“Lead-out trains on large avenues”, predicts our Tour boss Christian Prudhomme of the expected scenario around 5:30pm this afternoon in la centre ville à Troyes.
When you think of who functions best in such situations, there really is only one man: Marcel Kittel.
Of course, Mark Cavendish, winner of 30 stages at the Tour including four on the grandest avenue of all, that of course being Paris’ Avenue des Champs-Élysées, would dispute such a claim. But when it comes to straight-line speed, Kittel - provided he’s got a clear run at the thin white line - has got it covered. Besides, in a high-speed boogie-woogie with Peter ‘Grease Lightning’ Sagan on the fourth stage in Vittel, the Manx Missile self-detonated into the barriers, and both are now out of the race. Such a shame.
Mountain passes & hills
Km 69.0 - Côte de Langres: 1.3 kilometre-long climb at 6.3% - category 4
Km 154.0 - Côte de la colline Sainte-Germaine: 3.1 kilometre-long climb at 4.4% - category 4
We appear to be living in the age of disruption, however. Just like Uber and Airbnb have done to their respective industries, to thwart the best-laid plans of an old-school sprinter like German juggernaut Kittel, his adversaries must first rattle then roll his Quick Step Floors train. Unlike Cavendish or Sagan, or Robbie McEwen before them, the Dolph Lundgren lookalike is far less effacaciousin the absence of a well-drilled lead-out. His size and higher centre of gravity impact his agility; if he has to do a few mini-accelerations himself in those final kilometres, or is not dropped off in near-perfect position, his rivals stand a chance. And when it comes to the Tour, a chance is all you need.
The sprint in Vittel demonstrated how a scrappy finale plays in favour of stage winner and 2016 Milan-San Remo winner Arnaud Démare (FDJ), who currently leads the points classification by a margin of 40 over Kittel, with Aussie Michael Matthews (Sunweb) a further 14 points behind. It’s by no means all over red rover - hell, even Chris Froome is lying seventh! - as this Grande Boucle in particular is one that favours the fleet of foot
Still, that doesn’t stop the locals dreaming. The last time a Frenchman wore green in Paris? Laurent Jalabert, 22 years ago.
(By the way, we’re not going to get this close to the French capital again till the finish, 17 days from now. So if anyone’s thinking Le Tour’s not for them and they’d rather be getting some of mum’s home cooking and watching like us couch potatoes instead, today would be the day.)
Christian Prudhomme, Tour de France race director, says:
“The sprint purists will have dissected and appreciated the possible scenario dictated on this flat stage by the teams of the best specialists. Riding through the Plateau de Langres, and passing through Colombeyles-Deux-Églises, the chase of the escapees should be perfectly planned. It'll then be the turn of the lead-out trains to take command on the large avenues of the centre of Troyes.”
Finish line: Boulevard du 1er R.A.M. (Régiment d’Artillerie de Marine), at the end of an 850m finishing straight (230m by line of sight). Width: 6.50m
Weather: 29°C and sunny at start, 0% precipitation, 32% humidity, wind 11km/h SSW; 34°C and partly sunny at finish, 0% precipitation, 38% humidity, wind 13km/h SW.