Tour de France Stage 6 Preview

Another sprint stage but with the possibility of crosswinds later.

Pinball wizard: how can Netflix compete? They released the second series of their clunky docu-tainment show just before the Tour but viewers of the real thing get the thrill of live TV, script lines that the producers can’t concoct, plus it’s free-to-air. Sure Episode 5 of Le Tour got off to a slow start but the advice was always to tune in for the finale.

Alpecin-Deceuninck made a late charge for the finish, rumbling past the other trains under the flamme rouge. Sat on Jasper Philipsen’s wheel was Mark Cavendish. This was the place to be and the likes of Phil Bauhaus and Fernando Gaviria tried to bump their way in but couldn’t dislodge Cavendish. Behind others were tangling and braking, but to dab the pads was to quit.

With 300m to go Cavendish came around Philipsen and then launched with 150m to go. And that was it, he was well clear and had time to sit up and celebrate.

Overtaking Eddy Merckx has been the defined goal but it’s a stat and not the whole story. At times he’s seemed haunted by the need to race and to keep on winning rather than set a record. It’s also a tale of longevity, at 39 years old he’s the second oldest winner of a stage in the Tour de France and has the widest span in stage wins. 2024 here, 2008 then, beating Oscar Freire and Erik Zabel, whose son has recently retired from pro cycling. When Cavendish was winning in Châteauroux George Bush and Nicolas Sarkozy were Presidents. The Iphone was new and Samsung had yet to launch a smartphone. Cavendish’s bike was a 10 speed with protruding gear cables.

The only thing left is to pick his exit. You could forgive him for stopping right now, a night spent bathing in champagne and leaving on but he’s still got a team in his service… and stages to suit…

The Route: a scenic start out of Macon amid the vineyards and a slog over the Col du Bois Clair but only just, the Paris-Lyon-Marseille TGV line runs parallel and does so for more of the course. More vineyards, especially mid-stage, more clattering TGV trains and plenty of white charolais cattle, these details stand out because there’s not much else to write about. The general direction of the course is north but it zigs and zags later, as if trying to appeal to any crosswinds.

The Finish: the city of Dijon has its hills but this avoids them. The finishing straight is almost 1.6km long and if there is a roundabout inside the final kilometre – passage via the right side only – it is a giant one and a wide bend, it’s not dangerous itself but will thin out the bunch.

The Contenders: Mark Cavendish (Astana) has to get a chainring or more. For someone who usually takes a while to warm-up he made it look easy in the first sprint he got to contest.

Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) was close yesterday and if his leadout train can be sharper then he’s the obvious pick too. Arnaud De Lie (Lotto-Dstny) is consistent. Fabio Jakobsen (DSM) was fifth, not quite a come back but notable while Dylan Groenewegen (Jayco) can be close. Once again Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty) is the obvious priority for his team now he is in green

Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek) took a hard fall yesterday and may not start, this counts twice as he’s got a big team in his service but if they don’t chase others will.

De Lie, Kristoff, Girmay, Van Aert, Jakobsen, Bennett

Weather: cloudy and a cool 20°C. There will be a crosswind for much of the stage 20km/h from the west/left. Normally 25km-30km/h is needed to shred the bunch but 20km/h can suffice for a determined group.

TV: KM0 is at 1.50pm CEST and the finish is forecast for 5.25pm CEST. Check for any crosswind action, otherwise get in place for the sprint finish.

Postcard from Dijon
The Tour de France last visited Dijon in 1997 and here’s a riddle for you: Bart Voskamp (TVM-Farm Frites) and Jens Heppner (Team Telekom) rode to the finish together to contest the stage in a two-up sprint. Who won?

