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The last chance for the sprinters before Paris? Or will they even make it to the finish? It could be a day for the break too, so literally anything could happen on this stage - it could be all over for the sprinters inside the first 10kms as they start climbing straight from the off. It could be a frantic start and a crazy stage.
A day for the sprinters or one that that the breakaway guys will fancy again? They start climbing from kilometre zero and there will be lots of guys on the turbo before this stage I think as the break is bound to be keenly fought for over the opening 10kms or so. After only 9.5kms they pass the Cat 3 Cote de Badaroux, a 4.6kms climb at 5.1% and it is sure to put a lot of guys under pressure very early in the stage. The categorised part of the climb comes after just 9.5kms, but the climb goes on for another 7 kilometres until they reach Laubert where the road evens out on a plateau. We could see a large number of guys go out the back door early on, probably a lot of the sprinters.
They then run along a plateau for more or less 50kms, where there could either be a frantic chase to get back on by the sprinters and their teams or else if the composition of the break is right then we will see the break extend their lead quite rapidly if the peloton sits up like today. After 67kms they hit two little climbs in quick succession, the Col du Bez (2.6kms at 4.4%) and the Col de la Croix de Bauzon (1.3kms at 6.2%), the latter is crested after 73.5kms.
After 108kms they start in the key climb of the day if the sprinters have managed to get back in by now and the break looks like being reeled in. The Col de L'Escrinet is officially 7.9kms at 5.8%, but they will be climbing for almost 20kms. You would think that any of the sprinters that are left in are going to have a hard time on this climb, especially if the likes of OGE and Giant-Alpecin push it at the front.
Once over the top though they descend for 25kms and then there's a flat run to the finish of 30kms, so there is a possibilty that some that were dropped on the climb can get back on again, but it'll be a hell of a chase! There are a number of roundabouts inside the 5km to 3km to go markers but then the road straightens out for a very fast last 3kms, but they need to watch out for a right hander on a roundabout with just 400m to go, it will be very important to be in a good position, if it comes to a sprint, coming out of the that last bend as it will be a very short run to the line from there.
We have three sprinters who are all around the same price, John Degenkolb, Mark Cavendish and Peter Sagan, all around the 5, 6/1 level. I'm going to go out on a limb here straight away and say Cav will not be involved in the sprint. It might be crazy considering he got over this climb in 2009 and won the stage, but the finish was just 20kms from the top that day and Cavendish was at the top of his game. I think he could well struggle as early as the first climb, if some teams like Giant-Alpecin and Orica Green Edge push it then they may not get back on again. Same goes for Greipel, he is suffering after crashing twice in the last two days, I don't think he'll last very long on this stage either.
So that leaves us with a reduced number of guys who I think will be with the main peloton, that could fight out the finish - that is, if a break doesn't spoil it for them. I think that the pace will be very high at the start to shed the sprinters and keep them behind, so the break should not get a massive lead. It might be less than 6 minutes and as they climb the Col de l'Escrinet they could halve that time gap to make it catchable over the last 50kms.
Peter Sagan is probably going to be up there, he was superb once again today, taking it in to his own hands to push ahead in the race for the Green Jersey, instigating the break and then riding superbly up the climb to take 5th place. He put a lot of effort in to today's stage though and may struggle with faster sprinters at the finish. He is 6/1 with Betfred who are paying 4 places, and that is tempting, he should be in the first 4 if it comes to a reduced bunch sprint.
John Degenkolb is favourite with a number of firms, and rightly so in my mind, Giant-Alpecin should push things hard early on to get rid of sprinters and keep the pace high. Degenkolb still hasn't won a stage in the Tour de France and he won't get a better chance than tomorrow, he's not going to win the sprint on the Champs Elysées. If he can stay in on the final climb, or close to the front, his team should look after him and lead him to a top position going in to the last 3kms. He sprinted to an excellent 4th place on the uphill sprint finish to Rodez, showing that he is in great shape, Sagan got the better of him on that occassion, but that was always going to be the case on that uphill finish, this is much more his sort of finish. He is 6/1 with Bet365 and that is worth an each-way bet, he has a great chance at the win but should be very close if not.
I was worried two days ago when OGE started working hard, it must have meant that Matthews was feeling good, I was worried as I had pointed out in my preview that he could go well on that finish if feeling better. In the end he went well, finishing 18th, but not good enough. He could have another chance tomorrow as he should be good enough to stay with the front of the race. He is 25/1 with PP who are paying out 4 places, which might be worth a shot too.
Matteo Trentin might go well though at a big price, Etixx might give up on Cav early doors and instead focus on Trentin who should have a far better chance of getting to the finish with the peloton. He hasn't been great in the sprints so far, but with a possibly reduced peloton and a couple of the Etixx team to look after him he may well get involved.
Of course a break could make it, but they will need to be big engined guys to be able to power away from a marauding pack and hold the lead over the final climb and on the run-in to the finish. I'll pick a few likely lads for small bets at biggish prices, just in case. Thomas de Gendt is a likely lad for a stage like this, the Lotto-Soudal man rode very well on Saturday and likes a break on a stage like this. With Greipel likely to be out of it early on he should be free to go on the attack. 40/1 is worth a small investment.
Nathan Haas had a terrible start to the Tour with illness, but he is over that now and starting to enjoy himself. He wrote 'Have fun' on his arm on stage 13 and was in the break of the day and attacked out of that break as well near the finish. He said that he wasn't done yet with this Tour and I wouldn't be surprise if he tried again tomorrow. the 80/1 with Boyles is worth a go.
I think we will see a break but we'll also see a flying peloton look to break the race up early doors and make it a real hard day for the pure sprinters and their teams. Even if they get back on during the stage, they will struggle again on the final climb as some teams like Katusha, OGE, Giant-Alpecin, and possibly Tinkoff-Saxo look to stretch it out again. The break has a small chance, but I think it could come back together and we will see a showdown between Degenkolb, Sagan and possibly Matthews, Trentin and Kristoff. I take Degenkolb to come out on top with Sagan in the top 4 once again.
1pt each-way on John Degenkolb at 6/1 with bet365
1pt on Peter Sagan to finish in the top 3 at 5/4 with Betfair
0.4pts each-way on Matteo Trentin at 40/1 with Ladbrokes
0.25pts each-way on Nathan Haas at 80/1 with Skybet
0.25pts each-way on Thomas de Gendt at 40/1 with Ladbrokes
Michael Matthews to beat EdvaldBoasson Hagen - 3pts at evens with 365