Normally the heart sinks a touch at the mention of “sprint stage”, a day with an inevitable conclusion and minutes of action but if it helps riders rebuild their arsenal of fireworks for the weekend and gives followers more time to digest the last two days’ sport, so be it.
Coup d’arrêt, coup de jarret: L’Equipe’s lead cycling writer for many years Philippe Brunel knew a champion or two, he even had his own definition of one as someone who, when presented with a losing situation, could turn it around and triumph. Tadej Pogačar hadn’t lost the Tour de France on Wednesday but he had suffered a setback on the Marie Blanque; and on Thursday he was up against Jumbo-Visma in full strength but still turned the tables to win on them the stage and take time on Jonas Vingegaard. It marked a dramatic end to a lively stage and revives the Tour de France like a 1,000 volt defibrillator.
The stage started with a big attack from Wout van Aert, the kind that towed a group clear and a bunch of “stragglers” managed to bridge across, including Neilson Powless in his quest for mountains points and that was it, no counter moves or battle as the move up front was too strong leaving several teams frustrated. The group didn’t get a big lead with Bora-Hansgrohe chasing to defend Jai Hindley’s lead. Then Jumbo-Visma took over on the Tourmalet and launched Vingegaard and only Pogačar could follow. This looked like the Dutch team wanted to ram home the advantage they’d taken on Pogačar the previous day with a long move but they couldn’t shake him.
Vingegaard had Van Aert waiting for him after the Tourmalet, helpful for the long valley drag up to Cauterets but if was a help in terms of keeping the chase from all the others behind at bay, it didn’t sap Pogačar. Once onto the climb to Cambasque, Vinegaard attacked but couldn’t dislodge Pogačar so he decided to keep pressing only for Pogačar to respond with a huge attack, the kind that looked like his tires left skid marks on the road and he was away. He got a gap and a psychological boost, and then converted this into more time, turning a lead that was hovering around 8-10 seconds into 24 seconds at the finish, topped up with a further four seconds from the time bonuses.
It’s useful to remember that there are still 172 riders in the race, even if it feels like it’s down to two, so much that L’Equipe’s podcast was joking the podium in Paris ought to have two steps. But who knows, there are still three more Saturdays to go. Jai Hindley slips to third but has almost two minutes on Simon Yates with Carlos Rodriguez and Adam Yates soon after.
The Route: 170kmk to Bordeaux and 700m of vertical gain, the flattest stage of the race except for Paris. Normally the route from Mont-de-Marsan to Bordeaux would go via the vast Landes forest but today’s route isn’t a straight line, more like two sides of a triangle, first to the north-east and then once it reaches the Garonne river it heads north west. It doesn’t change much for the race but means anyone keen enough to watch all of the stage will see a variety of scenery rather than endless kilometres of pines and sandy soil.
The climb out of Béguey is 1.2km at 4%, just and a big ring kind of climb as it leaves the riverbank in Cadillac – which gave its name to car brand via the founder of Detroit – to climb among the vineyards. From here on there are a lot of vineyards and the monoculture means terrain exposed to the wind.
The Finish: a big alongside the banks of the Garonne, along the quays – past the Arkéa arena – and over the river on a big bridge with 2.5km to go and then along the other bank of the river up to the finish, a 2km flat finishing straight that follows the gentle bend of the river so the finish line isn’t in sight at first.
The Contenders: a dragster contest, normally Fabio Jakobsen (Soudal-Quickstep) would be the pick but he’s been struggling so far, then he’s crashed and he’s been battling to avoid elimination so it’d be another recovery story if he can win here. Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) is the safe pick, he’s handy on the hilly days but just has the leg speed for the finish and Mathieu van der Poel as a battering ram.
The last time the race went to Bordeaux was in 2010 and Mark Cavendish (Astana) won, he has a decent chance today with the flat stage, likewise Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Dstny) and Dylan Groenewegen (Jayco-Al Ula) ought to be an easy pick too but he’s looked off the pace so far. Sam Welsford (DSM Firmenich) is best suited to this kind of flat finish but it’d be a surprise if he can find a way past all the names mentioned ahead of him.
|Ewan, Groenewegen, Jakobsen
|Cavendish, Welsford, Girmay, Pedersen
Weather: hot, 30°C and a light tailwind which can help in terms of speed but also raises the temperature.
TV: KMO is at 1.30pm and the finish is forecast for 5.15pm CEST. Tune in for the fast and furious finish.