Back in 2013, there was a lumpy stage to Albi featuring a pair of mid-stage climbs and another two climbs before a flattish final 30km. Peter Sagan, having achieved three second places and a third in the five road stages thus far and been generally out-gunned in the bunch finishes, used the climbs to put the pure sprinters out of the running. He put his Cannondale team-mates on the front for the best part of 70km, and duly won, being by far the best sprinter of the surviving riders. It was a classic example of how to use the terrain and teamwork to thwart the favourites.
This stage, 190km to Montauban, is a similar opportunity. Similar, though much more weighted to the sprinters. While the 2013 Albi stage had a pair of cat-two climbs in the middle, this stage has a third and a fourth, which are probably situated too early for all-out heroics, plus one more third-cat which tops out with 40 kilometres to go. On paper, most sprinters should be able to get over that final climb but there’s no immediate descent, giving a tantalising opportunity for gaps to open. If the same faces have been dominating the flat sprints up until now, perhaps enough teams will be annoyed about it that they can try to do something to tilt the balance of the stage in their favour. All the riders who fall into the large gaps between the best bunch sprinters, the time triallists and the climbers, who have most of the stages locked down between them, may look to a day like this one to upset the status quo and contest a stage win.
For the GC favourites this is more or less a day off - the last for a long time. As far as they are concerned, a bunch sprint, controlled by the sprinters’ teams, is the ideal scenario for the day.
Bernard Thevenet: This stage is a bit more hilly and that could see either some of the sprinters unable to contest the finish, or their team-mates unable to chase breaks. The GC riders will hide away, after Le Lioran yesterday and the Pyrenees tomorrow, so I can envisage that a long break could go the distance and take the stage. If neither GC teams nor sprinters chase, the break could even get a big time gap and put a rider in yellow for a few days.