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Aix-en-Provence - Montpellier 176.5 km
When the wind blows
A stage with "sprint" indelibly stamped upon it. After 100km, there is barely a rise of note as the route heads west to Montpellier. If there are complications, they will stem from the elements. The heat in this region can be extremely oppressive. Add that to the long stage the riders completed the day before, and some could end up struggling.
Every rider, though, will remember how much of an impact the wind had on a similar stage into La Grande Motte in 2009. As the race crossed the low-lying Camargue in a gusty wind, several riders noticed that a sharp turn would leave the peloton in a strong crosswind. Mark Cavendish's HTC-Columbia team saw the opportunity clearly and upped the pace rapidly on the front assisted by Fabian Cancellara and others. There were just 29 riders in the front group when it sped into the finish, where Cavendish romped clear. Every rider will be reminded of this before today's start but they can't all be at the front if the wind does start to blow.
Nicolas Portal: "The first 60km of this stage and the next one to Albi are open and windy. Although the terrain is not tricky, the GC riders will have to stay focused as there are lots of roundabouts and traffic islands. They'll be thinking about the 2009 stage when Highroad split the peloton in this area."
Mark Cavendish was victorious the last time the Tour visited Montpellier. In 2011, he claimed his fourth stage of that race and tightened his grip on the green jersey. His 2009 victory in nearby La Grande Motte could prove to be more significant, though, as that stage came from the same direction as today's.
Maps and profiles courtesy of ASO