In the 17th century, the dukes of Lorraine built a fort at the hilltop town of Longwy, to defend their land. It didn't work that well – within 100 years the Duchy of Lorraine had become a French province. The French reinforced the fort into a citadel, and Longwy's position at the centre of a geopolitical hotspot was further underlined when the citadel was damaged in both world wars. The citadel itself is part of a chain which encircles France (others are located in Besançon, Briançon and Blaye, for example – the one in Briançon hosted a Tour stage finish in 1989) and designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. They were all designed by the same man, the military architect Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban. Le Prestre knew a thing or two about attacking and defending.
These are volatile times in Europe, but a stage which passes through three countries (taking 2017's total to four) in a day is not just a bike race, but a statement of geographical realpolitik and unity. The Tour's third stage will start in Belgium, cross Luxembourg and finish in France, and in case the metaphor of Tour de France as international, 21st-century borderless entity needed to be stretched more, the road between Verviers and Longwy is bumpy, with challenging terrain and obstacles.
There are five categorised climbs along the way. The hardest, the Côte d'Eschdorf in Luxembourg, comes just after halfway. But the crux comes in the final kilometres, with the 1.6km finishing climb of the Côte des Religieuses to the Citadel. There'll be a big fight into the climb before the favourites surge to the top. It's the kind of climb that favours puncheurs and GC riders, which might make it a tempting target for Alejandro Valverde, who is both.
Scott Sunderland says
"This will be an exciting stage, with the powerful and punchy one-day classic riders the ones feeling most at home on this hilly and winding terrain. The final ascent to the finish at the Longwy Citadel is on narrow roads with plenty of turns leading into the finishing climb; an S-bend corner which will be tricky to negotiate just before the red kite of the final kilometre.
"A stage victory for the one-day classics specialists and the candidates of the leader's yellow jersey can be expected."
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