For the first four stages, all the action has come on the flatlands, with only three mountain points so far awarded. That’s about to change as the race enters the Finistère département in the west of Brittany for a hilly, challenging stage five. When do you know it’s an unpredictable stage? When you’re waiting for the bookies to post odds two hours after the previous stage finished. Anyway, I’ll have a go at a prediction of my own.
While this is far from a flat stage, there are no shockingly steep or long climbs on the menu, only third and fourth category hills averaging around six per cent over two or three kilometres, but it’s far more than has been seen so far along the route. The last kilometres are of course taken from the French 1.1 race the Tour du Finistère. It is usually won by a solo rider or small group, but the inarguably inferior field that always takes part in it means that comparisons may make it useless.
What I’m expecting to see from this stage is a break of six or seven riders, two of them from Fortuneo-Samsic, which will be fairly easily chased down by a BMC-led peloton. BMC will, in fact, do more work than they perhaps ought to, even as yellow jersey holders. I’m then expecting a few small groups to get off the front but them to eventually get pulled back for a sprint of about thirty riders up the small climb to the finish.
This is that climb, by the way. Not that hard but certainly a consideration for tired legs. Gaviria is a favourite for this stage. I don’t give him a prayer. Oh, and one last point— this is the Bonus sprint for the day:
That’s a tough hill, which could well be used as a point for an attack in its own right. It’s only twelve kilometres from home, too. Someone high in the GC is getting three seconds. Which isn’t exactly the biggest news, but it might come in useful at some point. Remember, the difference between third and fourth place last year was a single tick of the second hand.
Right, before I get into the favourites for the stage, here’s Amy’s beverage of the day: Le Brun Cidre —
And now we are on to our cider-beer-Calvados portion of the Tour. Spoiler: this was my favorite of they year’s ciders. From an importer: Le Brun Cidres have been produced in Brittany,France since 1955. Cidres are made using the traditional method of natural fermentation of pure pressed juices from handpicked apples. It all starts with the fruit. The cidery selects superior quality apples (Kermerrien, Marie Ménard, Douce Moên, Peau de Chien, Douce Coëtligné). The orchards are carefully looked after until maturation of the fruits. The apples are picked by hand in order to prevent any damage. Preparing the fruit before cider making is always a process. The apples are collected and aged in special wooden cases for about 3 weeks in order to enable the fruit to slightly dehydrate and concentrate its aromas. The apples are then ready to be mashed. Once this is done, the result (pulp plus juice) is left to rest in a tank. This helps balance the taste profile of the future cider by sweetening possible harsh overtones. The pulp/juice is pressed again to get pure apple juice. The apple juice is then stored in thermo regulated fermentation tanks and regularly monitored. The foam process is totally natural. It is carried out in a controlled environment to enable the fermentation to generate carbonic gas to dissolve in the cider. The cider is then bottled in champagne like bottles with their traditional natural cork and wire-cap.
So the natural favourite for this stage is Peter Sagan, which is only reasonable assuming that you’ve watched cycling on more than two occasions in the last six years. Again, this is a stage favourite who I can not in all good conscience back myself. The fact that Sagan is sprinting so well means one of two things: 1) He’s in unbelievable form, better than ever before. 2) He’s put on a kilo or two in order to sprint better.
Sagan’s jour sans in the TTT (and that’s what it was) gives the lie to the former option. That creates too much doubt in my mind that he’ll be able to win this one.
So who beats Sagan in uphill sprints at the Tour de France? Well, I say “beats,” he’s done it once, but that in itself is an achievement. Well, that’s my pick for the stage, Greg Van Avermaet, our illustrious yellow jersey. He beat Sagan in Rodez in 2015 on a shorter but steeper finish on an easier day, and I think he’ll be able to repeat the performance with the weight of the yellow jumper on his back.
So who beats Van Avermaet in uphill sprints at the Tour de France? Michael Matthews, who I was very close to picking for this stage. He beat Van Avermaet last year on that same Rodez finish. I’m picking Van Avermaet over him more out of gut feeling than any other factor, he’s a good bet to win.
Those three are my only picks should the stage go how I think it will — if it doesn’t, Dan Martin or Julian Alaphilippe could win from a more reduced group, as could the ever-present Alejandro Valverde. If there is to be a solo winner, Primoz Roglic and Vincenzo Nibali are two names I’d like to throw into the hat. Romain Bardet is also a possible attacker, having ridden the Tour du Finistère this year, finishing on the podium. They shouldn’t win, however. For me, this one is Van Avermaet’s.