The ancient city of Carcassonne is a relative rarity as a host town at the Tour – this will be the ninth year the race has arrived – whereas Montpellier is an old haunt of the Tour, having been visited on 30 occasions.
The race heads roughly east and finds two cat 4 hills in the first third of the stage. If the break hasn’t already been established they’ll be just the sort of launch pads to establish the standard sprinter versus breakaway formula. The sprinters won’t have had a decent opportunity since stage 6, meaning the break is likely to be put on a short tether. In this part of the world, the Cers, a regular northwesterly wind could buffet the peloton and give the breakaways just enough margin to make it worthwhile. Depending on the tightness of the green jersey, it could be that the competition leader sends out an advance party to mop up the points at the intermediate sprint at Pezenas with 113km to go. The race approaches Montpellier from the west and describes an upside-down horseshoe shape before entering the city for the flat run to the finish. The more discerning will keep an eye on the wind: if the wind is blowing there could be splits worth exploiting.
In 2007, though, it was a bunch sprint which Robbie Hunter won, the peloton in pieces. Montpellier is definitely a sprinters’ haunt. On the six road stage occasions that the race has visited since 1993, it’s always been a bunch gallop and there’s little to suggest 2016 will be any different. Without Bordeaux, another’s sprinter’s paradise featuring rarely on the Tour route these days, Montpellier is a fitting modern replacement. Cavendish and Greipel have won here; Kittel will be keen to add his name.
Robbie McEwen: I love Montpellier. Only the best guys win here! This is always a tough day because it’s pinned between the two sets of mountains. Most of the bunch are already f***ed, and most will be hoping it just rolls along and they can have a recovery day. But it’s hot and it can often get windy, so the GC guys are also a bit stressed. The sprinters will go for it today, though - it’s an opportunity and if you have a day off, you won’t get that opportunity back.