The journey from Vierzon to Le Creusot is set to be an interesting one, with a number of different scenarios on the cards.
It will be a first for the Tour de France, having never visited Vierzon before. The peloton departs the debuting town, and then heads out on the flat section of the course that traverses the centre of France from west to east.
A warm day peaking at 27 Degrees Celsius is predicted with a mild cross-headwind for most of the flat portion of the day's racing. After almost 160 kilometres over the flatlands, the riders tackle the Côte de Château-Chinon (3.2 kilometres at 5.3%), with the race entering its tough finale as uncategorised climbs mingle with their official brethren. The Côte de Glux-en-Genne is up next, a 2.6 kilometres climb at 4.2%, with a largely sedate stretch of 35 kilometres following the peak.
The foot of the Côte de la Croix de la Libération (4.6 kilometre at 5.3%) comes with 43 kilometres to go, and may be the site of some exploratory attack, as the run to the finish is either up or down from there. The end of the descent from the Côte de la Croix de la Libération leads directly into the most demanding climb of the day, the Signal d’Uchon.
The profile of the Signal d'Uchon Source: ASO
It’s a 5.7 kilometres climb at 5.7%, but that doesn't fully take into account the climb's difficulty. The first half goes up at approximately 6% before a short descent and then a brutal final slog to the summit. The slope runs for a kilometre at rise of 9.4% before the last 700 metres climb at 13.1% to the peak. Though there are still 18 kilometres to go at this point, this will be the crucial section that will likely decide how the stage plays out, with good terrain thereafter to make an attack stick.
The peak of the Signal d’Uchon has bonuses of 8, 5 and 2 seconds for the first three over, with Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič already having shown interest in contesting these on the Mur de Bretagne on Stage 2.
The Côte de la Gourloye is the last challenge of the day. 2.4 kilometres at 5.3% isn't a hard task for a professional peloton, and it's steady gradients should be managed even by the sprinters still hanging in there. The climb crests with 8 kilometres to go to Le Creusot, with a sharp descent, then undulating into the finish line.
Will we see the attackers take it or the sprinters have their way. None of the climb's averages is particularly leg-breaking, but that 1.7 kilometre section to the peak of the Signal d’Uchon is the hardest climbing faced so far in the Tour. After their heroics on the opening two stages of the race, it's easy to see the likes of Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) leaving their rivals for stage glory behind on the steep slopes.
The question will be how much lead they can get and whether any sprinters along with their domestiques can follow close enough behind to organise a chase in the wake of the attackers. The descents and small climbs should play into the favour of the attackers as well, but it's likely to be a close-run thing.
Heading up the climbing sprinters looking to make their mark is Australian Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange), who should make it over all the climbs with the front bunch if he can reproduce the form that saw him take second on the Tour's opening stage. Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Victorious) will be hoping that the Dauphine form that saw his taste victory there will make a return, while Peter Sagan (BORA-hansgrohe) is impossible to discount.
Each has strong teams, and can perhaps look to form an alliance, Team BikeExchange in particular has Lucas Hamilton, Esteban Chaves and Simon Yates, all of whom should be present in the finale to help chase, though Hamilton will likely be kept in reserve.
The other major possibility is that the early breakaway could carry the day. With 249 kilometres to race, many teams will be very wary about committing themselves to chasing the early move all day, especially with some hard days in the mountains on the horizon.
The obstacle for the early escapees will likely be Alpecin-Fenix, with Mathieu van der Poel both looking for another day in yellow and a chance at a stage win. That said, lots of riders have lost significant time early in the race, so a move might form that allows Alpecin-Fenix to keep van der Poel in yellow without having to commit so seriously.
Taking a close look at the stage hasn't answered questions so much as raised possibilities, but that should make for a fun, dynamic stage that gives lots of riders a chance at the win.
The Tour de France continues with Stage 7, the longest of the race at 249 kilometres, with a hilly kick in the back section of the stage that looks set to suit the Ardennes classics specialists. Watch on SBS, SBS On Demand from 2030 AEST and earlier on the SKODA Tour Tracker from 1850 AEST.