If revenge is a dish best served cold, then Marcel Kittel and Arnaud Démare’s rivals better hope the weather bureau got it wrong today in Burgundy.
Météo-France reckons it’s going to be a stinker in this wine-producing (and drinking!) mecca - reaching a maximum 35°C at 3pm - and unfortunately for the likes of André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin), that’s just the way Quick Step Floors and FDJ seem to like it.
So far this Tour, Kittel and Démare appear to be on a level above Greipel, Kristoff, Nacer Bouhanni et al. Or, if you ask Michael Matthews of Team Sunweb, they’re just willing to risk more: “It seems these days they’re willing to risk their lives,” he said Thursday in Troyes where he ran seventh to Kittel, perhaps also a tad exasperated at the number of opportunities for pure sprinters in this year’s race and the slim pickings for the likes of he, Greg Van Avermaet and the ousted Peter Sagan. The Canberran’s best result came on the third leg to Longwy won by Sagan - but in the sprint stages he’s placed 9th, 7th, and 7th on Stages 2, 4 and 6, respectively. “I need to start my sprint from the front. I’m not a guy that can headbutt people or elbow people to get into position."
After green jersey Démare finished second in Troyes, he mentioned only one adversary when talking about the competition he currently leads by 27 points: “There is a big battle with Kittel,” he said. “He has two wins but in the intermediate sprint (Thursday), I played it well. The Tour is very long and we cannot say (the green jersey is) in the bag. Tomorrow, we're at it again.”
Tomorrow is now today, and for les sprinteurs du Tour, there won’t be another opportunity till after the first rest day in Dordogne, four days away.
Mountain passes & hills
Km 147.5 - Côte d'Urcy: 2.5 kilometre-long climb at 4.2% - category 4
That said, our man Prudhomme reckons crosswinds are common in this Côte de Nuits wine-producing area of Burgundy, of which Nuit-Saint-Georges, a host town debutant, is at the centre. The official Tour website also notes “the 50 kilometres finishing loop through the vineyards from Gevrey-Chambertin to Nuits-Saint-Georges favours breakaways”. On the eleventh leg of last year’s race, we saw how an apparent sprint stage, with the help of such natural occurrences, turned out to be anything but: as crosswind chaos ruled on the outskirts of Montpellier, the unlikely pairing of maillot jaune Chris Froome and Sagan, together wth the latter’s team-mate Maciej Bodnar, rode away and stayed away.
It was almost as bizarre as Froome’s daredevil ‘frog on a skateboard’ descent of the Col de Peyresourde four days previous, which netted him a similarly small time gain but psychologically significant body blow. Of course, following the stage to Montpellier, we had only to wait one day more for the bizarre to become the ridiculous on the slopes of Mont Ventoux, as Froome’s Kenyan pedigree came to good use at a time when his bike was of none.
For fans of Richie Porte, here’s hoping BMC Racing is attentive. Their sports director Fabio Baldato said Thursday “I expect a little bit the same tomorrow. It's just another transfer day for the GC guys." Orica-Scott heads sports director Matt White, whose team has the white jersey of best young rider in Simon Yates, similarly said, “On these days our aim is to get through safely and use as little energy as possible.”
However, as we’ve learned so many times at Le Tour, sometimes the very ordinary can become the extraordinary.
Christian Prudhomme, Tour de France race director, says:
“The globally flat course seems perfectly suited for a revenge between the sprinters, frustrated by the outcome of the previous day. However, the final loop of 40 kilometres will see the peloton battle it out in the sidewind and some teams will certainly make the best of it. The Burgundy vineyard homelands are indeed registered on the World Heritage of Humanity sites.”
Finish line: Rue du Général de Gaulle (D974), at the end of a 2km straight (200m by line of sight). Width: 6.50m
Weather: 28°C and possible thunderstorms at start, 51% precipitation, 60% humidity, wind 11km/h SSW; 31°C and partly sunny at finish, 7% precipitation, 42% humidity, wind 11km/h WNW.