A sprint stage but with some rolling roads and an uphill finish to change the cast of characters.
Borderline in Bordeaux: Simon Guglielmi spent a good while up the road in a forlorn breakaway, he’d launched a move with two others only they sat up to leave the Arkéa rider by himself. He was later joined by Nans Peters and Pierre Latour, two quality riders who looked out of place making their own forlorn move but it provided some sport as if they were going to be caught it, we didn’t known when and it at least made the chasers work harder.
We got the sprint and a triumph for Jasper Philipsen, this time surging past Mark Cavendish who for a brief moment looked all set for that win. Cavendish later said his chain was skipping gears, the “Mozart of the 11T” was suddenly in the 12 sprocket and that’s got to frustrate but if he’s this close, well he’ll be looking forward to the stage to Moulins already.
Philipsen’s wins have seen the podium ceremony delayed while the UCI commissaires review the footage, this time his move on Biniam Girmay kept everyone waiting. It was borderline, worth reviewing, and in the words of Girmay’s manager J-F Bourlart, Girmay had to brake but if he didn’t and crashed taking down others then maybe the commissaires would have given Philipsen a harsher verdict. That’s conditional because we know the rulebook and we can work on precedent but we don’t know the doctrine as it’s not said aloud. Either way Philipsen got the his third stage win ahead of Cavendish and Girmay and there’s every chance Alpecin-Deceuninck get a fourth today.
The Route: 200km and 2,000m of vertical gain but without any particular difficulties. The profile suggests more climbing later on and it’s true. After Châlus with 45km to go it looks hillier but the course takes a fast road that’s well surfaced. This isn’t one of those rasping rural backroads used by the Tour du Limousin, in fact at times the white-painted kerbs lends the feel of motor racing circuit and the bunch will find it flows fast.
The two categorised climbs are different though, just that bit steeper and longer and each can make things harder for the sprinters. A launchpad for an attack? Why not and after the second one the road twists and turns and drops down into town and chasing is harder but many of today’s picks will just prefer to wait for the sprint
There’s a fast descent into Limoges but nothing wild – one part sees the route diverted off the descent to do three sides of a square as a bid to slow things down – and if it’s not technical, it’s still harder to move up position here. Once in town come some roundabouts and corners before the race reaches the banks of the river Vienne and the course calms down.
The Finish: a big boulevard run alongside the river, then a left turn and and it’s uphill to the finish. It’s 750m at 4.5% average but the slope up is one of those roads that levels out each time there’s a side road so think three 200m long >5% ramps with two flat crossroad segments on the way up, this breaks the rhythm a bit. The slope stops just before the finish line.
The Contenders: Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) might be keen on tomorrow’s stage because it starts in St Léonard, long time home to his grandfather and the location of many boyhood summer holidays or maybe the media are just keen to point this out. This is just down the road and much more suited so he can win here and bask tomorrow in front of the cameras. The combination of the lumpy approach and the uphill finish are perfect and while Jasper Philipsen could be a contender, today the team roles are surely reversed, especially as Philipsen is well ahead in the points classification.
If MvdP is a contender, arch rival Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) has good chance too, no need for breakaway antics, he can just bet on his sprint here.
Bryan Coquard (Cofidis) has a slim chance, how to outpower the others but he’s in great shape and might be tempted to take a flyer like he did in Willunga but this time the field is deeper, it’ll be hard to create a gap. Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Segafredo) is very handy in uphill finishes but if he’s got more power than Coquard, can he outsprint MvdP, especially as the form so far doesn’t look sparkling? Biniam Girmay (Intermarché) ticks the boxes, he can win World Tour level races, he’s in decent form and the uphill finish suits.
Of the pure sprinters Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Dstny) can be good on uphill finishes too. The wild pick is Tadej Pogačar (UAE), the uphill finish isn’t hard enough but if he wants to have a go he could easily be in the top-10 or higher and the finish matters for time gaps in the field.
All this presupposes a sprint finish but it’s the most likely scenario as several teams will start today’s stage backing their leaders and many of the roads today suit a chase.
|Van der Poel|
|Van Aert, Girmay|
|Philipsen, Ewan, Coquard|
Weather: another hot day, 30°C and a light tailwind which can just make things hotter. An outside chance of rain if the clouds build to a thunderstorm.
TV: KM0 is at 12.45pm and the finish is forecast for 5.20pm CEST. Tune for the final hour to see the hills and whether they can claim any sprinters.
Last time in Limoges: the Tour’s visited Limoges many a time, it even started in the city in 1970 when the prologue was won by Eddy Merckx, of course. In 1995 Lance Armstrong won, attacking the breakaway on the run into the finish to win solo days after his team mate Fabio Casartelli had died on the descent of the Portet d’Aspet and the Texan won pointing a finger up at the sky. In 2000 Limoges welcomed Christophe Agnolutto (pictured) and his win was the last time a solo breakaway won a stage in the Tour de France, as defined as a rider attacking by themselves early in the stage and staying away for the win.
In 2016 they needed the photofinish to separate Marcel Kittel and Bryan Coquard, two contrasting styles with brute force for the German and flyweight agility for “Le Coq”, the uphill finish allowing both a chance. Lastly the city was also home to André Dufraisse, five time world cyclo-cross champion… maybe another CX champ wins today?