Chambon-sur-Lac > Chambon-sur-Lac 158km
Not that long ago you’d have taken one look at this profile and thought the sprinters don’t stand a chance, so it’s a nailed on breakaway day, but not anymore. Okay, for years we’ve had “sprinters” like Sagan who would have loved a stage like this, but in recent years we’ve seen more and more sprinters be able to cope with stages that have 3000m of elevation. The climbing sprinters are killing the breakaways. The presence of Laporte, Hayter and maybe even Vernon means we’ve got three teams happy to control the break and set up a sprint finish, so that’s what we’re likely to get. The riders head out and do a little loop before three laps of a challenging circuit, it looks a good stage to watch.
There’s a threat of showers throughout the whole day, and in the middle of the afternoon there’s a chance of thunderstorms.
Lumpy, with very little flat, and narrow roads. First up is an uncategorised climb of 4.7km at 5.1%, the road rolls for a bit before the cat 4 climb, which is 1.2km at 6.2%. From the crest, there’s around 11km left, most of which is downhill back into the finishing town. Once inside the final 2km, the road does start to rise again, but not for very long. With 1km to go, the road narrows to one lane, then it’s slightly downhill to the finish.
Break management, that’s what it’s all about. The opening 20km contains a lot of hills, which encourages riders to attack, the teams that want a sprint need to be smart in the opening kilometres and “allow” a relatively weak break to get up the road. If they succeed, it’s going to be a sprint, but if a strong break escapes, it has a great chance of going all the way. That’s why the opening 20km is so important.
Once on the lap circuit, the pace will need to be high to deter attacks, which will spell the end for sprinters like Bennett and Groenewegen. Attackers will try something in the final lap, especially on the classified climb, as it crests not too far from home, it’s not an easy final 20km to control, in fact, it could be a bloody nightmare if the heavens open.
In the last while, Jumbo-Visma always seem to start races in France with a bang. The lap circuit is hard enough for them to do some damage, maybe not like they did in the opening stage of last year’s Paris-Nice, but they could drop a lot of riders if they go hard. Laporte is their main man for this stage, but that’s not to say someone like Benoot might get some freedom to attack on the climbs. I think the team will look at this stage and see a chance to dominate the race right from the very beginning, but I’m not sure they’ll get it all their own way. Soudal – Quick Step also look strong to me, they have a sprint option in Vernon, if it’s too hard for him they have Bagioli, and they also have Alaphilippe & Cavagna who should have license to do what they want, it’s a good squad for a stage like this. I think the amount of firepower in the big teams makes it hard for the morning break to win, but you just never know.
Christophe Laporte – the team decided to send Van Aert to Tour de Suisse, which is a sign of the confidence they have in Laporte. Last year, he had to ride in support more often than not, but he still managed some brilliant results. He’s just signed a new contract for the team, and it’s nice to see them arrive at this race with him as their leader for the opening stages, it’s a big vote of confidence. After an excellent spring, I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do in the second half of the season, I expect him to show he’s one of the best in the world.
Ethan Hayter – after stage wins in the Basque Country and Romandie, he arrives with confidence. A lot has been made of his positioning, this is a stage where he can’t afford to be at the back of the bunch, he needs to ride near the front during the lap circuit. We know he’s got a fast sprint; it could be close between him and Laporte.
Ethan Vernon – there’s been a big improvement in his climbing, but can he cope with 3000m in just 160km? I think the pace will be too high for him to survive in the final lap.
Julian Alaphilippe – he would normally have been the name on everyone’s lips for a stage like this, but the last year has been hard on him. Several crashes and time off the bike have resulted in a massive loss of form, but after a period of good training, I’m hoping we see him close to his best. It’s easy to forget just how good he is, I blame Van Aert and van der Poel for that! Alaphilippe is one of the best cyclists of his generation, the guy is an artist on a bike. It would give me great joy to see him firing off the front on the climbs and taking it to everyone else. Allez!
Axel Zingle – a great option for a sprint. I think he’s an excellent cyclist, one with a big future ahead, but we’re all still waiting for him to do something in a big race. Winning against those already mentioned won’t be easy, but he does have the speed required to land a big one.
Rémi Cavagna – they’ll wait to see how Vernon is going before deciding to unleash the TGV. He’s on home roads, you’ve been warned.
Nils Politt – form is good, he’ll be looking to attack in the final 30km.
Tiesj Benoot – Jumbo-Visma to line it out on the final climb and Tiesj goes over the top. It’s a believable scenario.
Brent Van Moer – early break candidate.
Jumbo-Visma to do Jumbo-Visma type things.
A win for Christophe Laporte.