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Tour Stage Five Preview: Oh Heinrich, Where Art Thou?

Cycling : Tour De France 2009 / Stage 13 Colmar Haussler Photo by Tim De Waele/Getty Images

Time to enter the Vosges in this stage to Colmar. The headline refers of course to the last time Colmar hosted a stage finish, seeing Heinrich Haussler come home almost five minutes ahead of the field on a horrendously cold and wet day. In comparison to its relative importance, this stage is strangely well-remembered and here I am adding to that. I’ve probably pushed out all memory of some decisive Giro stage with this but we can just add that to my list of misdeeds.

To be fair to Heinrich, the stage he won was actually a lot more challenging than what the riders will face on stage five in terms of both conditions and terrain. Both stages contain Vosges climbs but this year they are far tamer; the hardest climb on stage five and indeed so far in the Tour de France will be the Côte des Trois-Epis (five kilometres at seven per cent) while Haussler had to summit the category one Col de Platzerwasel. Either way however, this stage will be too difficult for the sprinters and will function as a nice warmup for La Planche des Belles Filles the following day.

Amy BC’s wine of the day

We’re out of champagne country so it’s goodbye to the fizz. Amy’s choice today is:

La Grange de L’Oncle Charles Alsace Blanc 2016

From Copake Wine Works

Jerome Francois first trained to be a carpenter before becoming a sommelier. Jerome started with several rows of inherited vines from his grandfather, he moved into the family barn (grange) belonging to his Uncle a farmer named Charles, and named the winery “La Grange de L’Oncle Charles.” The domaine started in early 2014 in Ostheim, Alsace. The vineyards, the meadows and orchards are farmed in biodynamie with the outmost respect for ancestral traditions. Today, Jerome farms 5.5ha of vineyards located in the towns of Ammerschwihr, Zellenberg, Kaysersberg and Ribeauville where grapes are planted in complantations and produce on average 25hl/ha. Jerome believes that his wine can purely express itself from the terroir; it is then up to the vigneron to work with minimum intervention to make quality wine.

What happens, and who wins?

On the face of it, this looks nailed-on to be a breakaway stage. The only thing that can spoil the chances of attackers is a big effort from the hardman sprinters such as Matthews and Sagan, for which the best comparison might be a stage I remember from 2013, stage seven to Albi. What happened that day was that Peter Sagan’s Cannondale team drove on the front all day so that all the other decent sprinters were dropped on the category three climbs scattered along the route, finishing a quarter of an hour down.

That stage was easier than this but I think Sagan and Matthews will still be able to deal with the climbing while Groenewegen and Viviani will be dropped pretty much regardless of the pace. What it will come down to then is motivation. Bora and Sunweb are the only decent teams who would have an interest in chasing down a breakaway. I say decent because Boasson Hagen could also target this one. However, will they feel the need to do so? Matthews and Sagan have both scored second places so they will both be hungry for a win. Plus, neither team will really feel the need to take it easy for a GC contender: Dumoulin is of course not here and while Buchmann is a very good rider, for Bora to sacrifice a chance of a stage win in order to help his GC charge would be a strange order of priorities.

However, the general consensus is that this will be a breakaway stage so let us look at a few potential breakaway artists. Tim Wellens going out the front would make a lot of sense: he has the polka-dot jersey on his shoulders already and he may just have a taste for it to the extent that he would put in a bit more effort to keep it there. Magnus Cort has won stages like this from breakaways in the past but looking after Fuglsang may prove too important to let him away. Katusha are not looking very strong so could send Nils Politt to challenge for this one

So will it be the break or will we get a reduced sprint? I’m inclined to believe the latter. The riders are fresh and hungry, there’s no need to give a long leash to the breakaways just yet. Peter Sagan for the win.

Jersey Watch

If the stage goes how I believe, yellow will remain with Alaphilippe though there are fifty-two riders within two minutes of him so any breakaway that gets more than a tiny bit of rope could take yellow — think of it transferring to someone like Alessandro di Marchi or Nicolas Edet. This is another reason why the break may well be caught as Deceuninck will be disinclined to give up the jersey so soon. Green will stay with Sagan, likely for the rest of the Tour. White will probably remain with Van Aert if his climbing on the way to Epernay is any indication. The mountains jersey is most likely to change — Wellens can only hope to keep it by getting in the break so if he is not there, we should see it get a new holder with a potential fourteen points available — double the Belgian’s tally.