This, all being well, should be the quietest stage of the entire Tour.
The riders will have a look at the road book, notice that for once there are no traps – minimal chance of crosswinds, no cobbles, no hills (save a fourth-cat pimple just after the start), no nasty kick up at the finish – and breathe a sigh of relief, nostalgically recalling times when they could rider themselves into form in the opening week.
The territory today rolls gently through Normandy, then Brittany. It’s a chance for most of the bunch to regroup, allow the stress of the challenging six days beforehand to subside (before it goes straight back up again the following day), and let the sprinters’ teams take the strain of controlling things. At 190 kilometres in length, it’s not exactly short, but it should be straightforward.
This could be a particularly lucrative stage for the sprinters. The intermediate sprint arrives early, after 65km, so their teams will work to prevent a break from forming before then, giving the fast men a shot at the 20 points on offer. If those teams can bring the race back together for the finale, which is likely, this stage's 'Coefficient1', or 'super-sprint' status means a rich 50 points await the winner. This will be a crucial day for the riders chasing the green jersey.
It sounds incredible, but it’s conceivable that this could be the last bunch sprint until Paris, 16 days later. Following this stage, there’s the uphill finish at Mûr de Bretagne, the TTT, then three days in the Pyrenees. Of the transition stages, Mende has an uphill finish and the finish in Gap is preceded by the tough Col de Manse, and its equally tricky descent. Stage 13 to Rodez looks quite lumpy before the finish, while stage 15 to Valence looks like the only other contender. And even that has a second category climb 60km from the finish. You have to go back to 2012, and a stretch of 11 stages with only one bunch kick (between stages 7 and 18), to find a similar drought for the sprinters.
In other years, a stage like this could be seen as one of the less interesting ones, with an inevitable early break consisting of French teams, especially local boys Bretagne-Seché Environnement, plus MTN-Qhubeka and Bora. This would be followed by the bunch regulating the lead at three or four minutes, a pursuit and catch inside the last 10 kilometres, and a bunch sprint. But the sprints, as they are so few and far between, will be keenly contested, which adds extra spice to this stage.
Bernard Thévenet's view
"This may be a flat stage, but it’s still dangerous. A Tour de France stage win is very important – to think back to stage three, whoever wins on the Mur de Huy there will get more publicity and sponsor value than Alejandro Valverde did for winning Flèche Wallonne. Every team wants to win stages, so nothing will change, just because the stage is flat. It’ll still be ridden fast.
"There are a few small climbs in the second half of the stage, so the break will have a small chance. But this is the last stage for the sprinters until Paris, apart maybe from Valence. There’s even more pressure than ever on the sprinters. As a GC contender I always watched my rivals in stages like this. I learned the route, checked the map and wind direction, saved energy and tried to avoid crashes. You’ve got to stay in the first 20 to 40 places."
Stats & Facts
- Fougères has appeared a stage finish on one previous occasion, 30 years ago in 1985, when Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault’s La Vie Claire won a 73-kilometre team time trial.
- At the village of Le Bourg St Leonard, 56 kilometres into the stage, the 2015 Tour de France passes the 1,000-kilometre mark.
- Fougères is just a few kilometres down the road from St Martin de Landelles, home village of the just-retired Tour speaker Daniel Mangeas.
0km Start Livarot 12:50
12.5km Cat 4 climb Côte de Canapville 13:07
65.5km Sprint Argentan 14:23
190.5km Finish Fougères 17:22
The text in this preview first appeared in the July edition of Procycling magazine