When it comes to stage finish towns in the Tour de France's history, Montpellier is right up there with Paris and Bordeaux with the number of stage finishes that end in a sprint. It's almost a given now that any stage that ends in Montpellier will probably be one for the fast men, and it looks that way again this year.
Tour de France Stage 11- Carcassone to Montpellier
André Greipel, Mark Cavendish and Robbie Hunter were the winners on the last three occasions the Tour sped into the main city of the Herault. Even though it's one of the most popular locations for a Tour De France stage finish, you have to go back to 1961 to find the last French winner of a stage to Montpellier, when André Darrigade took the stage victory. Can Coquard finally break that drought for the French and give them something to cheer about after the misery of losing the Euros Final?
Sagan will still be happy with his day even though he finished 2nd once again, he picked up 45pts in the Green Jersey comp, took over the lead and moved 38pts clear of Cavendish. Michael Matthews moved up into 4th place and could well continue to climb that ladder over the rest of the Tour with the hilly stages to come.
A pretty straight-forward run from Carcasonne heading north-east for the whole stage, there are plenty of lumps and bumps along the way, including two easy Cat 4 climbs, but it's more than likely we will see the sprinters come together for the last flat 20kms of the stage as they skirt along close to the A9.
The one thing to watch out for of course on a stage like this is the coastal winds coming in off the Méditerranée, but in this instance, it won't be coming in from the sea, but instead whipping down from inland towards the sea, in a cross/tailwind. And it's no light breeze either, but winds of up to 21mph are expected. This could see echelons, splits and carnage as they head towards Montpellier, especially in the last 20kms when they take a slight deviation at Monbazin and start heading north-east instead of east of north-east.
There is a slight pull-up from the flamme rouge for 500m, but the last 500m is dead flat and straight and should be perfect for a massive battle amongst the fast men. They will have a tail wind on this final section, so the pace is sure to be furious and as this is the last chance for the sprinters possibly until Paris there should be an almighty scrap.
Contenders and Favourites
The wind could be the big deciding factor in today's stage - the break will have a tough time of it as they will be buffeted by cross-winds all day and as the sprinters teams know this is one of the last chances for some of their men, they will be going flat out to ensure it ends in a sprint, especially after today.
Some teams may want to do what Eisel, Cavendish and the HTC team did in 2009 on the stage to La Grand Motte, not far from here, when they put the hammer down in a cross-wind section and split the race into pieces. Only 24 riders finished in the first group (SEVEN from HTC Colombia) and they gained 41" on the peloton. Lance Armstrong made the split, of course, Contador, Evans and Wiggins didn't. That sort of time loss could be crucial to GC and White Jersey competitions, so GC men are going to have to be very active and alert.
Etixx Quick Step for example - they have a big job on in this stage - number one will be to make sure Marcel Kittel doesn't do what he sometimes does and lose his team-mates on a run-in or gets left behind because of splits. He's one of the favourites betting picks for the stage of course, so they will need to keep him at the front and out of trouble. If they can split the pack with their power at some point, even better.
If Etixx survives the cross-winds unscathed, can Kittel finally get the better of Cav? He will not be happy with how the Tour has turned out for him, even though he has one stage win, but he just hasn't been good enough, or smart enough. He had the fastest acceleration in the last sprint on stage 6, but Cav still beat him, as he made his acceleration late, where it counted the most. The finish of this stage should suit him and Etixx a lot better than the last sprint, though, which was chaotic, it is pretty much straight for the last 2kms
Mark Cavendish has lost a crucial part of his lead-out with the retirement of Mark Renshaw, so the pressure will now be on EBH and Eisel to try to pull him into position. Most of the rest of the team aren't much use at the finish, Cummings will be doing his own thing off the back or off the front, and Teklehaimanot, Berhane, Van Rensburg may as well not be there. They have four stage wins, Cav has a hat-trick, but there is a small chance that this could be his last stage, I doubt Cav want's to haul his ass up the Ventoux and tackle a 37km hilly TT on Friday.. but you'd never know, maybe he'll try to hang in there all the way to Paris.
André Greipel was beaten by millimetres by Cav on stage 3, but he can't be too happy with how the race has gone for him so far. Cav has beaten him on every stage so far, we cashed in on the matchbets and Cavs win on stage 6. Surely Lotto-Soudal will like this stage, with a wild and windy finish, and they may look to try to split it at some point. One thing to note though is that today when there was a little bit of crosswinds and a push at the front, Lotto were caught out and they only got back on as the peloton completely knocked off the pace again.
If they are still there when it comes to the finish they will face a fierce battle with Etixx for the lead coming into the last kilometre and they will be hoping for a better run than they've had lately where Greipel has got a bit lost. He is probably capable of a top 3 finish, though, but is he any value though at just 9/2 at sportsbooks? He was interviewed before today's stage and he sounded downbeat and resigned to the fact that he would not be involved in that finish, it was unlike him to be so negative. But he is sure to come good at some point as it's unlikely that he will leave this race without a victory.
So they are the three main protagonists and the winner will probably come from them, but there are a number of guys who are just a level below who could get involved also. Bryan Coquard was expected to be in the mix today, but instead, it was Chavanel who pressed on, as Coquard, like all the sprinters had been one of those dropped early on. Direct Energie's chase was pretty poor, though, they are not a team you'd want to rely on to set you up for a sprint if no one else is willing to ride.
Dylan Groenewegen hasn't managed to break the top 3 yet, closest he came was 4th on stage 4 on the uphill sprint won by Kittel. I think his best chance of landing a podium is on an uphill sprint, so I can't see him doing that tomorrow. Alexander Kristoff has been getting closer, but I expected Katusha to really work for him today to bring back the break, but their effort was pretty average, to say the least, almost as if they weren't too bothered whether they pulled them back or not. That's either a bad sign that Kristoff didn't think he had the legs, or a good sign that he told them knock it off and save it for tomorrow.
Peter Sagan just looks so strong at the moment, he was superb today but was undone by the sheer numbers of the OBE team. He almost rode the whole stage in full-on attack mode, it surely has taken a lot out of him? He is so bloody strong and such a canny rider though that he could maybe look to cause splits tomorrow with his squad, looking to do a HTC on it. And he can also just hide away in the peloton looking for a bit of recovery day, and pop up for a sprint at the finish.
The bookies can't split the top two, with them both around 2/1 for betting odds, with some bookies going shorter on one and the other. I find it very hard to split them too, but given the likely conditions, I am siding with the Classics masters EQS to come good for Kittel. Martin, Keise, Vakoc and Vermote will do their best to split things up, a smaller peloton will be of benefit to Kittel. He has also been looking stronger than most of the other sprinters, hanging in there on some of the climbs longer than most of the rest, and even working for Dan Martin at times.
I fear that Mark Cavendish will struggle in the wind tomorrow, he suffered a lot in the mountains and looked to be pretty stressed out today, fighting with cameramen! André Greipel should be right up there too, but I can't trust him either, and there are also worries about Coquard and his team in the wind. It all points to a Kittel win I think.
4pts win on Marcel Kittel at 9/4 at Skybet
Holst Enger to beat Bennett, Greipel to beat Coquard, Matthews to beat Degenkolb - 2pts on the treble at 13/8