Embed from Getty Images

The answer is Mario Traversoni (Mercatone Uno). Stage 19 saw a breakaway of 12 riders form early in the stage and with 12km to go Voskamp and Heppner slipped away from the rest of them to sprint for the win. Only they tangled, dangled, mangled and wrangled. Voskamp veered sideways to put Heppner in the barriers, the German fought back and leaned on the Dutchman. It was as if they went or lent sideways as much as they tried to go forwards for the line. As one of the best Tour chroniclers of the time wrote (my translation):

So what do they say, these commissaires? Do we at least know which one was at fault? Who are we going to punish? The little German or the big Dutchman? It’s unbearable. At least the president of the jury has got religion and decides to split the difference. King Solomon speaks… …The two men are disqualified. Mario Traversoni, third, who finished 26 seconds behind the two group riders, is declared the winner.
– “Les gogos d’une arrivée aux coups à coudes” by Jean-Louis Le Touzet, Liberation 26 July 1997

Apparently it took 35 minutes before Traversoni was declared the winner. And if you think it’s unusual it is, but this was the third stage that year revised by the commissaires that year after Stage 6 saw Erik Zabel cross the line first but Jeroen Blijlevens was awarded the win and Stage 11 went to Laurent Desbiens after Serguei Outschakov was relegated too. Here’s hoping for a safe sprint in Dijon today.

71 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 6 Preview”

    • Having wrote that Saint-Vulbas was not famous for much at all, it has a small place in sporting history now.

      Keep wanting to create a Google Maps page to log incidents in cycling, or better still crowdfund some small plaques and cement/epoxy resin for guerilla commemoration of where these have happened but that might create problems with permission 😉

    • My best guess is that this will only happen through the time cut. I’m sure he’d like to have one last rumble at the unofficial sprinters’ world champs on the …

      … oh yeah, we’re finishing in Nice.

    • I would be very surprised if pulled the plug voluntarily, given the effort he has made in the last few years of his career to become one of the good guys of the sport.

      It is well over a decade since he last DNF’ed a grand tour for a reason other than crashing out or finishing a stage outside the time limit – even including finishing one Giro where there was no reward waiting at the end as the final stage was an ITT.

    • G relates in his podcast that he suggested to Cav that if he won he could/should just ride off into the sunset covered in glory.

      Cav did not agree….

      • The Tour’s his race. He lives for it (wiining or not). So why would he voluntarily leave early if there are currently no plans to come back as a rider – ever?

        • I think you misunderstood Larry there! Also Cav himself said basically the same as Larry in his interviews today, he’s going to ride on out of respect for his team and the race.

  1. A beautiful win for Cavendish yesterday under any circumstances. Classic Cav – a bit of bumping, a bit of wheel-surfing, then dropping the rest. Just like old times.

    Number 36 is a strong possibility for today. Things are hotting up in mustard country…..

    • Bumping? Yes, and more to get on a wheel rather than stay on it. In a less nostalgic day it could have been classed as dangerous though the commisssaires seemed happy to turn a blind eye and the hindered riders didn’t complain.

      This reader has been pleased to see four of five stages taken by different second-tier teams. Let’s have another today.

  2. What more is there to say, the best TDF rider full stop? Its not only his sprinting, he might have lost the speed of 2007 – 2012 but the guile and determination has grown, his general all round riding is great too. I have seen pictures of him riding up the Galibier in the big ring, seems all the more impressive given the events at the end of the stage into La Rosiere a few years back when despite being well outside the time limit he refused to give up & get in the broom wagon. It is difficult not to be elegiac, he is rather like another English sportsman approaching the end of his career – Jimmy Anderson (apologies to non cricket followers) who is the best seam bowler of all time, both are exponents of a dying art. GTs no longer seem to want the set piece sprint and teams less likely to spend resources on a top sprinter (the reduction in team size doesnt help). Sadly I doubt we shall see his like ever again but maybe we shall see a couple more wins before the end, 4 more “sprint” stages to go.

