Binche – Épernay
Monday 8th July, 214kms
After spending two days in Belgium, the race finally enters France with a run from Binche to Epernay, famous for its Champagne. It’s a stage that is practically dead flat for 160kms, then gets quite lumpy for the last 55kms – they are short and punchy, with the longest being 1.8kms at 6.6%, and the hardest being 12.2% for 900m and finishes with a tough 8% gradient final 500m.
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This is a tricky little stage with a lumpy finish to it, even though none of the climbs are very long, they will be ridden at a furious pace and we could see a number of the sprinters go out the back door, plenty teams will want to try to drop them ahead of the finish.
The Cote du Mutigny comes with just 16kms to go and with its 12% slopes for almost a kilometre we should see some furious attacks here, and the race break to pieces. As it’s so short, those who were dropped still have a chance to get back in, but then there’s the another hill just 11kms later, the Cote du Mont Bernon, 1km at 5.5%, not so difficult, but again, will be ridden at a furious pace. And then they have that up finish in to Epernay – it rises a little bit up to the 1km to go mark, then kicks up hard at 8% for the last 500m.
It is likely that Viviani, Groenewegen Kristoff and several other sprinters will be dropped, it will be touch and go whether Ewan makes it. Peter Sagan should be there though and this finish looks perfect for the Slovak. He is a master at uphill finishes, he almost won on the uphill sprint in stage one, and his win in the kick up on stage 3 of the Tour de Suisse shows that.
But in a similar stage finish to this one in stage 2 of Tirreno-Adriatico, with the last 800m at 7.5%, Sagan was dropped and it was Julian Alaphilippe who cruised to victory. The whole of France will be willing a victory for Alaphilippe on the day the race re-enters France, and he looks a prime candidate to deliver.
Second that day in Tirreno was Greg Van Avermaet and although he’s had a disappointing season to date, he did win that lumpy stage in Yorkshire in May and can’t be discounted.
A few years ago I’d have been all over Alejandro Valverde for this, but he hadn’t really looked his old self this season. But then he went and won the Spanish championships last weekend so must be in pretty good form. He’s also looking incredibly thin, he looks ready for this, but can he outsprint Alaphilippe on a finish like this though? He is surely going to be close.
Michael Matthews and Sonny Colbrelli are two sprinters who could hang in there over all the climbs, I actually like Sonny Colbrelli for this one, I think he won’t be far off and will like the uphill sprint more than most, as long as he can maintain a good position coming in to the last 300m. Matthews faded when looking in a great position with just a few hundred metres to go and only ended in 6th, it might be similar here.
Tim Wellens should be near the front too and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him attack before the sprint, he won’t be able to outsprint the faster guys. With Groenewegen likely out the picture it could be a chance for Wout Van Aert to seize an opportunity to go for a stage win on a finish that might suit, but he’ll be under pressure to stay with the fastest guys on a finish like this, but they also have Mike Teunissen who has already shown what he can do on a tough uphill finish in this race, and he is wearing the yellow jersey which will add a few watts to his effort.
In that stage 2 finish in Tirreno, Simon Clarke finished 3rd, could we see something like that again from the Aussie? It’s more likely I think that he’ll be looking after Uran though, they won’t want to lose time to any silly splits on a stage like this.
And the GC men are sure to get involved in this finish too, some will be hunting the bonus seconds on offer, not just at the top of the hill with 16kms to go, but at the finish line too. Thibaut Pinot, Egan Bernal, Dan Martin and Woet Poels are the GC men to watch out for.
I think it looks like a battle between the old rivals Julian Alaphilippe and Alejandro Valverde though and at the prices we have to be on Valverde as well as Alaphilippe. For fun we’ll also have a small side bet on +2000 shot Simon Clarke too.