Nowadays, the WorldTour peloton is simply too well drilled to fluff up a stage made for the sprinters. The constant time checks via race radio mean that, ninety-nine times out of one-hundred, certain death is assured for the marauding breakaway, no matter how hard they try. The leeway allowed, and, when the peloton sees fit, the subsequent chase, have come down to a mathematical equation, not unlike the way Team Sky control proceedings upon taking race leadership.
Given their chance of success is growing ever smaller, it is therefore impressive, or at least applaudable, how men like Jacky Durand, Jens Voigt, Thomas Voeckler and Steve Cummings, in search of that elusive, nay improbable, win, fly in the face of such small odds. Certainly, the pair of Cat. 4 climbs in the opening third of today's stage to Montpellier, since 1930 a popular transition city between the Alps and Pyrénées, will do little to deter the sprinters' teams, serving only as a launchpad for the almost certainly doomed escape - if they haven't gotten away already.
The next sprint opportunity is not till the weekend, on Stage 14. The next one after that... Paris.
History also tells us this town on the edge of the Mediterranean has celebrated a number of sprinters that have gone on to win the maillot vert: André Darrigade, Olaf Ludwig, Robbie McEwen and Mark Cavendish spring (sprint?!) to mind. If anyone other than Peter Sagan is going to win green this year, Montpellier, capital of the Hérault region, becomes a must-win. In fact, the Slovakian’s uncanny ability to accrue points when others can’t means that even if they do win here, green might be a bridge too far.
Its near-seaside location also means today’s finish on the Avenue de Vanières will be affected by the Mistral (from the northwest) and/or Tramontane (northern) winds. Ludwig was the first sprinter to master Montpellier in 1993. A dozen Tours later it was the turn of three-time green jersey winner turned SBS Television commentator McEwen; it was his third victory that year but wasn’t enough to overhaul a Sagan-esque exponent of the green jersey in Thor Hushovd. In 2007, when a number of his rivals crashed in the final kilometre (a consequence of the wind), Robert Hunter, more a Classics rider than a pure sprinter and well attuned to the nuances of nature, became the first South African to win a stage of Le Tour. Four years on it was Cavendish, his fourth of five scalps that July, also claiming green in the process. Most recently, it was André Greipel on Stage 6 of the 2013 Tour, where he beat Monsieurs Sagan, Kittel and Cavendish.
So, while no guarantee (heck, there's never any guarantee till Paris!), the one who wins on the Avenue de Vanières may also stand tall in the French capital, green but without envy.
As for the GC men, there is nothing more to say other than that this stage comes before the day to Mont Ventoux...
Christian Prudhomme, Tour de France race director, says...
“Habits are tough to keep and finishers distinguish themselves by a strong attachment to some territories. In recent years they have, for instance, made Montpellier one of the capitals of sprints on the Tour and will do their best to keep that reputation alive. But many will do their best to change habits.”
Weather: Strong wind from the west/northwest at the start. Wind speed will increase during the day with gusts up to 70 km/h. No rain expected during the stage. Temperatures between 14°C in the morning and 26°C at the finish in Montpellier.