    • I think Cavendish has a better and more definitive claim to be the best road sprinter of all time than Anderson does of being the best ever seam bowler…
      I’d also suggest the best Tour de France rider full stop is the one who has won the most Tours de France, with the principal objective being overall victory. With Merckx having the most stage wins of those who have won five Tours I doubt Cavendish would argue that…

      • The odd thing about “winning” the Tour is that it can & has been done without actually winning a single stage. Cav’s got 35 stage wins (plus maybe more) over nearly 20 years. Not trying in any way to play down any of the achievements over the years or some of the titanic struggles. However I think Mark Cavendish has become so synonymous with the TDF over such a long period that his achievement is unique and likely to remain so. His first tour in 2007 seems like ancient history, rider protests, EPO scandals, the Yellow jersey wearer being evicted from the race by his team, Alberto Contador winning yellow & white etc etc a very different world. All the other riders have long retired to the Eurosport commentary box yet Cav is still here winning stages and following Tadej Pogacer up the Galibier.

        • Partly answered somewhere else. He’s been “there” all the time, but from my POV it’s a merit as he was actually able to come back, and he’s surely up there in the “great 2000s grandpa” club with Valverde through the 2002-2022 Vueltas, Boonen through the 2002-2016 Paris-Roubaix, to a lesser extent Nibali at the Giro 2007-2022 or Gilbert in the Classics 2004-2020… and of course Pozzovivo and Rebellin!

      • Totally agree.
        Anderson isn’t necessarily the best seamer of all time. He has the most wickets, which is different (and as his now retired bowling partner Stuart Broad acknowledged is partly a result of his longevity, which in itself is hugely impressive). For those in non-cricket playing countries google them!

        • Being good enough to keep getting selected by England 187 times is Anderson’s feat. It’s true that he probably wouldn’t have been in serious consideration for a year end World XI (assuming 3 seamers in the side) any more than a couple of those years, but a bunch of good years and a couple of great ones is still an outstanding record.

          Cavendish is a little different – he was without doubt the undisputed king sprinter for at least 6 years of his career, amongst a group of contenders for the title for quite a few more years, and never further from the top than the second tier.

          • “never further from the top than the second tier”

            2017-2020 were actually dire years where he fell (not that) progressively well below the 2nd tier, struggling to overcome Pro Conti (3rd tier) athletes and sometimes even losing to them. Normal, he was 32 yo and on, accidents, deceptions, not easy indeed.
            Your definition applies well to 2008-2016, a very classic 9 years high level career, when he had fallen dangerously close to being 2nd tier during the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Not because he couldn’t win, as in later years, of course, rather because he could be pushed against the ropes by lesser riders (…Ruffoni…), or appeared consistently weaker than another sprinter (Greipel, Kittel), but even more so because he struggled so so much to simply get to contest the bunch sprint in stages where other sprinters could easily do that.

      • Also look at the time frame. Mercx achieved his wins over 6 years. Cav took considerably longer!

        For that Mercx’s record remains more impressive for me. But I love Cav and had tears in my eyes seeing him celebrate with his family yesterday

      • I’m afraid that the best road sprinter of all times should still be Rik II, tracked closely by Rik I (who, OTOH, might be discarted from the list of sprinters to be included in that of Classics champs). Not that it all really makes huge sense. Times do change, of course, and context is paramount. Anyway, as I wrote yesterday, Cav is now beyond any doubt the best pure sprinter of all times!

    • A strange sport, where the supposed best athlete in something may happen to struggle to even complete such event within the minimal acceptable time frame. Hummm, the spirit of the claim is surely quite lovely, but I suspect people are being carried away just a little bit by emotion. Understandably so.
      Cav’s TDF years before his flaming post-Covid comeback were essentially those golden 2008-2013 six years, while from 2014 to 2020, barring the peculiar case of 2016, he wasn’t there, was out soon, couldn’t finish, wasn’t so relevant etc.
      So I really can’t see him as a special TDF thing in general terms, and surely less than, say, Indurain, Virenque or Sagan, just to name three athletes very strongly associated with the French race.
      As I already wrote what makes him really different and special (although not unique) is precisely the capability to come back strong – with the whole lot of hard physical and mental work it requires – after having been repeatedly on the brink of leaving the sport because he felt he hadn’t the level anymore. Hardest than climbing the Galibier.

