• Missed it by that much... Alberto Contador celebrates prematurely on the Mûr de Bretagne in the 2011 Tour. (AFP)Source: AFP
We already have an excellent idea of what may happen today, because four years ago and for the first time, Le Tour visited what has been dubbed 'the Alpe-d'Huez of Britanny'...
11 Jul 2015 - 3:38 PM  UPDATED 12 Jul 2015 - 9:26 AM

On 5 July 2011, the Tour peloton left the Stage 4 start town of Lorient for a journey to the Côte de Mûr de Bretagne (6.9 per cent average with some passages at 15 percent), where the race would finish after 172.5 kilometres.

Away after just 9km, the five-man break consisting of Jérémy Roy (FDJ), Blel Kadri (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Imanol Erviti (Movistar Team), Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Gorka Izagirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi) remained in front till the foot of the then little-known two-kilometre climb - but as soon as they were caught, Alberto Contador chose his moment...

His move foundered but the Spaniard did not flounder, and was still in contention to win the stage when he was caught. However a guy called Cadel Evans, who had been flying all season - having won Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour de Romandie and finished second at the Critérium du Dauphiné - had other ideas.

With a perfectly-timed sprint and track sprinter's throw of the bike, 'El Pistolero' found himself pipped at the post along with the guy most expected to win the stage, Philippe Gilbert, riding for Omega Pharma-Lotto at the time and in April had won the elusive Ardennes triple crown of Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Evans' victory did not upset the GC apple cart much but like Vincenzo Nibali's win in Sheffield on Stage 2 of last year's Tour, the mental blow was significant. It said: 'I'm ready to take you on - and by "you" I mean each of every one, right here, right now...'

In short, Cadel was saying, 'Bring it'.

Despite Thomas Voeckler's protracted spell in yellow and a creditable challenge from the brothers Schleck, Evans looked in control throughout; a season that, now he's retired, can be viewed as his career apotheosis, and one he would never come close to emulating again. Still, he will always be known as the first Australian to win the road world championships and the first to win the Tour - and remains the only one to do so.

Which continues to beg the question: Will there be another like him; and how long must we wait for a repeat?

Christian Prudhomme, Directeur du Tour de France, says:

"The path to the heart of Brittany on the roads of the Côtes-d'Armor area puts an end to a period made for sprinters.

"The candidates for a leading role will indeed have to take command of the race. The battle for seconds will witness a new fierce episode on the final climb that will this time be made even harder without a previous surge. And the gaps at the finish, even reduced, could have severe consequences."

Matt White, Orica-GreenEDGE head sports director, says:

"The last 2K (of the stage) are exactly the same from 2011 but the run-in's a little bit different.

"It'll be a tricky one (to predict), because if you remember, back in 2011, (Thor) Hushovd had the jersey and just hung on to that front group to keep the jersey. It was on Stage 4, so a little bit earlier than this year.

"I think on this stage, we'll be seeing a mixture of GC guys and those that featured on the stage to the Mur de Huy - that mix of Valverde, Nibali, Contador and your punchy, Ardennes-type of riders. That's who'll be battling out the final today.

"As for the stage being a sign of things to come for the GC guys, the whole first week, it's as much about having a good team around you and a little bit of luck as well. No one wants to be losing 10 seconds here, 15 seconds there - but at the end of the day, if you've got good legs in the second week, you can really show something.

"These sorts of stages, they're nervous and people can lose the Tour de France in the first nine days, but they ain't gonna win the Tour de France.

"Winning the Tour de France is for the Pyrénées and the Alps. At the same time, no-one wants to start the Pyrénées a minute or a minute-and-a-half down - and that's potentially what can happen in that first nine days this year."

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