• Green is good… Team Sunweb has already won four stages; they couldn’t possibly win again - could they? (AAP)Source: AAP
The final home to arguably the greatest prophet of all, it will take a sage punter to predict the outcome in Salon-de-Provence.
Cycling Central
21 Jul 2017 - 4:23 PM  UPDATED 21 Jul 2017 - 4:41 PM

The profile is pretty tough and the parcours long - at 222.5 kilometres the longest of the Tour, in fact. Yet this stage, neatly nestled between the last mountain leg and final time trial, is 99 per cent likely to have no affect on the GC leaderboard. For the contenders, it is all about active recovery before Saturday’s 22.5 kilometre contre-la-montre in Marseille, and the maillot jaune et al. will thus be conspicuous by their absence at the head of affairs.

It therefore leaves today’s fate in the hands of sprinters and opportunists.

To date we’ve witnessed six full-on bunch gallops, five of those won by the recently departed Marcel Kittel, and three successful breakaways - Lilian Calmejane on Stage 8; Bauke Mollema on Stage 15; and Primož Roglič on Stage 17. Eleven out of the 22 participating teams are yet to win a stage...

Mountain passes & hills
Km 26.0 - Col Lebraut: 4.7 kilometre-long climb at 6% - category 3
Km 43.0 - Côte de Bréziers: 2.3 kilometre-long climb at 5.8% - category 3
Km 177.5 - Col du Pointu: 5.8 kilometre-long climb at 4.1% - category 3

Under normal circumstances the trio of Cat. 3s would pose little bother. But this is the Tour, and this is the eighteenth stage; by day’s end all bar 125.5km of this 3,540km Grande Boucle will have been traversed.

As for the final Cat. 3 of the day, the 5.8km Col du Pointu can hardly be thought of as the place for a sucker punch; its placement some 45km from the finish screams out for a race-winning move. The surprise will be if someone doesn’t attack.

That said, before a tattered Kittel exited stage right three days ago en route to Romans-sur-Isère, this was indeed the point Team Sunweb were going to launch a caught-with-your-pants-down offensive on the German and his Quick Step Floors team.

The idea was that they would first drop the erstwhile maillot vert on the climb then drill it to Salon-de-Provence as they did on the stage to Rodez, before setting up their man Michael Matthews for a reduced bunch sprint. It would’ve made for a fascinating tête-à-tête between Team Sunweb and Quick Step Floors, but it is what it is. Now, such is his lead over André Greipel, to become the third Australian winner of the green jersey after Baden Cooke and Robbie McEwen, all Bling needs to do is stay upright till Paris. Which, for a number of sprinters this Tour, is proving rather difficult...

With Kittel, Peter Sagan and Mark Cavendish out, and Greipel, Alexander Kristoff and Sonny Colbrelli the only fastmen that remain but not enjoying the form they would like, the odds therefore turn in favour of a fourth successful escape. (Unless Team Sunweb wish to execute their plan regardless.)

Which brings us back to the Col du Pointu.

Should one not be fleet of foot in a sprint and be inclined to rid themselves of those who are, it is more a question of when than if on the Pointu. And that we will finish so close to the coast also means if the winds are blowing between Loumarin and Merindol, even if the breakaway has a handy lead, one must save plenty in reserve for a hard haul to the line.

Perhaps the only certainty is that the fight to make the right move will be almost as hard as that to win the stage - so long as the sprinters that remain don’t gatecrash their party.

If only Nostradamus were still alive to tell us the outcome.

Christian Prudhomme, Tour de France race director, says:
“Beware not to be gently rocked by the relaxed atmosphere of the villages of Provence, the lavender fields and the olive trees of Lubéron. It'll be the longest stage of the Tour and will start by a hilly portion, tough on the legs. It'll be a final opportunity for escapees to witness glory. Just as long as they manage to stay clear of the hungry pack all the way to the finish line.”

Finish line: Boulevard du Maréchal Foch, at the end of a 400m finishing straight. Width: 6m.

Weather: 22°C and partly cloudy at start, 49% precipitation, 40% humidity, wind 7km/h WNW; 28°C and partly cloudy at finish, 34% precipitation, 65% humidity, wind 15km/h SSW.

Who will win Stage 19 of the 2017 TdF?
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