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Le Tour Stage 3 Preview: Huy! Huy!

Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Stage 3: Anvers (BE) -- Huy (BE), 159.5km

The Tour de France continues its foreign expedition with a day in Belgium, beginning on the outskirts of another big Dutch-speaking city -- Antwerp -- and ending in the heart of the Ardennes atop the Mur de Huy. History buffs will start off talking about the old cloth industry for a third straight day, but by the finish it'll be all about the Great Wars. Oh, and the climbing classic specialists will have circled this one on their calendars.

About Huy and Nearby

The business end of the race is centered around the Meuse River, one of the major contributors to the Zeeland Delta that staged Sunday's action. The Meuse (also Mouze in Wallonian or Maas in Dutch) is the meat in the Rhine-Schelde sandwich, draining the Champagne-Ardenne region of France, the Limburg area of the Netherlands, and a pretty good chunk of Wallonia. The natural fortifications around the river gave it military significance dating back to Roman times, when Huy itself was first settled as a strategic outpost, and continued through WWI (and the German assault on 12 forts around Liège) and WWII (home to the Battle of the Bulge). The Tour passes through Havelange, which gave its name to João Havelange of FIFA/bribery fame, and which led me to look up the fact that there is a pretty good chunk of Belgian DNA in Brazil. Huy, when not hosting La Flèche Wallonne, is an industrial town dating back to the textile heyday.

AmyBC's food and wine pairings:

Beer: I've said it before, I'm not a big beer drinker. That said, this may be my favorite beer ever: RODENBACH Caractère Rouge. I loved their Grand Cru a few years back, so it is probably not a surprise that I enjoyed this one so much. I suppose the take home is that I like sour beer?

Food: Cabricharme cheese. Founded in 1986, La Fermière de Méan is a cooperative dairy farm located in southeastern Belgium. Inititally, they only produced milk, but in 1990, the dairy began making cheeses using milk provided by the members. Modeled on a cow’s milk cheese made by the same producer, Cabricharme is a Trappist style raw goat’s milk cheese. The milk used in this cheese is from a single farm-member of the cooperative. Over the course of 6 weeks, the cheese is washed in a brine solution that gives Cabricharme’s salmon-pink rind its color and helps the ivory white interior develop its flavor and supple texture.

Stage Details

Heading away from the Pays-Bas. Onward and... upward!

tour profile stage 3

The map has a decidedly Wallonian -- almost French -- feel.

Tour stage 3 map

Course Analysis

We begin, of course, with echoes of La Flèche Wallonne, since the race organizers have completely incorporated the last phase of the race. Unlike La Flèche, the Tour stage doesn't do multiple laps through and around Huy, but it does warm up on the Côte de Bohissau outside the river crossing at Andenne, and it does conclude with the trio of climbs used in this year's classic, the Côtes d'Ereffe and de Cherave before finishing atop the Mur de Huy. It won't be quite as climby and it's 40km shorter, but with temperatures hitting 80 degrees Stage 3 might be about as arduous as the spring classic.

Strategically we know it'll end in a sprint up the Mur de Huy. The climbers won't be anxious to leave a group up the road to steal their glory, nor can we expect the race to break up as much as the preceding and proceeding ones portend(ed). There are skinny roads and the usual furniture hazards, but the protagonists tend to stay bunched in April, and should again in July.


General Classification

Maillot Jaune Tour
Long-term, the Huy sprint will separate the top favorites by seconds, and we won't likely remember the gaps when we get to Paris. But with the current holder Fabian Cancellara holding a slim lead for the current ownership of the maillot jaune, he might find himself under pressure from Tom Dumoulin, six seconds back and possessing some decent climbing ability. Next is Peter Sagan, 33 seconds in arrears and also a threat to beat Fabu up the hill, but probably not by that much. The pure climbers all lie more than 40 seconds back and not a threat to steal the Swiss star's thunder.

Points Competition

Maillot Vert
Big day. Peter Sagan's excellent work on stage 2 puts him at 39 points, trailing only stage winner André Greipel at 55. The location of the intermediate sprint after the Côte de Bohissau could cause a split that drops the flatlanders like Greipel and Mark Cavendish, maybe. But even if not, Sagan's ability to grab points atop the Mur should put him in green by day's end.

King of the Mountains

Maillot a Pois
Joop Zoetemelk's hold on the jersey will be under assault today, and it'll be up to his Kwantum team to drag him up the climbs where, at last, the Tour will award a handful of climbers' points. An enterprising escapee could garner up to four -- count em, four -- points. Expect a vicious battle all day long.

Young Rider

Maillot Blanc
Dumoulin's advantage over Rohan Dennis after today's madcap stage puts him in the young rider's tunic for real, not just as a rental, and there is every reason to expect him to hold on for a spell. Sure, Sagan lies second but Dumoulin holds 27 seconds and some experience with La Flèche, so it should be his kind of day.

Stage Favorites

Here's where we turn back to La Flèche, because if it is just a march to a hill sprint, well, so is the April version, and we can look up who's good at that sort of event. This year's winner was Alejandro Valverde, taking his third Flèche, and when he won in 2014 he had Tour entries Dan Martin, Michal Kwiatkowski and Bauke Mollema on his heels. Joaquim Rodriguez owns a win and two seconds here, while Sammy Sanchez and Alberto Contador have podium finishes as well. Nairo Quintana and Chris Froome have a few forgettable experiences on the Mur but then they are Boys of Summer. Other candidates include (but are not limited to*) Rui Costa, Wilco Kelderman, Roman Kreuziger, and Greg Van Avermaet. I'll go with the World Champion, Kwiatkowski, who looks very frisky already.

* And a lot of other guys. Feel free to lengthen the list in comments.