As monotonous as it's beginning to sound, Peter Sagan is favourite again, writes Jack Houghton, but there are a number of Cobbled Classic specialists who are better value for a Stage 9 win...
"After this tumultuous stage, ending nine hard days in the saddle, we will still know little about who will win the Overall Classification; however, there's every chance we'll be able to write a few off..."
What's the stage like?
Jørgen Leth's 1976 film, A Sunday in Hell, captures all the competitive brutality of Paris-Roubaix, one of the "Monuments" of the Spring Classics, the one-day races that every rider dreams of winning as a child. Whilst Stage 9 of this year's Tour doesn't quite match the difficulty of the Paris-Roubaix route - there are only 15 cobbled sections covering 22km, as opposed to the 29 sections covering 53km that faced Paris-Roubaix competitors in 2018 - it will still represent a nerve-wracking experience for most in the peloton, many of whom will actively avoid the Cobbled Classics of this part of Europe when planning their racing schedule for the year. This stage will require a muscularity that many of them just don't possess.
The first recommendation, then, is to make this a day of television viewing. Start with A Sunday in Hell. This allows you to claim that your viewing is a cultural exercise, as it is all very European and arthouse. Then watch the stage from beginning to end. It starts at 10.50am and should be finished around 2.30pm, as it is only 157km long. Take note of our in-play advice if getting involved midway through. This gives plenty of time to rest and recuperate in time for the World Cup final at 4pm.
When you watch Stage 9, expect carnage, although the extent of the destruction will be governed as much by the weather as by the cobbles: in 2014, the rain saw a number of riders have their Tour hopes ended; in 2015, though, the cobbles - in the dry - were less eventful. 2018 sees more than double the number of cobbled sections as those two previous editions, though, so we should have double the chance of hardluck stories, although the forecast suggests only a small chance of rain.
On a sombre note, the 2018 Paris-Roubaix race saw the death of Michael Goolaerts after a crash, and this will likely be in the minds of organisers and riders.
Who are the favourites?
I wonder how many cycling previews I've started over the years with the words, "Peter Sagan is a rightful favourite..." This one, like a few already in the this year's Tour and on more stages to come no doubt, starts the same way. He won this year's Paris-Roubaix in dominating fashion, and his odds of around [3.50] look about right. His issue, as always, is that the peloton are hyperaware of his every move, meaning he can only win stages with full frontal raw ability; he doesn't get to do anything by stealth. Still, he seems to cope well enough and has a realistic chance of another stage win here.
Who are the most likely outsiders?
Niki Terpstra ([8.00]), Greg Van Avermaet ([11.00]) and Sep Vanmarcke ([90.00]) can all claim a chance of upsetting Sagan on this tricky stage. They are among of group of riders who have shown themselves capable of consistent high finishes in the Cobbled Classics, and for all three, Stage 9 will have been circled as soon as the route was announced as one they would be targetting. Given how bad luck can strike any rider on a stage like this, I'll be splitting a small stake three ways and at least that will mean I have a strong chance of having someone in contention in the final stages of my television sit-in.
What effect will the stage have on the overall markets?
If Greg Van Avermaet has a good stage, he should be able to hold onto the Yellow Jersey, but there's the chance that Stage 9 will see another rider taking that honour. If that happened, that would be the fourth race leader so far, all-but wrapping up the Riders in Yellow market which we previewed as likely to be a win for six riders and upwards.
After this tumultuous stage, ending nine hard days in the saddle, we will still know little about who will win the Overall Classification; however, there's every chance we'll be able to write a few off, with the leader board missing some of the many high profile names who have come to this Tour with their eyes on the ultimate prize.
*Odds quoted are correct at the time of writing