The rhythms of a Grand Tour are such that for there to be exciting crescendos like the one we just saw on Belles Filles there have to be other, calmer, days where the pulses go down, we draw a new breath and start building up to something new and exciting later on. This is one of those days.
The main distinguishing feature of this day that it is in fact the longest stage in this year’s race with its 230 km. That will not make much difference to the outcome of the day but it will be something for the commentators to talk about in the long hours as they wait for the finale. “This is the longest stage in this year’s Tour de France.” they will say. And if they are unlucky enough to have Sean Kelly co-commenting he will nod his head in agreement and a long silence will follow. And even if the sidekick is a little more engaging there isn’t really that much to add. It’s long because we’re trying to get from A to B in a certain number of days and this is how we do it. Plus the guys in Chalon-sur-Saône were gracious enough to want to host a stage finish and why the heck not, they’re a fine bunch of fellas and their Euros are as good as the next man’s. So to Chalon-sur-Saône we go on this stage, did I mention it’s the longest stage of the race?
We travel there heading southwest through the Bourgogne region on our way to reach the Massif Central which will be the next main obstacle for the peloton. The town, like 93% of all major French cities, gained prominence as a shipping hub for locally produced wine. The Saône river and the Canal du Centre saw wine going off and money flowing in so that a few centuries later the town could fork over fistfuls of cash to the ASO for the privilege to host a guaranteed sprint finish.
Most famous dude from Chalon is the awesomely named Nicéphore Niépce who was an inventor credited with producing the first early “photographs” in the 1820s. He called his technique haliography and it was not quite what later came to know as photographs but like the Wright brothers early attempts it pointed the way for others to soon follow. More interesting for us is that he seems to be the man who came up with the word “velocipéde” even though he wasn’t referring to a 22 gear Specialized but rather his own version of the dandy horse. So more like a Pinarello really.
What’s going to happen and who will win?
First of all, very little. Yes, it’s a 230 km stage (longest in this year’s TdF) but it will be all about the last 15 km. If we’re generous. Last year we saw some dreadful versions of these stages with breakaways of 1-3 riders simply because everyone knew it was pointless. The sprinters teams are still fresh. With relatively few chances Lotto, Bora, Jumbo, Deceuninck etc. aren’t going to let chances like this slip away so the chances the journey here gets exciting are pretty slim. Hopefully someone will at least join the poor Wanty guys on their early expedition so they don’t get too bored out there alone.
That profile gives the chasers 90 km of pure flat to toy with the break at the end and I think we all know how that movie ends. Coming into Chalon we have a pretty straightforward finale with just a a 90 degree right in a big roundabout and a very tight corner about 1600 km from the finishline.
This should hopefully give the teams another chance to make as clean a finish as we saw on the stage to Nancy and give us another head to head between the bigs.
We saw that Deceuninck have their leadout in shape and they can be more relaxed now that Viviani has the monkey off his back. Based on that you’d have to be a fool not to put them down as favorites to continue winning, that’s pretty much what they do best. Jumbo should be the team that come in most motivated if Groenewegen has improved a little. If they can just get their ducks in a row they have brutal firepower with Obelix (Amund G-H), Van Aert and Teunissen in the leadout but last time it wasn’t too coordinated. Maybe that was due to Groenewegen not firing 100% though and if he signals the all-clear they could have a more cohesive run to the line and a healthy Groany is really the supreme sprinter in this field. The odds of Teunissen or WvA getting as lucky as they did on stage 1 are so tiny that they really ought to make sure they put all their eggs in the Dylan-basket especially since two Dylan-wins in a row would make for nice headlines too. I wouldn’t discount UAE either after their display in Nancy. If the new bestest-buddy team of Jasper & Alex can work as well we could well see Kristoff get one of his rare TdF wins. I’m pretty sure he will be pushed as a favorite because of the stage length, wisdom being that he is better in longer races, but really I don’t think it will make a tiniest bit of difference here when most of the 230 km (longest stage this year) are likely going to be quite relaxed in the bunch and fatigue won’t be a factor in the end. His form, speed and confidence in the leadout otoh make him more interesting than I usually find him in a TdF sprint.
With all this in mind I think it’s quite obvious you’re all thinking what I’m thinking...... an almost certain easy win for Peter Sagan in the end.