Advice to today’s breakaway, as they approach the finish line with the sprinters’ teams bearing down fast: don’t look back in Angers.
After a weekend by the seaside, the Tour heads inland and south. It’s back to business as usual, with a flat parcours, although the first half of the stage is what is known to cyclists as “French flat” – constant low-level rolling that adds a little fatigue into an otherwise straight-forward equation. En route, there are a few locations of interest to cycling spotters: the peloton will pass through Fougères, where Mark Cavendish won his only stage of the 2015 Tour; for the hipster fans, the town of Vitré, location of the Route Adélie one-day race, is just over halfway. Angers is twinned with Austin, Texas, the home city of the only cyclist in history to have been stripped of seven yellow jerseys.
Today will be a good opportunity to observe how the Tour de France works on deeper levels than just the GC, and examine the aims for different teams. There will be a break, probably consisting of four or five riders. The teams in the break will be neither GC-focused, nor sprinters’ teams. (These days, that’s quite a rare thing - even Cofidis and FDJ are much more than break fodder in the modern Tour.)
A day spent off the front on a stage like this has little sporting value – the last time a group held off the peloton on a week-one flat stage was 2009 in Perpignan – but the publicity value for sponsors of having two or three hours of uninterrupted television time is huge for the smaller teams. They’ll be overwhelmed towards the finish by the sprinters’ teams, who have the resources to justify missing out on that quantity of air time with the possibility of a stage win.
Robbie McEwen: Angers: lovely place; broke my back here in a crash in 2004, on the day Tom Boonen won his first Tour stage. I can see Kittel dominating here. It’s becoming predictable but it’s still great to watch - he wins from any position, so tactics are less of an issue. All he has to do is accelerate and he puts half a dozen lengths into everyone. His team will have to work hard for him but things will have settled down a little by now, with the first two stages done.