Tuesday's Stage 16 of the Tour de France runs from Le Puy-en-Velay to Romans-sur-Isère and totals 165 kilometers. It's a day that could well be suitable for the breakaway men on a rolling course that will be difficult to organize a chase on, but with 56 kms of flat roads on the run to the finish, the sprinter's teams might still have their day.
The first 70 kms of Stage 16 are are lumpy enough, with the road rising from the flag-drop for the first 20 kms. It will see a break go again, but will they be given enough space to hang on all the way to Romans Sur Isere, or will the peloton keep them in check in order to get their sprinters involved in the finish? Can the sprinters be disposed of first thing in this race, never to get back on again? I'm sure some teams like Sunweb and Dim Data will be trying their hardest to make sure that happens..
Weather watch -- it's going to be hot -- in the low 30s celsius, but what we have to watch out for is the wind;-the wind whipping up the Rhone valley is forecast to hit 18-19 mph, the strongest winds we have seen in the race. It means it will be a tail/crosswind for most of the day until about 35 kms to go, just after the intermediate sprint, when they turn and start heading south when it will become a headwind. But then when they turn back north with 10 kms to go, it will become a tail-wind and it might just help the break stay away to the finish. It could also mean that the splits that might be forced in the early part of the race will not be closed thanks to the winds.Contenders & Favorites
As mentioned above, this stage could be interesting because of the winds that could whip up. We could see some teams like Quickstep or Sunweb look to force echelons and splits in the last 30 kms as they change direction in to the headwind, but also, if they can get rid of Kittel and Greipel on that first climb and the peloton keeps the pressure up, they may never get back on again, or if they do, could be shattered from the effort.
I think that this has to be a stage that Michael Matthews has his eye on, and there are two ways he could win it. He could get in a strong break with a few teammates and go all the way to the finish, where he'll win the sprint. Or they push hard in the opening 20 kms, get rid of Kittel and keep going to make sure he doesn't get back in. If they go hard enough they could shake off Greipel and Groenewegen too, but the likes of Bouhanni and Degenkolb might just hang in there, they aren't bad at getting over little lumps like this.
The bookies have priced it up though like it is going to be a sprinters stage, which I sort of agree with, but they're not too convinced about Marcel Kittel, as he's 2/1 as opposed to 4/6 which he was for the last sprint stage. And that's because he's not certain to get over that climb at the start as I said. And the 50 kms between kilometer 20 and kilometer 70 are pretty lumpy too, so if Kittel is struggling they have plenty of opportunities to see him off.
Going on form and team strength then you'd have to fancy Matthews as I've said already -- Sunweb is going to push it hard at the start I think and should get help from the likes of LottoSoudal and Dimension Data. Matthews is absolutely flying at the moment and should have no problems on the climbs in the first 70 kms, and the uphill finish will suit him too.
The other guy to watch out for is Dylan Groenewegen, as he's been getting closer and closer and now has 3rd and a 2nd in his last two sprints, he's sure to be pretty close again. That is, if he can hang in there too on the climbs, he's been getting dropped pretty early in some of the hilly stages, as early as Kittel on most of them. But if he can hang in there, he could be a big danger in the sprint too.
André Greipel has been a big disappointment so far in this race, and has cost us, but he has to come good at some point right? He always wins a stage in the Grand Tours he enters, he's running out of chances to do it in this one. Lotto-Soudal has come alive in the hilly stages with De Gendt, Gallopin and Benoot have been active, but they could also be involved in tomorrow's stage too if a break goes, it looks like the kind of day for Benoot. I can't trust Greipel at just 12/1 with 365, the 20/1 with PP is a little bit more interesting.
As I mentioned earlier, Dimension Data is sure to take an interest in making this stage hard to get rid of Kittel, they have Edvald Boasson Hagen with a good shot at a result here. He has been in sparkling form, pulling off another power-packed finish on the stage to Rodez, taking 3rd behind Van Avermaet, his third top three in the race so far. He has been out-sprinting some of the sprinters on the flat, and the uphill pull to the line will be in his favour. And it's Mandela Day too on Tuesday, a special day for the African Team, a day on which Steve Cummings has won previously. That team be fired up tomorrow.
John Degenkolb and Alexander Kristoff are very similar in that they both have incredible careers behind them, but it just hasn't clicked for them in this year's Tour. Degenkolb has been coming close, I thought we were in with a chance of an e/w payout on Stage 14 to Rodez as he was on the wheels of Van Avermaet and Gilbert, but he blew up spectacularly and disappeared out of it, finishing way down in 36th in the end! He has finished 5th and 2nd in stages though, so he was making progress as I said in my preview of stage 14, and the 20/1 with PP looks tempting.
Alexander Kristoff has a 2nd, two 4ths and a 5th so far in this Tour, but has never looked like winning really and his 2nd came on the stage with Mark Cavendish's crash, he would not have been 2nd had Kittel, Cav and Sagan stayed in the sprint. So 4th to 5th is really his level and the fact he was way down in 42nd in Rodez has put me off him a little for this too, I'd have wanted him to be closer I think, as hard as that finish was.
One other I just have an inkling who could be eyeing this stage up is Tony Martin -- he could either go from the start in a break, or he is also a possible candidate for a late attack off the front as they approach the town, he could well get a small gap and solo to the finish. He looked strong on Sunday, but the Cat 1 killed him. He's 50/1 with PP, that's worth a small win bet.Free Cycling Picks:1 pt each-way on Matthews at 15/10.5 pts each-way on EBH at 11/10.3 pts win on Martin at 50/1Matthews to beat Colbrelli and Bouhanni to beat McLay - 3 pts at 9/10Best Lines Offered: Paddy Power