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Some of best Tour action of recent years has played out on flat, inconspicuous roads where wily teams have used a jinking route and a stiff wind to blow the race to pieces. Often it’s not just the stage result that’s in the balance but the overall classification too; Chris Froome was taught a valuable lesson last year when Saxo-Tinkoff drilled holes in the Team Sky defence on the road to Saint-Amand-Montrond last year in such conditions.
The wide-open roads travelling southwest from Tallard to Nîmes could provide the same theatre this year. Towards the end of the day, the race route crosses the Rhône Valley, down which the stiff and uncompromising Mistral often blows.
Directeurs sportifs will be radioing ahead for as much intel on conditions as possible – some looking for a window of attack while others will be processing the information defensively. If the wind does blow, the day will be tense from the start. No one, not least the GC contenders can afford to be left on dead wheels on such a day. It could be as much a test of a team’s logistics and brain power every bit as much as the riders’ strength.
You can bet that whatever the conditions Mark Cavendish, a masterful race reader, will be eyeing this up as a potential win.
Jean-Christophe Péraud says... "Wind! If it's from the north of south, it's across us all day and a well-motivated team could play mischief. We're not strong enough to cause a split so we'll have to follow but the sprinters won't pass up on a victory on such a flat stage."
In the 1958 Tour, French sprinter André Darrigade won five stages, the penultimate of which was Béziers to Nîmes. It could have been six, but on the final stage he collided with an official who was shepherding photographers on the Parc des Princes track in Paris. In 2008, Mark Cavendish took his fourth Tour stage victory in Nîmes ahead of Robbie McEwen and Romain Feillu.