A near nailed-on breakaway stage is a rare beast, writes Jack Houghton, which makes them all the more competitive
"Any day that favours the breakaway will automatically bring in Thomas De Gendt (70.0069/1), who has made a couple of attempts so far in this race, but is likely better suited by the demands of this stage..."
What's the stage like?
More than any other stage on this year's Tour, the breakaway specialists will have earmarked Stage 16. Of course, the problem with earmarked stages - especially those rare sorts reserved for breakaways - is that they automatically become competitive.
Stretching to a shortish 169km, and including time in Spain and France, the stage has four categorised climbs. The most significant of those might be the Category Two Col de Portet, coming inside 40km from the finish and with a technical descent that might encourage attacks.
If no one commits that early, an attack 7km from the end, on the Category Four Cote d'Aspen-Sarrat, is almost guaranteed.
Who are the favourites?
Wout Van Aert (8.007/1) is favourite for just about every stage of late, and given his versatility, he would certainly be a leading contender if making the breakaway. Van Aert will increasingly face the issues that plagued Peter Sagan in his pomp, though: he will struggle to win on days like this because no one will want him in the break, and even if he finds himself there, no one will want to work for him. That might not be a problem for Van Aert, who has ridden into superb form in the last week, but those odds are on the short side.
Julian Alaphilippe (13.0012/1) is likely a better option. He will be freed of Cavendish lead-out duties here and, now out of contention for the General Classification, will be targeting another stage win. The parcours should suit him perfectly: hard enough to dislodge most of the fast men, and with that perfect climb situated near the end for a trademark Alaphilippe attack.
Who are the most likely outsiders?
In this Tour there are a group of riders inhabiting breakaways with unerring regularity. Omar Fraile (24.0023/1), Matej Mohoric (26.0025/1), Sergio Higuita (26.0025/1), Magnus Cort Nielsen (26.0025/1), and Jasper Stuyven (30.0029/1) all have valid claims, but their activity might be their downfall: it might be better to look for a fresher rider who has had a quieter Tour to date.
Any day that favours the breakaway will automatically bring in Thomas De Gendt (70.0069/1), who has made a couple of attempts so far in this race, but is likely better suited by the demands of this stage. He is favoured over Anthony Perez (200.00199/1), who is a big price for the stage and has won similar stages in lesser races.
What effect will it have on the overall markets?
It's a day for those interested in the Mountains Classification, with lots of points on offer and the likelihood of being left alone by those with General Classification ambitions. Expect Wout Poels to be active early on, as well as Michael Woods and Nairo Quintana.
It will be interesting to see which of the sprinters commit to getting over the Category Two opener, with the promise of intermediate sprint points the other side. I expect Mark Cavendish will hope a big enough break goes early, meaning the race for the Green Jersey is neutralised for another day.
*Odds correct at the time of writing
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