Tour de France: Severe crosswinds expected to hit stage 16

Finely poised general classification could blow apart in wind

There have been hints of crosswinds and echelons throughout the 2017 Tour de France, but those promises may well be realised on stage 16 into Romans-sur-Isere. Forecasters are predicting gusts of up to 70kph with a steadier breeze of around 30kph.

Fans and media have already been out along the route and footage in the Rhone Valley from a journalist working for Belgian broadcaster RTBF showed flags billowing in the wind. One of his colleagues posted an image of his road book, demonstrating that the wind would be blowing from right to left along the course with a headwind in some of the latter parts of the course.

On paper, Tuesday's 165km stage is one for the sprinters, but the wind will almost ensure that it is not a true bunch sprint. Marcel Kittel is the stage favourite, and he will have to rely on the expertise of his Belgian squad to get him through. Although, they received a blow over the rest day with Philippe Gilbert being forced to abandon the race due to stomach problems.

Andre Greipel also has an experienced Classics squad behind him at Lotto-Soudal. Michael Matthews (Sunweb), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data), Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) and Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), Dan McLay (Fortuneo-Oscaro) and Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) will also fancy their chances for a stage win.

The winds could have a serious impact on the general classification. Stage 13 of the 2013 Tour de France was one of the more dramatic recent examples of the ability of crosswinds to turn the race on its head. Mark Cavendish beat Peter Sagan to win the stage, while Alberto Contador and Bauke Mollema gained a minute in the overall classification. Chris Froome missed the cut, but it was Alejandro Valverde that was the big loser of the day when he lost almost 10 minutes.

The general classification is so tight that any major time loss could be fatal to any contender's hopes. For race leader Froome, the loss of Geraint Thomas will be keenly felt in these conditions. He will have to rely on the team's road captain Luke Rowe and Christian Knees to get him through.

Dan Martin will look to stick to Kittel like glue in the latter part of the stage. If he can hold onto the German, then he should make it through the stage unscathed. Cannondale-Drapac could come into their own on a stage such as this with Dylan van Baarle, Taylor Phinney and Alberto Bettiol in their line-up. Belgian champion, Oliver Naesen will be key for Romain Bardet, while Fabio Aru will have to hope that his team can better serve him on the flat than they have in the mountains.

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