The Flemish locals all refer to it as Antwerp, but the Tour de France stubbornly ignores hundreds of years of geopolitical tension by stating that stage 3 starts in Anvers. Perhaps it’s symbolic of unity over division that the stage crosses the language divide from Flanders to Wallonia, and the town of Huy.
After the crosswinds of stage 2, today is all about the hills, especially the quick succession of three short steep climbs in the final 18 kilometres, which replicate the finish of the Flèche Wallonne classic. The race ends on the Chemin de Chapelles, above Huy, a road which is better known as the Mur de Huy.
It’s a vertiginous climb which ramps up from the town centre, then snakes through one of the most photogenic S-bends in cycling, before the final series of long steep straights to the line. It’s going to be a spectacular finish for a Tour stage. And possibly crucial – the peloton will be stretched to well over a minute from front to back, such is the severity of the climb.
The finish of the stage might replicate the finish of Flèche Wallonne, and you tend to get a similar make-up of peloton in the hilly Classics and the Tour, but there will be some subtle differences between the demands of the two events. We’re not necessarily just going to get a repeat of what happened in Flèche Wallonne in April (although Alejandro Valverde must still be a favourite to win the Tour stage).
For a start, there are fewer hills in today’s stage than in Flèche Wallonne, and the distance, at 159.5km is 46km shorter than the Classic. This means that there are going to be far more riders in the peloton at the finish, and we are likely to see chaos up to and during the final 20 kilometres, when the crucial hills appear.
While an early break might stay away long enough for one of their members to claim the King of the Mountains jersey, they will be swept up well before the finish as the GC contenders and stage hunters try to get into the best possible position at the foot of the Mur de Huy. Some will crash. Some may even find their chances of winning the yellow jersey, or finishing in the top order, have disappeared.
Winning on the Mur de Huy takes a combination of three things, perhaps the least significant of which is good legs. Far more important are good position at the base of the climb, which takes a fair bit of grunt from team-mates, and timing on the climb itself. Dozens of experienced, world-class riders have felt strong, gone too early, and died on the climb in the past. The crucial thing is to attack or sprint at a sustainable distance, and especially to hold the power when the climb flattens out in the last 50 metres.
Bernard Thévenet's view
"There will be an escape, and the peloton will regulate the gap at five minutes until they catch them late in the stage. I don’t think there will be big gaps on this stage – the Mur de Huy is still only a short climb. But the peloton will be extremely nervous on the run-in and riders still run the risk of losing time in a crash. The favourites have to be in the front in the final five kilometres before the foot of the climb, in order not to have any nasty surprises.
"A stage is very different from a Classic. The race is different and the riders’ aims are different. In a Classic only first place is important, but in a stage race there is the stage win, the GC, the points, and everything else. This stage is more a challenge of nerves rather than a physical challenge."
Stats & Facts
- The average stage length in the 2015 Tour is 160 kilometres, almost exactly the same length as this stage.
- The Tour visits Belgium for the 46th time in its 102-year history. That’s more than any other country – Switzerland is in second place with 20.
- The first categorised climbs of the Tour appear today. This matches the 2010 Tour, when no KoM jersey was given until the third day of the race.
0km Start Anvers 13:10
109km Cat 4 climb Côte de Bohissau 16:08
128km Sprint Havelange 16:34
143km Cat 4 climb Côte d’Ereffe 16:55
154km Cat 4 climb Côte de Cherave 17:09
159.5km Cat 3 climb/Finish Mur de Huy 17:17
The text in this preview first appeared in the July edition of Procycling magazine