With its 228.5 km this is the longest stage of the Tour so far. Going west towards Marseille, the riders start climbing right away on Côte de Châteauneuf-Grasse. The climb is only 1.4 km long but it has an average gradient of 8.4 %. Many riders will be eager to get away and this is the perfect place to do so.
The two top sprinters of the race Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel are yet to compete in a bunch sprint in this Tour and Omega Pharma Quickstep and Lotto-Belisol will have to control the race. Peter Sagan is also out for revenge after finishing second twice already and his Cannondale team should help out too.
The last categorized climb has its top with just 20 km to go. On Corsica, the late climbs proved to be too much for the sprinters but it shouldn’t be case this time. The 5.7 km towards the top of Côte des Bastides kick up with 3.1 % and Cavendish and especially Greipel should be able to stay in the bunch.
|The final 4 km towards the finishing line.|
According to ASO Côte des Bastides was the last climb worth categorizing on this stage. However, the riders still have to overcome Col de la Gineste. The 7 km towards the top aren’t steep but if some sprinters had troubles on Côte des Bastides, they will have big problems getting back into the peloton in time for the final sprint. The view from the top of Côte des Bastides over the Mediterranean Sea is spectacular and the riders can almost see the finishing line 12.5 km ahead. The descent is much steeper than the ascent of the climb and this should make for a fast finish.
The riders enters Marseille with about 6 km to go and continue on big roads all the way to the line. Coming down Avenue du Prado towards the sea, the riders pass the last km port before turning left on Avenue Pierre Mendès France with just 500 meters to go. It’s not a very difficult corner but it will stretch out the peloton. Therefore, it’s important to be among the first five or six riders in order to win the stage. Like the view from the top of Col de la Gineste, also the final 500 meters are breathtaking with the hills in the background and the Mediterranean Sea on the right side. So far ASO have really spoiled us with post card scenery in this 100th edition of the Tour de France.
With everybody on 100 %, I would pick Mark Cavendish as the favorite. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Cavendish started out the Tour with bronchitis and even though he’s feeling better, he hasn’t been great so far. Another good candidate for this stage is Peter Sagan. He will have no problems with the climbs but the crash on Stage 1 has weakened him. He barely managed to keep Michal Kwiatkowski behind him on Stage 2 and came up short against Simon Gerrans on Stage 3. Sagan’s team hasn’t been good enough so far and even though it’s hard to bet against him, I don’t see Sagan as the big favorite for this stage.
Instead, my favorite is Andre Greipel. The German Champion came to the Tour in great shape but hasn’t been able to show it yet. He couldn’t keep up with the front group on Stage 2 but he came close to bridge the gap. On Stage 3 he quickly realized it wasn’t going to happen and I think he saved a little energy being dropped early on. Many don’t think Andre Greipel is good on the hills but he’s actually not bad at all. In Tour of Turkey he won Stage 4 despite a long climb near the finish and he has won uphill sprints in the past too. The hills today are not steep at all and Lotto-Belisol showed on the TTT that they are very strong. Both Greipel and Cavendish are behind in the fight for the Green Jersey and they can’t let this opportunity go to waste. Orica-GreenEdge will work hard in order to keep the Yellow Jersey and this should come down to a bunch sprint.
One of the strongest riders so far in this Tour de France has been Juan-Antonio Flecha. He has been attacking almost every day and I would be surprised not to see him try again soon. Vacansoleil-DCM are still without sponsors for next season and the riders are eager to show themselves and help the team get seen on TV. As I’ve said, it won’t be easy for a breakaway to make it on this stage. The sprinters’ teams want control the race and a morning breakaway seems doomed.
|The view from the top of Col de la Gineste over the sea.|
However, a late attack in the final may be the right choice. Normally I wouldn’t pick Flecha for an uphill attack but he showed on Stage 2 that his legs are great and that he’s climbing just fine. Flecha is fast on the line and should he manage to get away over the top of Col de la Gineste, the peloton will have to work hard in order to catch him. The wind is in favor of the peloton though. The final 12 km take place in a strong head / cross wind and that makes it hard to maintain a gap. Especially the last 2 km on Avenue Pierre Mendès will be extremely hard alone against the pack.
On the topic of jokers, look out for Julien Simon as well. The French sprinter was furious after Stage 3 when Rojas blocked his way. According to Simon he had the legs to win the stage and he will be eager to demonstrate that in Marseille. His team mate Julien El Fares is another candidate. I’ve already mentioned El Fares earlier in the Tour and this is a stage he has marked in his road book. He comes from the area and his family and friends will be out cheering for him. However, in order for El Fares to succeed he needs to attack from a far. If he’s not up the road already, the Frenchmen will have to work hard for teammate Julien Simon in the final sprint.
Favorite: Andre GreipelJokers: Juan-Antonio Flecha / Julien Simon
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