  3. Philipsen seemed to sollicit relegation again, taking a big swerve from right to left in order to take Cav’s wheel in the final dash to the arrivée. Also the two Want-sprinters, Bini & Thijssen, finished 9th & 8th, not exactly a tactical masterstroke to increase Bini’s chances for green. That may be an entertaining battle this year with now three sprints delivering three different winners, on top of that Cav, Bauhaus and De Lie are participating, and scoring, at the finish but seem to forego the intermediates and hence don’t fully commit to the green contest.

    • Tough for Wanty, Thijssen was the man selected for the job and Bini wasn’t even meant to be here – what a gift that he is. 1 place is probably an ok sacrifice to maintain harmony, and as the post says there’s no negative politics in the team going all in on Bini now he’s in green..

  4. Yesterday was almost a highlight reel of the qualities that have enabled Cavendish’s extraordinary longevity. Bravery, craftiness, a sixth-sense for the right wheel to take and finally a blistering turn of pace delivered at exactly the right moment. Plus the leadership necessary for seven other riders to work their socks off to put him there.

    As to whether lightning can strike twice, the speed of 69.4kmh into a headwind suggests he’s there or thereabouts in terms of raw pace for this not to be a one-off (the top speed on stage 3 was 70.2kmh), but the amount of work he had to do to create his chance shows how difficult it is to predict what will happen in a sprint. History suggests that once he’s hot one or two more at least will follow though…

    Even if he doesn’t, what a moment that was yesterday.

  5. I was a Cav doubter, particularly after that Ghent Wevelgem. One last heroic hurrah in 2021, aided by a superb train, that fell just short, but surely that was that. What amazed me yesterday was how easily he won – slaughtered many of the best sprinters in the world and without a train for the last bit.

  6. Usually in sprint stages you watch the riders at the front.For last 2km I was transfixed on watching Cavendish (Europsort commentators said the same). It was really interesting watching Cavendish weave his way through. How can he win from here? The gap is so small!

    It was a far cry from the sprint trains of High Road. Great stuff!

    If anyone can beat Cavendish record, maybe it is Pog.

    • Hard to make a direct comparison, but for what it’s worth…
      Pogacar at 25 has 12 stages in four and a bit Tours
      Cavendish at 25 had 15 stages in four Tours (although didn’t finish two of them and took no stages in his first)

    • Their spatial awareness and fearlessness when moving about the bunch in the final few hundred metres at almost full gas is unbelievable. I don’t know how they don’t clip the back of the wheel in front and come down more often. That helicopter shot yesterday was brilliant and gives so much more insight than the traditional front on shot.

  7. Bravo to cav!
    About the postcard: “aux coups à coudes” is an Inrng-esque pun, “au coude-à-coude”, literally elbow to elbow, means “neck to neck”, and coup means hit, bump, which apparently the 2 had been doing, so something like “whack-to-neck” (it’s more alliterative in French)

  8. A great moment yesterday, very happy for Cavendish. It was nice to see how happy the other riders were for him as well. Most of the peloton must have patted him on the back.
    I think its also worth giving the TV production a pat on the back. The view we had of the finale was superb, with the camera looking down on the front of the bunch as they came to the line. You could really see the work required to get in the right position, and how much of an absolute master of it Cavendish is. From that view my first thought was that he had gone too early, I didn’t expect him to hit the front first. Nobody could come round him though, which is pretty impressive at his age! I wonder if the adrenaline rush will be enough to get him another today, despite the hangover!

  9. Although it’s becoming a little cliche, that anger or other people’s doubts drive him to win, I think Inrng has a secret fan who was furious to be left off the list of favourites yesterday!

      • That´s a strange way of looking at it! Why should we feel better (in any way) than we are just because some pros might occasionally have a look at the cycling blog that we keenly follow?`

        That said, it is my understanding, too, that pro athletes generally prefer to read about things other than their own sport – but that doesn´t stop them from simple human curiosity. If they can check the day´s headlines in the L’Équipe – and I believe they sometimes do – it´s not at all unconceivable that they might be curious enough to see whom the Inner Ring has listed as the day´s favorites 🙂

  10. So a couple decades ago the break takes the win in Dijon, but today we’re sure to have a sprint finish, as if some mafia had already rigged it. That explains the meagre value of one sprint victory (or 35) in the 21st century. It’s a fixed-result system.

