprinting for third place yesterday or sprinting out of corners downhill with Vingegaard in the slipstream understandably refusing to work. I would swap the kind of week one entertainment he and his team are almost solely responsible for creating, with the scenario where he and Vingegaard is still close going into the last mountain stages. It doesn’t have to be a swap, however. If Pogacar could just limit himself to the moves that does make sense (that Vingegaard, not coincidentally, will try to follow and hence spend a similar amount of energy), we would have an equal amount of entertainment, a smaller amount of absurdity, and still have good reason to hope for an open week three.

      • If you want a GC race where the favorites save energy and are closely tied untill the final mountain stages. Can I recommend you the recent Giro, one of the most boring GC races in recent memory!

        • Thanks. I watched it, and as my comments on the stage previews on this blog show I enjoyed it. Different tastes.

          But yeah, as I said, I would rather have that scenario than the one where everything is decided after a couple of mountain stages because Pogacar is cooked. I don’t see why action in the first half is better than action in the latter half, but then again I consider myself a patient person.

      • These comments are eerily like those about the recent England v Australia test match (I know many readers here will not be up on cricket, not having a clue of the difference between slip and silly mid off or a googly and a leg break 🙂 ) but England lost the most recent game, in the opinion of many, by being foolishly & unnecessarily aggressive in the first part of the match when a more considered approach might have brought victory. Same here really.

        • Ah but they could also be said by some/many (take your pick) to have lost due to the Aussies not acting in the spirit of the game while staying within the laws (which is like Schlek dropping his chain in yellow and Contador attacking).

      • “senselessness of some of his decisions – like sprinting for third place”
        You’re aware of the concept of bonus seconds? Well maybe you will if someone might win the race by 11s. Nothing on a sprint for third is useless for a serious GC contender

        • I am convinced that in the bigger picture of a three week race the energy Vingegaard saved in the final k relative to Pogacar is worth more than the bonus seconds for third place. Pogacar winning by 11 seconds wouldn’t make me think otherwise.

          • I’m not convinced Pogacar himself has done all that much work so far, the sprint for the bonus seconds and sprint for the line won’t really have cost him anymore than Vingegaard, he’d have to do those anyway really. Where it may prove costly is in tiring his team out chasing hard all day to split the bunch. Let’s hope for the race’s sake that they can maintain this.

            I can see the argument for maintaining the drama to the back end of the race like the 2011 Tour but nothing happened at all in this year’s Giro…

          • Sure, I’m not saying that this year’s giro was a classic, just that I enjoyed it. Somehow the slow build up appealed to me. Also I might be wrong about how much these efforts cost Pogacar, and I agree that the team effort is perhaps more remarkable. Perhaps a different argument can be made that he even needs these kinds of aggressive strategy and efforts for motivation or confidence or both.

    • I thought Benoot pulled for Van Aert once Lafay escaped? I rewatched final sprint but it was hard to see with the flags

      It looked to me like Lafay got his timing just perfect and there wasn’t much the others could do.

    • Form he says, he was just dropped on Pike Bidea and then again on the Jaizkibel, just over the top. But neither climb suited him, he’s better on the long climbs and has some space to move, it’ll be hard to get clear of the UAE and Jumbo trains but if he wants to jump, maybe nobody will close him down right away.

  3. Of the more fringe GC contenders I wasn’t surprised to see Meintjes drop away, just not his type of pace or climb. Am guessing O’Connor is still feeling the effects of his crash if he can’t stick with the pace whilst someone like Cras can. Lutsenko already reduced to going stage hunting. Some big time gaps and the potential for some very good climbers to be given a lot of leeway to go up the road already.

  4. I think it is funny how Cofidis with their kits, glasses, helmets and everything do their best to resemble a team from 2008, back when they last won a stage. Maybe it was a «I won’t shave before….» type of thing and they appear today in new gear.

    On a serious note, we do not see such perfectly timed attacks often these days. From the back of the bunch when the man everyone else is watching, WvA is on a teammate’s wheel and unlikely to jump, with a distance to the line probably suiting Lefay’s puncheur qualities perfectly.

    • I think it’s a low bar at the minute but they probably have the best looking bike and one of the better kits in the peloton this year.

  5. All these Basque cities. It’s quite Hemingway (Brett would say What rot! but that was Brett).
    Most excellent first two stages. Magnificent long range snipe by Dufay. I shall not put my money on Kristoff today. Too early in the race.

  6. Debate about whether Jonas should’ve have worked with Pog on the descent off the climb.

    – No chance, they would’ve been caught anyway, even without Jonas doing the right thing to wait for Wout who had a better chance of winning.

    Debate whether Jonas didn’t pull in the final and left Wout too much to do.

    – Nah, Wout had two big boys riding for him and it was just racing. Very fast, attacks flying, hard to control.

    One subconscious reason for Wout’s frustration might be that he’s thinking – weirdly for him – he has limited opportunities. He needs a particular parcours and he needs it early as he might have to leave the race at any point 👶🏻

    • The odd decision in yesterday’s finale, I thought, was when Van Aert decided to move into Benoot’s wheel with 250m to go, when that’s normally the distance at which he’d launch his sprint…it seemed to me like Van Aert was more worried about Pogacar (or somebody else) coming off his wheel than he was about Lafay holding on to the line…so in the end he launched with only 125m to go, which was way too late…but perhaps that worry was well-founded as Pogacar seemed to be coming through faster than Van Aert at the end, so with another 100m of road may well have overtaken him…

      It’s in scenarios like this that I think Van Aert relies too much on his sprint (which does seem to get blunted after a hard day)…he’s got so many other strengths, you wonder if he’d be better off launching from say 5km out and TTing his way to the line, like he did in his masterpiece win last year on stage 4

      • Interesting idea, but everyone is watching him so if he launches at 5km someone will be on his wheel. If someone else goes, they’ll all look to Van Aert and his team to chase the move down. I think he’s right to rely on his sprint; he’s quicker than Pog, even after 3000m D+ (but maybe not after 4-5000!)

