After the crashes, the pain, the drama and the panache of Julian Alaphilippe's stage 1 uphill rush above Landerneau, Sunday’s finish atop Mûr-de-Bretagne should produce another thrilling finale as part of a Breton uphill finish double-header.
While a lot of riders will be battered and bruised and several will not even start due their fractures and injuries, the stage offers much for those still healthy and ambitious.
Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) can take a second consecutive victory while wearing the race leader’s yellow jersey. It also offers Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange), Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) a perfect chance of revenge after defeat in Landerneau, and another battle for every second amongst the overall contenders.
Who knows who will lose time this time and who will lose any hope of overall victory or a place on the final podium this time. Seconds will surely be won and lost, particularly because the Mûr de Bretagne is climbed twice, the first ascent with 15 kilometres to go and then again up to the finish line.
Bonus Point time bonuses of eight, five and two seconds will be awarded on the first time to the top of the Brenton climb, with time bonuses of ten, six and four awarded on the finish line.
There is so much to play for, so much to race for, so much to expect from this second uphill finish of the 2021 Tour.
The Mûr de Bretagne never fails to deliver. The short but testing climb has hosted Tour de France finishes three other times, each one offering a superb moment of Grand Tour racing.
Cadel Evans beat Alberto Contador and a small group of riders to win in 2011, indicating he had the form to go on to win the Tour that year. In 2015 Alexis Vuillermoz won alone, holding off Dan Martin and Alejandro Valverde, while the Irishman got revenge in 2018 with his own attack ahead of Pierre Latour. Other riders suffered and weaknesses were exposed as the puncheur landed some big blows.
“I almost won in 2015 too, so it’s a climb that I have fond memories of,” Dan Martin, who epitomises the perfect Mûr de Bretagne puncheur, told Cyclingnews.
“It’s going to be hard to repeat the win but it’s something I’m thinking about for sure. We’re here to win stages, starting this weekend."
L’Alpe d’Huez of Brittany
The Mûr de Bretagne is nicknamed the L’Alpe d’Huez of Brittany but it doesn’t actually have any hairpins, is only two kilometre long and climbs to only 293 metres at an average of 6.9 per cent.
Yet it has always hurt and has always made a difference, due to a steep first part and a lung-busting second part all the way up to the finish line.
The first 500 metres climbs at 10.1 per cent, the next five hundred at 9.5 per cent, before the easing to 5.5 per cent offers a perfect spot to accelerate away in pursuit of glory and the final part at 2.4 per cent helps the attackers stay away to the finish.
“It’s such a straight climb that you have to be mentally strong as well as physically strong, otherwise it just cracks you,” Martin explained.
“It’s an explosive effort to get away and then you have to hold it over the top too. That’s the difficult part.”
The 183 kilometres stage starts 150 kilometres north on the beautiful coastal town of Perros-Guirec in the Cotes d’Armor of Brittany.
It is a stage of two halves and a terrible finale, with a 115 kilometre ride near the coast to Saint-Brieuc and then a further ride into the hills and towards the village of Guerlédan that sits at the foot of the Mûr de Bretagne climb and has now encompassed the walled hamlet that gave Mûr its original name.
There are three fourth category climb early on and the intermediate sprint comes in Plouha after 85 kilometres. The Mûr de Bretagne is climbed for the first time with 15 kilometres to go, with the riders going over the top and then looping right and descending back to the foot of the climb via a country road.
The second assault starts after a sharp right turn back onto the main road. The Mûr rears up and rises through the trees.
"I think it’s a harder finish this year because we hit it slightly differently,” Martin explains.
“I’ve looked at the data file and in 2018, with two kilometres to go, we hit 70km/h. That gave you so much momentum coming onto the climb.
“This year we come in from the right and we’ll hit the two kilometre to go point with virtually no speed at all. That makes for a longer climb and a harder climb. Because of the high speed I rode the big chainring in 2018. I don't think it’ll be possible this time.”
Despite the sprinters suffering on the stage 1 finishing climb, Martin is convinced the likes of Van der Poel and Van Aert will emerge this time.
“Cycling and I have changed quite a bit since I won in 2018. I’ve become a bit more of a pure climber and now we’ve got these ‘sprinters-who-can-climb’ types,” Martin suggested.
“Teams have become much stronger in recent years and those 'sprinters-who-can-climb’ guys will have teammates with them in the finale and that will make it more difficult for a solo attack to stay away to the line like I did."
It was also stage 6 of the race back in 2018 and so there was more fatigue in the peloton too after a hard first week. In 2018 it was a headwind over the top too, while this time it seems it’ll be a tailwind.
“They’re all factors to take into consideration when trying to read the race and understand how it will unfold,” said Martin.
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