Time for everyone to calm down. By now the GC will have assumed a rough shape and no doubt some kind of media-fuelled controversy will be filling the airwaves and pages of L’Équipe. Time for some rarely visited and new ground. Montélimar hosts the Tour for only the third time, and the bird park at Villars-de-Dombes for the first time, though it did host a Dauphiné TT in 2013. The fourth-longest stage of the race heads due north up the Rhône valley, through the Drôme and Isère départements and finishes in Ain.
The cat 4 Côte de Puy-St-Martin after 20km is likely to provide impetus to the day’s break, which, if it has the right composition, may have enough on its side to last the distance. There are another two categorised climbs halfway through, the Côte du Four-à-Chaux and the Côte de Hauterives at 93km and 101km respectively. But the non-categorised climbs could be deceptive and may play into the hands of determined baroudeurs. Another piece of history which may give further encouragement to today’s break: such direct stages up the Rhône Valley are a rarity. The last that was close in complexion was in 2006, to Montélimar, won by Procycling columnist Jens Voigt from a small break. They had a tailwind and were away for more than 200km, with a final winning margin of half an hour over the peloton, which was hors delai.
Yet for all the opportunity for adventurers, the day is likely to be fought over by the sprinters’ teams. The question will be what effect the undulations and false flats have had on the legs of Kittel, Cavendish, Greipel and the rest of the fastmen, if they are still here. It’s on stages like this that stayers like Kristoff and Sagan come to the fore.
Robrt Millar: The classic transition stage that ought to be one for the sprinters but only if they can keep the break in sight. This will be difficult as it’s the last chance for an escape to succeed before the final mountain stages. There’ll be plenty of team managers expecting riders to be present in every break. It could be a headwind all day so fairly good news if you are hiding in the wheels recovering. They just have to remember to wake up for the tricky last kilometres.