After the madness of Ventoux and Friday's time trial, it's time for the sprinters to try to seize their last opportunity before the final stage in Paris.
Montélimar to Villars-les-Dombes - Saturday 16th July, 208.5kms
This looks like an opportunity for an unofficial rest day for the GC candidates, as they head north towards the Alps and the final week of the Tour. It's a long stage at 208.5km, and although it looks like it should end in a bunch sprint, it's a pretty rough and lumpy road along the way.
The organisers said that they have this stage thrown in with those fighting for the green jersey in mind, yet the course isn't as easy as it seems, the succession of false flats could have an impact. They reckon that although all the top sprinters will be there at the finish, some "might arrive a little more jaded than others".
There will be enormous pressure on the teams to pull back the break and enormous pressure on the sprinters, as after this stage there is only Berne and Paris where they will get a chance for stage victory again. And that could possibly be just Paris too as the stage to Berne is far from a certainty that it will be a sprint finish. After screwing up on the sprinters stage to Montpellier there will be added pressure, that was a disaster for the sprint teams.
Lotto Soudal are a team who are dedicated to supporting André Greipel in this race too and they will be desperate to try to gain Greipel the stage win he craves. A Tour de France is not a Tour de France without at Greipel stage win.. So they will be going all guns blazing to deliver him to the last 200m in a perfect position.
We start in Montélimar, the town where Oscar Pereiro took a shock lead in the 2006 edition of the race, a lead he held all the way to the Champs (well after Landis was stripped of his title). After 17kms they rach the Côte de Puy Saint-Martin, a Cat 4 climb of 3.6kms at 5.2%, where we will probably see the first break of the day go. That's followed by 70kms of rolling rolls and hills and after 90kms, the next Cat 4 climb arrives, the Côte du Four à Chaux, 3.9kms at 4.2%.
Just 6kms later and it's the final of the Cat 4 climbs of the day, the Côte d'Hauterives, a 2.1km climb at 5.5%. There's still well over 100kms to go at this point, with plenty of rolling hills still to tackle along the way. The road does start to flatten out a little as they approach the finish in the 'park of the birds' at Villars les Dombes, with the last 5kms being almost dead flat. It's an area that's littered with hundreds of 'Etangs' or lagoons, some of which surround the Parc. With 7.5kms to go they pass through Birieux and head straight up the D2 in to Villars les Dombes, then turn left in the village and back down the D1083 to finish on the long straight road outside the Parc.
Contenders and Favourites
A supposedly flat stage, but it is anything but flat, with three Cat 4 climbs and around another seven uncategorised lumps to get over along the way. It looks a perfect day for a strong breakaway to go long, the first climb of the Cote de Puy Saint Martin is a tough start to the day, 3.6kms at 5.2%. So the break will get a big lead - look for guys like Cummings again, De Gendt and now that the TT is out of the way we might even see the likes of Cancellara and Dennis actually try something in this race. Jasper Stuyven, Ramunas Navardauskas and Alexis Gougeard could all try too, but there are probably 50 or more guys who could try, but I think they will struggle to hold off the peloton today.
I want to back Marcel Kittel again, he has to get one right at some point - but he and EQS have let us down so many times already it's hard to bring myself to back him. They should do a better job of the leadout, and with Martin and Alaphilippe out of the GC running now, it should be all for another stage win for Kittel. I think they are starting to get the train right, they need to come late and fast and give him a better starting point for his sprint than he has had lately. If he can start with 150m to go or so instead of 300m to go, especially in to the headwind, he should have the power to take the win.
André Greipel has been very disappointing so far and is very disappointed I'd say with the way things have gone for him, with no stage win yet. He suffered and struggled a lot in the wind, which is not like a Lotto-Soudal man, but it should be a bit easier for him tomorrow. Can he and Lotto finally get it right? I don't know,
What about Direct Energie? Can they finally get it right too? They have been too lightweight, too lacking in experience to do the right thing at the right time and have generally left Bryan Coquard to fend for himself. He will be pretty disappointed with his race so far, I'm pretty disappointed, I expected more from him, as I'm sure he expected more from himself too. He nearly won a stage though, so it's not all bad, but nearly two weeks in, following two very tough stages, what can we expect from him here? He's +1600 and that's about right I think, I think 4th to 6th for him.
Mark Cavendish had a horror show on the stage to Montpellier, breaking his rear mech after touching another rider and having to drop out of contention as no replacement bikes were nearby. In the end it didn't end up in a sprint though so he didn't miss out on much and in fact probably saved some energy as he wasn't scrapping for his life and fighting like hell to be near the front. He might look big at +400 tomorrow afternoon and he looks like a 'bet to nothing' at +400 with BetVictor, he's only +250 elsewhere. He has lost Renshaw though so that's something to bear in mind with regards to his leadout. It is going to be a headwind as they come down the finishing straight though, and Cav's aerodynamic sprinting position might be a big advantage.
Alexander Kristoff though is one as you know I've been watching and waiting for to come in to form and I think he is getting there - winner of the bunch sprint for 5th in Montpellier, he clearly is finding his legs. But in that sprint Kittel had backed out of it and finished 25th, Cav was out of it because of his mechanical and Greipel never got in to is too. I was hoping to back him, but he's very short now at just +700, I was hoping for +1600 or something like he was a few days ago.
Peter Sagan could well go on the attack again, either from the start of later on, he really looks like could win any stage he wants nearly. But if it comes to a sprint, can he beat the pure sprinters again? Maybe not this time. Christophe Laporte was very close to Kristoff in Montpellier and took '2nd' in the sprint. He is a big looking +6600 betting odds to repeat that sort of result tomorrow, but he clearly is sprinting well and could come close to a podium if others have issues. Dan McLay, Michael Matthews and Dylan Groenewegen just don't look good enough to get up there in a sprint like this to me, 4th to 10th for them at best I think.
Another horrible stage to try to get a winning Sports picks from. I've said it a few times already 'surely EQS get it right this time' and they have let us down. I think they will get it right soon though, but they are running out of opportunities. They need to win this stage for Kittel and the team and I think they will just swing it. The battle for the next places should be fierce though with Griepel, Cav, Sagan and Coquard all likely to be fighting it out and Cav looks an ok bet at +400 each-way. I honestly almost was going to call this a 'no-bet' stage but I just feel that I'll be kicking myself tomorrow afternoon when Kittel wins and I wasn't on him.
Recommendations: 2pts win on Marcel Kittel at +225
Best Line Offered: with Ladbrokes
Matchbets: Coquard to beat Sagan - 2pts at +100 & Laporte to beat McLay - 2pts at -120
Best Line Offered: with PaddyPower