More rain, more crosswinds, and more German winners. That was yesterday at the Tour De France as the rain came down once again and the inevitable happened. There were crosswinds that grew worse throughought the day, bad enough on their own but also coming at the end of a day that had been blighted by rain, bringing about crashes that took out Sky’s Xabier Zandio and Jesus Hernandes of Saxo-Tinkoff, another crushing blow for Contador with Romain Kreueziger out and his three remaining lieutenants having all ridden the Giro this year, the worst possible preparation for the Tour on previous evidence; Katusha’s Egor Silin also crashed out, with the medical bulletin saying that he broke his collarbone.
In the crosswinds, the big loser was Thibaut Pinot, who lost a minute coming in a group split by late crosswinds that numbered 30 strong in the closing stages, while several others took hard hits on a tiring day.
Marcel Kittel’s luck – of course he’s brilliant but you need things to go your way in all cycling – finally ran out as he suffered a puncture in the last kilometre, and a chaotic finale with all sorts of new team faces – the lack of a presence from Giant-Shimano saw all sorts of teams fighting for position and a whole bunch of new faces including Europcar in numbers, although all too predictably it fell down badly at the end with Coquard losing touch and finishing only eighth. This meant the final was wide open and what a perfect day for Andre Griepel to bounce back. His Lotto Belisol team have had a horrendous time of things but despite them not being the presence they’d have liked today, he rode himself into position and thrashed a very mixed up sprint field with the likes of Doumolin and Felliu up in the top 10, with Alexander Kristoff second although in a far less agonizing fashion then the day before.
He should enjoy today’s affair however, a rolling run from Epernay to Nancy, which would be a normal sprint day if in reverse, but we have two short sharp climbs in the last 18km. Looking at the profile, they’re just two small 4 category climbs but a more detailed look at the racebook shows that the averages of the Cote De Maron and Bouffres are 5% and 7.9% respectively. A sprinter could come back after the Maron, albeit there’s a lot of tricky rolling terrain before the Bouffred, just 1.3km but at almost 8% as an average, topping out 5km before the finish. Teams of contenders such as Kristoff (Katusha) Michael Albasini and Simon Gerrans (Orica), Fabian Cancellara (Trek), and of course, Cannondale’s Peter Sagan, are all likely to be mindful of the sprinters presence and will try hard to drop them and make for a reduced sprint at the very least, although the small gap from the end of the lump to Bouffres and the downhill to the finish before a drag sprint at the finish.
This is Sagan territory once again. He had his worst finish of the Tour yesterday, when he was fifth on the run in. His stats and range of ablates are remarkable, and he already has 217 points in the standings for the green jersey – there’s no point calling it a race now. What he’s looking for now, however, is a win, having had two potentially ideal opportunities go amiss on stage 2 and 5. He’s a rightful favourite and the clear pick but the worry is that his own strength works against him like it has done before and then teams come to play against him; He claimed to have given away stage 2 but with teammates there it may well have been a different matter.
Kristoff was second again yesterday but is clearly in good form and thrives on stamina and toughness. Today’s stage is the second longest of the Tour, and the requisite peaks before the finish should be enough to drop the power sprinters that can sometimes get the better of him – Katusha are likely to race them hard and if not them, Cannondale or another team without a win.
Today he should get a one on one against Sagan or a chance to strike solo and in both of those situations, he’s got a much better chance than the 8/1, or 16’s being dangled by Paddy Power earlier this evening, suggested of taking the win today.
Thomas Vockeler is next, and he’s sure to try something today either from the break or on the small peaks, but others look to carry more speed than he does when it comes down to the final. Michael Albasini looks a better bet, having been sixth on Stage 2 and looking in fitter form than Simon Gerrans following his horror crash in Harrogate, and his bunch sprint form is strong this season with three wins in Romandie over different terrain, and he should be looking to launch himself over the peaks with a leading group or make a serious bid in a bunch sprint.
Fabian Cancellara has had little luck so far but this is ideal terrain for him, although a solo strike will be hard for him; He’d need just a small gap to keep away but getting that is likely to be a different matter altogether and there are just a few who might be faster in a bunch sprint. Michal Kwiatkowski tried to launch a big run down the home straight and nearly succeed, and he’s in fine form having struggled this season; The short little peak is perfect for the young talent that thrives in the Ardness classics and a little late move is an option although he would fancy his chances in a sprint finish too.
I would expect this to be too much for Andre Griepel and the other sprinters today, so for outside bets look to the likes of Chavanel – who has been quietly on the coat-tails of the top sprinters, Greg Van Avermaet, always present for these finishes, and Ramunas Navarduskas, a sharp sprinter whose chances will increase as the group comes down; John Degenkolb looks too big with no major peaks to shift him up but we’ve not seen the best of him to say the least.
1 pt each/way Alexander Kristoff (8/1 Bet Victor)
1 pt each/way Michael Albasini (20/1 Bet Victor)
1 pt each/way Michael Kwiatkowski (20/1 bet365)