        Pog’s mocking in the post stage warm down was fun. I remember another rider throwing a fit like a child after coming fourth in a 2 up sprint in last year’s RVV 😉

  7. Watching riders on the final climb, and excluding Vingegaard and Pogacar, S Yates appeared to be the most comfortable – despite limited team support a candidate for the third podium place in Paris? The evident frustration within JV must encourage Pogacar.

    On commentary teams, a word for the insightful Voeckler and Jalabert, while Rousse is consistently competent and manages to at least appear impartial. Well done FR2/3.

    • France TV is good, bearing in mind it’s aimed at the general public so they don’t get too technical, it seems they are hardly using the team race radio clips as they don’t tell the audience much, similarly they don’t put watts on the screen as nobody would understand. When Pasteur has his one day off per week it’s like school class when the teacher is away. Marion Rousse can spot riders so easily from afar, I think she could spot a Chinese surveillance balloon long before anyone else.

  8. Has anybody got any insights on the internal dialogues going on within UAE while they were forcing the pace – although they seemed to be having fun at the same time. Also, any news of Trentin? It didn’t seem too bad a fall, but he trailed in.

    • No inside info but presumably Trentin was saying don’t go so hard its a 3 week race and the other rider was saying i can go harder like this for 3 weeks.
      Then when Trentin fell one rider suggested they should wait up a little and the other rider suggested he didn’t want to wait for old man Trentin.
      Would have been a great dinner table full of silences and nasty looks.

  9. Today the Tour drives by the town where my grandfather is from. Looking forward to see the Red cross-timbered houses and the fans.

    Do you really think it will be a bunch sprint today?

    • Yes, 3 chainrings for Philipsen. Never say never for a late attack but it’s not that hilly, it’s not windy etc… and right now the breakaway doesn’t have a good chance.

      The Basque architecture is very recognisable, as is the typeface often used locally, it’s one of the few parts of the world with its own font.

  10. Will this stage be ripe for wave after wave of attacks? (Sorry, I just noticed Hendaye and Mundaka on the route – other waves are available).

    Also, and I know I should say this more often, many thanks to our host for simply the best cycling blog out there. Truly the gem of cycling coverage (and much more besides).

  11. Has the Tour gone all Giro with this relatively late inclusion of the climb to route des crètes? It will make for an interesting charge to the foot of this climb as sprinters teams try to get slide-back room.

    Bayonne is also famous for its chocolate and chocolatiers. Not ideal in the heat of summer, as I have cause to know.
    En route today we can expect a lot of Piment d’Espelette references too. The heli shots may also dwell on a special court for Pélote next to a church.

    One thing I wondered; was this a Tour with the biggest time gaps for a non-TT stage 1?

    • The route change is because roundabouts and traffic calming measures have suddenly appeared. There was a behind-the-scenes argument between ASO and the locals, ASO said “we signed off the route, now you’ve built these things”, while the locals say the warned ASO the works would happen. Ideally they could have done the works later this summer but they’ve changed the route and it’s safer without them for the bunch.

  12. Have to say, the way Pog conducts himself is really endearing himself. Both today post stage, the selfie on the start line and even the WVA enactment show that he is just another young chap enjoying life.

  13. Lots of hype on Bernals performance so far.
    I know being at the tour and riding with the top guys is already an INCREDIBlE thing, but keeping it up for 3 weeks and top 5 GC result??? I think that might be just a bit too much? What are your thoughts?

    And S. Yates, hopefully he can pull something great in the next couple of weeks. I still have nightmares from that day in the Giro when things imploded… and I wasn’t even riding/ wearing the pink jersey. I feel he deserves some redemption.

    • He got a bit of redemption while winning a grand tour, didn’t he.

      The Giro was beatiful. His joy of animating the first half of the race, winning with a grin, pure childish happines. It made me a fan of his. (Enjoyed the finish of stage one of this TdF quite a bit.)

      But still, the stage he lost the race was also the best stage of GT GC action of the last decade, a triumph of cycling. 🙂 Iirc Yates’ implosion felt inevitable and rather a matter of timing, while certain “Kenyan-born Briton”‘s ressurection was a pure shock and even Dumoulin fans surely must have enjoyed his attack.

      • True, forgot about the vuelta ‘18.

        Still, he was so dominant during Giro 18 that I was hoping he could get on a Tour or Giro podium more often. When he has the legs, he puts on a great show.

    • Didn’t he get redemption when he won la vuelta?

      Hopefully he can maintain his form for the three weeks, be interested to see how far he can go. He does seem to go from looking really good one day to decidedly average the next quite a lot though.

    • Yep. Merlier, Kooij and Sam Bennett in that order this season. Then there’s Ackermann, Demare, Thijssen, Gavaria and you could through in de Lie and Milan.

      Gavaria is the only one of those 9 ranked outside of the top 14 over the last year on PCS points rankings. So if you use that as the benchmark, there’s 6 of the top 14 here.

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