Finally the race is in France, with a trip through Luxembourg taking us to Longwy and the Côte des Religeuses, where we find the Tour’s first consequential hill.
Profil de l’étape
The race meanders south from Verviers, an outpost of Liège, goes vertically through Luxembourg and enters France with thirty kilometres of the stage left. The parcours is less flat that stage two, with an uphill start and a rather rolling look before the final climb.
This is that final climb, starting sixteen hundred metres out from the finish and hitting eleven per cent along the way. It must be noted however that it gets easier all the way to the line, which must surely aid the sprinters. Attacks may go on the tougher gradients, while the men with a faster kick wait for the less steep last few hundred metres.
AmyBC’s Wine of the Day – Château de Vaux – Moselle Blanc - "Les Gryphées"
The tiny Moselle AOC (just 100 acres) is tucked up in the northeast corner of France, just over the Vosges Mountains from Alsace, near the Luxembourg border.
30% Auxerrois, 30% Muller Thürgau (a crossing of Riesling and Chasselas), 30% Pinot Gris and 10% Gewürztraminer. The vines grow on rocky terraces planted on hillsides west of the Moselle River, with clay-limestone soils. South-southeast exposure and a mix of oceanic and continental climate.
Les Gryphées shows notes of peaches and white flowers on the nose, followed by ripe fruit on the palate and apricot of the finish.
Did you know?
Er, my knowledge of Belgian suburbs isn't up to scratch. Verviers has acorns on its coat of arms? In a just world, that would make it the squirrel capital of Wallonia, but this is not a just world, so it's the water capital of Wallonia. This basically means that it has a lot of very functional fountains which once gave necessary water to the Belgian populace.
Longwy is in the north-east of France, so it hasn't always been in France. It's been in different duchies and kingdoms, including Luxembourg for a while, before being made part of France in 1670, where it's stayed since, much to the annoyance of anyone not from France who wanted iron ore. Currently it's home to fifteen thousand people.
What’s at stake?
If Sagan or Matthews had exceeded expectations today, the yellow jersey might have been up for grabs, but as it is Geraint Thomas remains safe for another day. The stage win and mountains jersey are on the line, however, with seven polka-dot points available along the route. This climb is nowhere near hard enough to see anything close to a GC shakeup, but if you thought today was hectic, wait till you see tomorrow's last few kilometres. The pace will be frantic as the peloton race for position onto the climb, amplified by the technical-ish last few kilometres.
See the first hairpin? That's the turn onto the climb. It'll be taken quickly and accidents are absolutely a possibility. Four GC men have taken falls of varying severity already - you can bet there'll be plenty of nerves at the very least.
Who’s going to win?
The knee-jerk reaction to that question is to say Peter Sagan. Actually, that’s the knee-jerk reaction to that question even if you don't know what the stage is like. It’s pretty hard to argue against him, too. He'll be able to hang for a short while on the eleven per cent gradient, and bring his sprinting power to bear on the flatter top of the climb. He's my pick to win.
Michael Matthews is the only person I can realistically see challenging him, but he's not any better on short hills than Sagan is, and he's no better in a sprint either. I think this stage may play out somewhat like last year's stage two in Cherbourg, with Sagan fighting off all competition. Matthews will take the place of the absent Alaphilippe, who finished second. Valverde finished third that day, but he also won't compete, so who will? Dan Martin's a possibility, he will be on the lookout for a stage win and bonus seconds, so I certainly expect him to have a go. The hill may however not be difficult enough for him, with team mate Philippe Gilbert perhaps Quick-Step's chosen rider for the day.
Then there's Greg Van Avermaet. People are bigging up the idea of a Sagan-Van Avermaet duel, and if Van Avermaet rides the way he's expected to, this is where it restarts. I don't think he'll be able to hold off Sagan, however.
Finally, Arnaud Démare is being mentioned, presumably after his win on a not-entirely-dissimilar hill in Paris-Nice. That was obviously under different circumstances however, so I'm unconvinced that the French champion quite has the legs to win this one. Sagan to win!