Yo! What's with all these sprint stages?
Oh yeah, that's right. It's the Tour.
Like it or lump it, this is the way Le Tour often goes in the opening week; we know which sprinters are on song, but only catch glimpses of form from the GC contenders. Don't fret because before next Monday, the first rest day in Andorra, the peloton will traverse two medium mountain legs and two high mountain stages.
And what’s with all these long stages? 461 kilometres in two days - with another 216km tomorrow! Why, like yesterday, spend six hours or more in the saddle for a stage almost certain to be determined in the final few hundred metres?
Explains technical director Thierry Gouvenou, “Our goal is patently obvious: to reach the mountains as quickly as possible, which will force the favourites out into the open.”
It's actually quite interesting watching the contenders on these sorts of days. You see who's comfortable on the flat and who's not, and should the wind blow, who can ride in an echelon or keep themselves up front. Remember, it was the windswept second stage in Holland last year that saw Vincenzo Nibali, Nairo Quintana and Thibaut Pinot finish 1'28 down on the first group, of which Chris Froome, the eventual winner, was a part of. Quintana would chase his tail for the remainder of the race and, despite his best efforts, would finish 1'12 behind the Kenyan-born Brit.
In a similar vein, there was the thirteenth stage of the 2013 Tour to Saint-Amand-Montrond: 30km from the finish, Saxo-Tinkoff split the bunch and distanced race leader Froome, with Alberto Contador and Bauke Mollema the only GC contenders to finish in the front group of 14 riders. Cavendish won the stage while Froome, Quintana, Cadel Evans and Tejay van Garderen would concede 69 seconds. Alejandro Valverde, second overall at the start of the day, punctured well before the split and despite the assistance of three team-mates would not see the front again, losing six seconds short of 10 minutes and any hope of a podium finish. (It makes Richie Porte’s untimely puncture near the finish of Stage 2 this year appear positively mild.)
Yesterday we began in the birth city of Christian Dior; today marks the birthplace of Coco Chanel. We just need a pooch in the handbag - or man-bag - and life would be complete! Seriously, though, it is the finish in Limoges, a 14-time stage city at Le Tour that fans will remember when all is said and done. A few corners in the final couple of kilometres and a slightly uphill finish should keep 'em on their toes.
Christian Prudhomme, Tour de France race director, says...
“The stroke of a pen on the map of France says it all: 232 kilometres. It'll be the longest stage and it should have an effect on the legs in the closing moments. The beautiful flat roads going through the Haute-Vienne area should favour the sprinters. Just as much as the final slightly uphill straight ending the stage in front of the City Hall.”