Yes, we’re still in Brittany for stage six, and the race uses the opportunity to use its eponymous wall for the Tour’s first normal stage that won’t be won by a sprinter. And it won’t. I reckon this is a good place to throw a thought or two about stage five — my mantra for hilly Grand Tour stages is it’s always tougher than they say it is. This time, that was proven wrong, meaning Sagan and Colbrelli were the men to duke it out from a group of forty, rather more than I expected. One more point — if Gilbert had gone for that bonus sprint instead of Alaphilippe, he could have been in yellow by .26 of a second. There are variables of course, but it’s possible. Oh well, moving on to a stage that should be as hard or harder, if in a slightly different way.
Here’s the profile, but that’s not important, these are the kilometres that matter.
This is where it’ll go down, for those who aren’t chasing the KOM jersey with any particular vigour. Expect Sky to throw Castroviejo and Moscon on the front at around twenty to go and crank up the pace high enough that no attacks have any real chance and for that pace to scarcely subside for the rest of the stage. I don’t give the breakaway a prayer for one main reason: Here are the teams who will think they have a chance at this stage:
UAE Team Emirates
AG2R La Mondiale
That’s a conservative estimate, but it’s still half the teams in the race. The break’s doomed, as are likely any attacks before the final climb.
That final climb is of course the Mûr de Bretagne. In the Viewers’ Guide I called it a diluted version of the Mûr de Huy, and I’m sticking with that description. It’s longer, less steep and the steepness is in the same place — steepest at the start, flattening out towards the end. That leaves a tactical imperative to attack in just the right place.
This is the last kilometre from stage eight in 2015. I can guarantee you one thing: Vuillermoz did not have the strongest legs in that kilometre. He’d attacked already. What he did have was fantastic timing. He attacked late in the steep section and by the time his closest competitor Martin responded, the road was practically flat and Vuillermoz was away. I expect something similar to happen this time, but for more than one, perhaps up to four riders to get away on the steep section and sprint out the win.
Right, before I talk about the contenders, it’s Amy’s alcoholic drink of the stage — Cidre Nerios.
The producer tells me that: Nerios is a Celtic god of the springs. Nérios is powerful, tannic and surprises with its alcohol content of more than 7%. A copper color, fine bubbles, and slight caramel, licorice, vanilla on the palate with a hint of bitterness on the finish. Tasting suggestions - Perfectly accompanies a rabbit braised in cider, pineapple pork, walnut salad, roasted chestnuts, cheese.
It’s a hilly stage, so of course I have to talk about Dan Martin. He’s in a bit of form and has a history on this climb, but I don’t think he’ll win a sprint from among this field if it comes to it. On the other end of the scale, we have Peter Sagan. Perhaps he’s got a bit more muscle on, perhaps not, but the fact is he’s never been in a condition to win on this climb and that hasn’t changed. Same with anyone who routinely gets involved in bunch gallops. Now it’s time to deal with Sky, who could win this with any one of six riders. Geraint Thomas looks the most likely, and he should definitely make his presence felt. Vuillermoz is unlikely to make lightning strike twice — perhaps Bardet is the most likely AG2R man. That’s enough name-dropping so I can look back on the eventual winner and say “well at least his name was in the preview”, time to say who I actually think are the top contenders.
Alejandro Valverde is a natural favourite for this stage. He can sprint, he can climb, he can...sprint on a climb, which are coincidentally the exact skills required for this stage. (Hashtag analysis). Is he on form? He’s Valverde. This year, however, he’s been beaten at his own game by Julian Alaphilippe, the man I believe will win this stage. He has the nous to attack at the right time, his effortless attack for the bonus seconds today prove he has the legs and I think he has the beating of Valverde in a flattish sprint if it comes to that. Another one for the Wolfpack.