In his official statement on this stage, route designer Thierry Gouvenou points out with pride that the towns of Arras and Amiens are only 70km apart by the most direct route, but that stage 5 is actually 189.5km long.
The route heads north from the start, in the opposite direction to Amiens, briefly turns east, then goes south before describing an S heading west to Amiens.The landscape around here is flat and exposed, crossing from the Pas de Calais department to the Somme, where pitched battles were fought over a few miles of territory on the flat plains during the Great War.
After three Classics-influenced stages, the Tour settles into a more traditional pattern for the next three days, with flatter stages and a respite from the hills and cobbles.
As with stage two, the way this stage plays out will depend on the weather, specifically the wind. There are no climbs en route today, but with the route twisting and turning so much, any wind will play havoc with the dynamics of the peloton.
Perhaps not to the same degree as when the riders are spending the last 60 kilometres of stage 2 riding parallel to the North Sea coast, but you only have to think back to the stage to St Amand Montrond in 2013, when Alberto Contador and his Saxo-Tinkoff out-thought and out-rode Chris Froome to take a minute back off the British rider.The wind that day was by no means very strong, but the angle of attack was just right, and there were enough teams ready for it that an innocuous-looking stage became a significant battleground.
If the day is calmer, there will be a break and a chase. In recent years, the breaks on the flat stages, especially in the first week, are almost always four or five riders, and almost always not allowed more than four or five minutes’ lead. The riders tend to be from the French teams and wildcard teams, each of which gains more value from the exposure than from sitting in the peloton and saving energy for a GC battle which probably doesn’t involve them anyway. Some teams hardly bother with the breaks – Sky and Giant, for example, see no advantage in getting involved in them (Sky made an exception last year, once Froome and Porte’s GC challenge was over). A stage like today will see teams like Cofidis, Bretagne, MTN, Europcar and Bora getting into the break. They won’t succeed in winning the stage, but that’s only part of the point of them being there. If they spend the afternoon on television, the publicity success balances the sporting failure.
Robert Millar's view
“A sombre day's racing through the WW1 battlefields of the Somme, good if you're a rider who likes history but bad if you think there'll be time to stop and look. There aren't many trees in this region and there's little to stop the wind causing problems when the peloton gets up onto the plains. This has the potential to be a very nervous stage as there are many changes of direction, small towns, villages and street furniture to contend with. Johan Bruyneel won alone here in 1993 and the average speed was a smidgen under 50kph. It was so fast and chaotic that some of the sprinters teams didn't even know the Belgian was in front.”
Stats & Facts
- This is one of four stages in the 2015 Tour without a single classified climb, along with the opening day’s time trial, the team time trial, and stage two.
- This is the 10th time a Tour stage has finished in Amiens. The first time was in 1932. The most recent was 1999, when Mario Cipollini took the second of four consecutive stage wins.
- Johan Bruyneel won in a solo breakaway into Amiens in 1993 in a stage that was, at the time, the fastest Tour road stage in history, with a speed of 49.417kph. The record now stands at 50.355, set by Mario Cipollini in Blois, 1999, the day before he won in Amiens.
0km Start Arras
90.5km Sprint Rancourt
189.5km Finish Amiens
The text in this preview first appeared in the July edition of Procycling magazine