Stage 3: Binche - Epernay
Date: July 8, 2019
Stage type: Hilly
This is a stage of two halves. The first is mostly flat and open to the wind, which may be a factor, although frequent stages across northern France in recent editions underline that July rarely delivers the echelon-inducing gusts that race director Thierry Gouvenou and race boss Christian Prudhomme always hope for. Early on, the race crosses the border to reach French soil for the first time, with a breakaway group likely to be leading the way.
The latter part of the stage, which includes four categorised climbs in the final 40-odd kilometres will give these escapees a little hope that their adventure may endure all the way to the Champagne-making centre of Epernay. Although the fourth-cat ascent at Nanteuil-la-Forêt won’t be much of a distraction, the three beyond it present an intriguing strategic test as the pure sprinters should get shaken out on their ramps.
First up is the Côte d’Hautvillers, averaging a touch over 10% for more than kilometre. Next comes the Côte de Champillon, not as steep but still difficult as the puncheurs’ teams will want to steam up it to ensure the sprinters remain out of contention, which the final 12%, kilometre-long haul of the Côte de Mutigny should all but guarantee. Just 15km from the finish, this little brute is also the opening point-bonus on the Tour route, the first rider to the top gaining a useful eight seconds, the next five, and the third man three. Intended to tempt the GC leaders into action, the hill could provide the launch pad for a winning attack, but the best puncheurs will surely hold back for the final few hundred metres where the road rises at 15% right to the line.
The finale is tailor made for Julian Alaphilippe. The winner of the last two editions of Flèche Wallonne at the summit of the comparable Mur de Huy, the Frenchman will have a big X next to this stage in his roadbook. Will he add a tick for success?