Feel the Berne: the Tour enters its third foreign country today with a stage from the heart of the Jura to the capital of Switzerland. Berne has never hosted the Tour before but then again the Tour has never had a rider leave a mark like Fabian Cancellara, who calls the city home. Cancellara, lest anyone need reminding, is in his last season before retirement and has worn the yellow jersey for 29 days – a record without winning the race. It’s an apt homecoming for the Swiss rider, whose last two Grand Tour sorties - the 2015 Tour and 2016 Giro - have ended in disappointment.
With four crucial mountain stages coming up, Movistar, Sky and Astana will be looking to Etixx-Quick Step, Lotto-Soudal and Dimension Data to keep things under control. They shouldn’t have a problem. The stage profile is slightly misleading in that the roads are nowhere near as lumpy as the profile suggests. All the racing takes place within 500m between its highest and lowest points. It’s one of the longer stages of the race but there’s little in here to prevent the usual story of a small break getting away early and being recaptured somewhere close to the outskirts of Berne. Or is there? Route director Thierry Gouvenou has cast a lure to finisseurs by including a small cobbled climb just before the sprint. Needless to say, any 35-year-old locals with a history of performing well on cobbled climbs will be watched like a hawk here. The fairy-tale ending would be Cancellara winning the stage but all the evidence points to a much more run-of-the mill denouement, in which the sprinters teams decide the spoils, or, why not, Alexander Kristoff. Either way, if Cancellara is there, it will be a party to remember for the city and the Tour.
Robbie McEwen: Today is breakaway day. Too hilly for sprinters, not hilly enough for GC riders, so you’ll see the opportunists, like Trentin or Albasini. As a sprinter, you just roll with the punches on days like this. You can wait and see what happens but you wouldn’t back yourself with a cobbled climb near the finish because there’ll be attacks there. The sprint teams won’t commit to it, and it’s the last chance for a lot of teams to go for a stage win.
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