The first nine days of this year’s Tour de France have aptly been described as a series of one day Classics and the fighting for position and aggressive racing is expected to continue today on stage six from Abbeville to Le Havre.
The 191.5km stage follows the Normandy coastline for the final 120km of racing. There are three category four climbs during the stage – two near Dieppe and one just before the finish but in truth the road dips and rolls near the cliffs and wide beaches all the way to the finish, mixing exposed country roads with fast descents and leg-hurting short climbs.
It will be a tough day out for the riders, with an uphill finish in Le Havre suiting Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) rather than Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep) and double stage winner and green jersey Andrei Greipel (Lotto Soudal). When the Tour visited the area in 2012, Sagan won in Boulogne-sur-Mer on the way to winning the green jersey.
“It’s a lot like stage two, with 100km facing a direct wind off the coast,” race director Christian Prudhomme warned. “The finale is tough with a climb to the finish that allows a puncher to take on the sprinters.”
Fortunately for the riders, the weather and wind forecasts suggest that the day will be dry, with side winds of only 15km/h. That could still be enough to cause some problems but is unlikely to inspire organised attacks and echelons by some of the strongest teams.
We can again expect to see the likes of BMC, Astana, Team Sky, Movistar and Tinkoff-Saxo working hard at the head of the peloton to protect team leaders Tejay van Garderen, Vincenzo Nibali, Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana and Alberto Contador. Everyone else in the peloton will be looking to avoid the crashes and risk of splits by staying near the front. This will only raise the speed even more and create tension in the peloton.
Uphill finish in Le Havre
The overall contenders could be tempted to try their hand on the final climb to the finish above Le Havre, in an attempt to win the stage and take the 10, 6 and 4 second time bonuses on offer.
Positioning will be vital in the final kilometres. There are several roundabouts in the final 10km on the outskirts of Le Havre and then the route follows the seafront boulevard. A sweeping turn with three kilometres to go takes the riders into the centre of town and to the foot of the Côte d’Ingouville.
The climb kicks up just before the final kilometre and rises as a painful 7% before easing with 400 metres to go. The riders will have to make a huge effort on the climb and then go deep again for the sprint to the line.
The finish seems perfect for Sagan but also other strong finishers such as John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin), Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal), Edvald Boasson Hagen (MTN-Qhubeka), Bryan Coquard (Europcar), Greg van Avermaet (BMC), Zdeněk Štybar and Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-QuickStep).
Adam and Simon Yates could also try their hand on the uphill finish as they try to turn around Orica-GreenEdge’s race. The Australian team is down to six riders after Michael Albasini was forced to leave the race after fracturing the head of his femur on stage five.
Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) will have to fight to defend his leader's yellow jersey but should be okay as he tries to hold the jersey until the Pyrenees.