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Tour Stage 4 Preview: We're sprinting again

The Tour arrives in France, and the sprinters will expect a bunch gallop in Vittel

Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage Two Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

After a trip through Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg, the Tour de France begins to live up to it's name soon after the start of this stage. With the weather set fair and the first nerves settled, this is a stage for the sprinters, especially those with an eye on the green jersey.


Profil de l’étape

AmyBC’s Wine of the Day – Clos de Rochers Auxerrois

A repeat from 2014.

From the producer: Situated on the slopes running down to the Moselle river which acts as a natural border between Luxembourg and Germany, the vineyards lie in a gentle micro-climate influenced by the river and an ideal south-westerly orientation. They stretch over 42 km (26 miles) from Wasserbillig to the eponymous Schengen of European fame.

I say: weird grape alert. Wikipedia tells me that Auxerrois blanc is thought to have originated in Lorraine, rather than near Auxerre in the Yonne. Recent DNA fingerprinting suggests that it is a cross between Gouais blanc and Pinot noir.

Did you know?

You definitely know about Vittel water. Even if you didn’t, what is there to say? I mean, it’s water. They put it in bottles and people buy it. Not people who grew up where I did – we wait until we’re near a tap and drink for free. Mineral water is for... other people.

You probably know about Schengen. If you’re from the EU, you definitely know about the Schengen agreement, which set up control-free borders within quite a bit of Europe. I didn’t know it is named after a little town on the Luxembourg border, but it is. The peloton will go through there. In a powerful commentary on the idiocy of referenda, all the Brits in the peloton will have a five minute delay while their passports are stamped, and the other riders will get waved through.

Barisonal/Getty Images

You might not know about Operation Lusty. I didn’t, but Vittel was important to it. The name was derived, presumably by a US Air Force Officer missing the comforts of home, from Operation LUftwaffe Secret TechnologY and involved the study of German aeronautical secrets from captured planes. At the end of the Second World War, several were stored at a grass airfield just outside Vittel before being removed to Germany. The airfield is now the Vittel racecourse.

What's at stake?

For the GC boys, not a huge amount. This is a stage where no news is good news, and the weather forecast is also good news. Given the gaps on stage 3, only Sagan has a realistic chance of nabbing yellow, but with mountains on the horizon for stage 5, it would only be for one day (and then only if he won the sprint and the intermediate, which seems unlikely). More lasting might be the impact on the green jersey. If the boss is right, and someone is going to make Sagan fight for green, one of the flat sprinters needs to step forward, and this is a flat sprinters' stage.

Who's going to win?

Bring out the usual suspects. I suppose I should cover myself and say a break might make it, but this early in the race that seems unlikely. We saw a first sprint on Sunday, albeit after a chaotic stage and in wet weather, and nobody could get close to Kittel. Old favourites Cav and Greipel will look to finish more strongly this time, whilst Bouhanni and Groenewegen will have been disappointed with their finishing positions and can do better.

For all that, I can't see anyone beating Daniel McLay. Kidding. Even I’m not that far gone. Marcel Kittel is a tough man to beat on these stages when he's fit and firing, and we already know he is. He's a worthy favourite.