      • What do you mean “conspirational”? Look at today’s stage. No challenge whatsoever to the sprint finish because of the certainty that a certain finish will be imposed by the numerous elements who have the power to impose it. It’s anti-sportive, anti-competitive, on top of being the pinnacle of boredom and very dangerous. Those who do not attack frontally this kind of cycling are accomplices.

  11. Any views on the Philipsen swerve ? Cavendish appears to chose going left (I.e. away from JP) thus ‘forcing’ JP to cross (reflex to get the wheel) and making it harder to overtake him? This looks like an amazingly calculated move from Cavendish. Would JP have been better staying to the right and on his line to have a better chance of the win? Does JP lose speed by swerving over?

    • I wonder if the headwind was coming slightly from the right? Would then make sense for Cavendish to move to the left in this way (not only to prevent others from overtaking on his left, but also to help his acceleration).

    • Cannot speak for second-order biomechanical and aerodynamic factors, but in purely geometric terms I think the answer is no. Let’s say they were going at 70 km/h at the time: a lateral swerve or displacement of 1 m/s would only cost 2 cm/s in speed towards the finish line; 2 m/s would cost 10 cm/s; 3 m/s… 22 cm/s, still too little to have changed yesterday’s result.

    • The Philipsen swerve (and the Cavendish swerve) were both violations of the rule to not deviate from one’s lane once the sprint begins. They were lucky that no riders were impaired. I think without one of them causing a crash there was no way the commissars would take Cav’s win away, but they did both get an official warning. I guess in a few weeks it would have been a ‘yellow card.’ Jasper the Disaster didn’t seem to learn from that warning today, and it may have cost him the green jersey.

  12. Minor typo: “… Erik Zabel, whose son has recently from pro cycling” needs “… Erik Zabel, whose son has recently retired from pro cycling”

  13. If one was to ask ChatGPT to create an archetypal Cav sprint, yesterday would have been it. Choosing the right wheel, protecting with his physicality his chosen line, picking the gap and that burst of acceleration to make it count.

    I’ve had to reshuffle my top 3 Cav TdF wins as a result of yesterday now:

    1- 2024 Stage 5. The best there ever was, the best there ever will be
    2- 2012 Stage 18 – “bosh”. LLS left for dead and Wiggins with a huge turn on the front to connect the peleton to the break
    3- 2009 Stage 21 – a 1,2 for HTC Columbia on the Champs Elysee, and *that* photo

    • Your second one from 2012 is still memorable, a hilly course especially in the finish and Team Sky had a mini mutiny where the riders ignored team orders to sit back and protect Wiggins just in case but worked to set up the sprint instead.

  14. Without wishing to downplay our hosts’s excellent writing, the piece on Cavendish by Alexandre Roos in today’s Equipe is a very good and quite moving read.

  15. Yes at the last meters to finishing line there was a slight bumping and it was difficult to detect it ,for me only I felt it
    I hope Biniam Ghirmai intermache Africa Eritrea will take the stage 6 today too lol.

  16. An electric win for his 35th stage victory.

    Astana played it perfectly controlling from 30km or so out. Cav for once fully trusting his teammates in the closing Kms (which we haven’t really seen since he joined Astana) and not allowing himself to lose multiple positions through corners and nervous moments.

    Yes, the leadout fell apart but Cav displayed that when you have the strongest mind in a sprint it can rival the strongest legs. What a contrast to the years he was already defeated inside his head when he was in sight of the line.

    I haven’t seen much (any?) mention of Kristoff. A hard crash when Astana took the pace up, a mad dash to rejoin the bunch, only Abrahamsen to guide him in the finish and seemingly started sprinting from further out than anyone else yet still finishes 3rd.

    I think stage 12 looks perfect for him to prove again that the older riders still have it. Though I’m not sure if he’d smile as much as when he saw Cav make history in front of him.

  17. Cavendish’s last victory was achieved in a way that cost Sagan his participation in the Tour, which did not go unnoticed by the UCI this time.

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