Chris Froome (Team Sky) tends to feel good in Embrun, the start town of today’s lilting descent back onto the plains. In 2008 on his Tour de France debut, the stage started here and finished on Alpe d’Huez.
He was the Barloworld rider who burned briefly but brightly on the lower slopes of the Alpe, staying with the contenders’ group longer than anybody might have expected. In 2013, the very hilly Chorges TT started in Embrun. Froome was already in yellow and he won the stage. The Briton will be hoping it augurs well for him again this time, though as the race heads southwest he’ll be hoping it’s in defence of or within spitting distance of the yellow jersey. The perfect scenario for him today, however, is for the day to be as quiet as possible: there’s the Alps to recover from, and the Marseille TT in the offing.
This is the archetypal break versus sprinters’ fare, though don’t call it a transitional stage as it’s not connecting two mountain ranges. At 222.5km it’s also the longest of the race as it heads through the Vaucluse towards the coast. The Col du Pointu, the final cat-three climb of the stage and indeed the race, comes 45km from the line, so it’s unlikely to make much of an impression. However it does signal some direction changes and as this is near the coast there’s always the threat of crosswinds, particularly a 14km section between Loumarin and Merindol. The final 8km to Salon-de-Provence, once the home of Nostradamus, should be a tailwind, so even if it is the break versus the sprinters - starved for a few days since Romans-sur-Isère- it should be an entertaining day, the kind of stage where, if the bunch does let the break go, the eventual time gap between them will be north of 10 minutes.
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