Stage 19 is the longest in the 2017 Tour de France at 220kms, and it's going to be a tough day in the saddle so far into the race as they ride through the rolling hills of the Luberon, passing fields of Lavender and Olive trees.
Stage 19 in the Tour de France is downhill in general all day, as they drop from 785m at the start to just 78m above sea level at the finish, as they head towards the coast and Marseille where the following day's stage starts. The last few kilometers are quite tricky though with a zig-zag with 1500m to go, a sharp right with 1100m to go, a sharp left with 500m to go and another sharp left with 400m to go.
Contenders & Favorites
This looks like a good stage for the breakaway, and I'd give it a pretty good chance of succeeding. The GC men will want an easy day, coming on the back of the two tough days in the Alps and with the crucial time trial the very next day. There are a lot of tired bodies in the race now, and the appetite to go in the break is limited to just the crazy few who still want to punish themselves.
And step forward, finally for me, Steve Cummings. SBR's top-rated sportsbooks have been quoting ridiculous prices on him so far in this race for stages, and I hope I put a few of you off backing him so far. But this is his kind of stage. I thought he'd be about 8/1 again, but he opened at 33/1, but was cut to 25/1 and I've had some of that. I think finally he's worth having an interest in as I think he will get in the break, and he'd have a chance of riding away in the closing kilometers.
Another rider who springs to mind for this one too is Greg Van Avermaet as I think he'll like the profile and the finish. He has been active but unlucky, but also must be very disappointed with how the stage to Rodez turned out -- and that he started his sprint too early in the finish of stage 16, he ended up just leading out Matthews again. I think he'll like the course as it's a lot of rolling hills, which he doesn't mind at all, and he might be able to attack away on the Cat 3, but that comes with 45kms still to go so he needs to make sure that his competitors are struggling before he goes.
Tony Martin could also have a go on this stage, as he's another who could be suited by the rolling terrain, and should be able to cope with the Cat 3 near the end where it averages just 4.1%. He struggles to get in to breaks with uphill starts sometimes, but if the break can go in the first 20kms here he'd have a chance of getting in. He's 80/1.
And now that Kittel has gone home, will some of the rest of the QS team have the freedom to go on the attack? Maybe we could see Jack Bauer or Fabio Sabatini have a go now they have the freedom to do what they want. But more likely is Zdenek Stybar, who is more suited to this stage and this sort of finish. He finished 10th in Vittel and 10th in Rodez. He's 's going OK at the moment and worth a few pennies at 80/1
But there's also the chance that some of the sprinters teams will want to take it to the finish. They won't have QuickStep to help them this time, but Lotto-Soudal, LottoJumbo, Sunweb, Cofidis and Trek will probably be willing to pull to try to set up a sprint.
André Greipel is the 6/1 joint favourite with Michael Matthews at Paddy Power, and the way they've been sprinting you'd have to fancy Matthews out of that match bet as he has two stage wins to his name, but in head-to-heads so far in sprints in this race, Greipel is winning 5-4. Greipel has been poor and has not had great success in the flat-out sprints so far in this race. His lead out has been bad, his positioning has been poor and his kick has been limp. I can't trust him at just 6/1.
Michael Matthews only has to finish in Paris to win Green now, and he's unlikely to try to go in the break again. But he also has a chance if it comes to a sprint finish. He is in great shape, confidence is sky-high and the team is all around him. There was great collective celebration about their ride to get him the win a few days ago, and this team would ride through walls for him it seems. But in the flat sprints he hasn't been at his best, and he might find a few too good for him again.
Dylan Groenewegen has been one of those who are left that has come closest to Kittel, finishing 2nd to him in Pau and 3rd behind Degenkolb in Bergerac. He has been sprinting OK, but not great, and he can sometimes get lost on twisty, tricky finishes like this. Also, what have the last few days taken out of him? The team is down to 6 riders, but he has more or less all his lead out train still here, and he'd have a chance if it was a straight sprint. But I'm worried that he gets lost in the frantic last kilometer here, as it's something he is unfortunately guilty of sometimes.
John Degenkolb was left fuming after losing out on the sprint in stage 16, as he attacked Matthews for flicking across him in the sprint. But he is getting better and better in these sprints and now has a 2nd, 3rd and 5th in this Tour. Trek will work hard for him tomorrow and Koen de Kort will take him in to position with 600m to go. I'd rather be on him that Greipel almost.
Edvald Boasson Hagen has come closest than most to a stage win in this race, being beaten in two photo finishes and finishing 3rd in another stage. He is very strong, but equally, his lead out has been one of the most impressive in the race, with Reinhardt Janse Van Rensburg being one of the best lead out men in the race, but Thwaites, Eisel and the rest all play their part. I have a feeling that they will be the team bossing it coming through those twisty last 1500m or so and can set up Boasson Hagen for another podium.
One sprinter I'd like a little bit at a big looking 28/1 is Sonny Colbrelli. He hasn't had much luck so far in this race, but he sprinted well in Rodez to take 6th in the uphill finish and Thursday he sprinted well out the break to take the intermediate sprint. I know it was only the intermediate sprint out of a bunch of breakers, but if his legs are still good that he is doing that he might just put in a good showing tomorrow at a decent price.
So it could be a close-run thing between the breakers and the sprinters, so I'm going to have a little bit of each.Free Cycling Picks
0.5pts each-way on Sonny Colbrelli at 28/1 with 365
0.5pts each-way on Edvald Boasson Hagen at 9/1 with PP
0.5pts win on Greg Van Avermaet at 14/1 with PP
0.3pts win on Zdenek Stybar at 80/1 with 365
0.3pts win on Steve Cummings at 25/1 with Ladbrokes
Cimolai to beat Sabatini
Groenewegen to beat Selig and EBH to beat Kristoff -- 2pts on the treble at 13/8 with 365