Breakaway hopefuls might find their perfect stage ruined, writes Jack Houghton, as the fight for Green ignites the Tour.
"Sagan, who had points deducted from him by race commissars on Stage 10, after skilfully - but probably dangerously - shoulder-and-head-barging Van Aert out of the way in the bunch finish, will be fuming and intent on revenge..."
What's the stage like?
It's an invitation for a committed breakaway. The longest stage in this year's race at 216km, it contains four categorised climbs. The last, the Suc au May, is the most significant: partly because of the bonus seconds available at the top, but also because it is steep in places. It's the ideal launching pad for a stage-winning move, with 24km remaining after its summit.
The finish itself is hard, too, climbing 100m in the last 5km, perfect for a puncheur.
Who are the favourites?
Julian Alaphilippe ([7.00]) is the most obvious contender. The route is like that of Stage 2. Alaphilippe won there, even though his decisive move was widely predicted. That almost made it more impressive: to surprise your rivals and win is one thing; to send them detailed plans of what you intend to do and be able to do it no matter what their reaction is... that's quite another.
Even accepting Alaphilippe's talent, though, those odds look skinny. He showed a dip in form when in the Pyrenees and will face competition from the breakaway here.
Who are the most likely outsiders?
Throughout the Tour we've been waiting for the Thomas De Gendt ([26.00]) and Alessandro De Marchi ([90.00]) show, and this stage looks perfect for them. There are more stages to come, though, that would also suit, and although a speculative punt on De Marchi might be justified if those odds remain available, on balance it's probably best to look elsewhere.
Greg Van Avermaet ([11.00]) is suited to the stage, and has the advantage of being able to win from either breakaway or bunch finish. Those odds look excellent value. As do the odds available on Alexis Vuillermoz ([200.00]), who won a puncheur's stage in 2015 and can't be discounted here despite those huge odds.
Wout Van Aert ([21.00]) might want to make a concerted effort to win this stage, just to prove that he can perform on any route, no matter the profile. However, given his team responsibilities, a better choice is Peter Sagan ([20.00]).
Sagan, who had points deducted from him by race commissars on Stage 10, after skilfully - but probably dangerously - shoulder-and-head-barging Van Aert out of the way in the bunch finish, will be fuming and intent on revenge. Expect to see him in the breakaway trying to make a statement: this route is designed for him.
What effect will the stage have on the overall markets?
Benoit Cosnefroy will probably reappear again, trying to sweep up some more King of the Mountains points, and expect the Yellow Jersey contenders to ride prominently in an effort to stay out of trouble.
Otherwise, though, this is a day about the Green Jersey. Can Sam Bennett underline his favouritism further, or will Sagan begin the long road back to redemption?
*Odds correct at the time of writing
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Back Greg Van Avermaet @ [11.00]
Back Peter Sagan @ [20.00]
Back Alexis Vuillermoz @ [200.00]