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Tour Stage Four Preview: Oh Right, it is the First Week

Tour de France wellens break JEFF PACHOUD/AFP/Getty Images

Well it’s stage four of the Tour and as of yet no stage has been won by a recognised sprinter but all of that looks about to change. A flat day with only two small climbs to break it up, this stage might finally give us a true glimpse of the sprint pecking order. We start in Reims and travel to Nancy, leaving champagne country. I have nothing to add to Andrew’s lovely champagne musings of yesterday so I’ll just talk about whatever racing we might get. This is the classic week one stage where everyone’s excitement wears off and we all start grousing. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Amy BC’s wine of the day

Amy’s choice today is of course another champagne. I’ll leave you in her capable hands:

Champagne Lelarge-Pugeot Rose de Saignee NV

from Copake Wine Works

An importer tells me that: Lelarge-Pugeot is an eighth-generation winery in Vrigny, on the rolling slopes of the Montagne de Reims (about 15 minutes west of Reims). It is a real family operation, helmed by the two parents, Dominique and Dominique, and supported by their kids, one of whom is our good friend Clémence.

The family’s vineyards, which are planted mostly with Pinot Meunier, face northward, offering some protection rom the effects of global warming, though Clémence is quick to note that they can now make red wines for the first time in the history of Champagne.

Certified organic since 2014 and biodynamic since 2017, the wines of Lelarge-Pugeot are bright and full of pizzazz, and the family is producing some electric juice—including Nature et Non Dosé, their no sulfur/no dosage cuvée. Truly remarkable fizz all around; Prince Charles would agree.

What happens, and who wins?

Probably very little. I say probably because we could have a saving grace in the eighteen kph cross-headwind that will hit the second-half of the stage. It’s not overly strong and a team will have to work a lot harder to force an echelon than they would in a cross-tail but if there is an appetite for waaiers there might just be the opportunity. If not, expect twitter to be full of complaints at a stage that’s well over two hundred kilometres with no real climbing.

The only climbing that might be relevant is the three kilometre Côte de Maron which, if ridden aggressively, could dislodge a sprinter in the Marcel Kittel mold. However, we don’t actually have too many of those. Our top sprinters are a Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne winner, a winner of several challenging one-day races and a guy who has been on the podium of Milano-Sanremo. I doubt, therefore, that they can be dislodged. More, I doubt the likes of Sagan will try. No, I expect a pretty full sprint. Crashes? Maybe, there’s a few turns and roundabouts in the final kilometres but I still maintain that anyone trying to predict a crash is taking their time. So let’s have a look at who our winner could be:

Dylan Groenewegen was supposed to rule the sprints at this Tour but he’s still going to be a bit dodgy after his crash on stage one. I am doubtful that he will find success just yet. This obviously opens the Tour for Elia Viviani. Only the best analysis here, folks. I picked Viviani time and again during the Giro but time and again he disappointed, losing his leadout train and simply not having the pace to win. However, one decent Tour de Suisse later he looks like a good bet to challenge in this Tour de France especially since he is equipped with who I consider to be the two best leadout men in cycling in Michael Mørkøv and Max Richeze. Just so long as he stays in their wheels that is. The other bet is Caleb Ewan who doesn’t have the speed of Viviani but excels in long races. I don’t think he’ll do better than third but he has the ability to surprise me. Then there’s Peter Sagan who usually places highly in these stages but rarely wins. That will be replicated. Viviani to win.

Jersey Watch

Yellow and white will remain the same of course, no time gaps are likely. Sagan will retain green easily; Matthews is the only other likely contender and he is not going to beat the Slovakian tomorrow. Only two KOM points are available and Wellens has a lead of four so he too will keep hold of his jersey. This section has, to put things mildly, calmed down.