Caleb Ewan is an ever-present feature at the front end of Grand Tour sprint stages, writes Jack Houghton, but he often takes a while to find his form
"A better bet - and it's remarkable to be writing this - is Mark Cavendish at around 10.009/1..."
What's the stage like?
183km and with little elevation, culminating in a wide, flat finishing straight with few complications in the last 1.5km. This is a sprinters' stage.
There are two Category 4 climbs, one at halfway and one with 35km to go, but the terrain will not bother the fastmen or their teams, whose focus will be on managing the breakaway, not wanting to catch them too early for fear of creating unrest in the peloton.
There will be some nerves as riders cross the river into the finish town of Pontivy, with four sharp turns to navigate, but they come far enough out from the line to mean they shouldn't be a factor.
Who are the favourites?
Given that this year's Tour offers sprinters more chances at stage wins than it has for a long time, it's no surprise to see the field stacked with potential winners here.
Chief among them is Caleb Ewan (3.002/1), who has been the most consistent Grand Tour sprinter of recent years, picking up nine stages in the Giro and Tour since 2019. He has been active during the intermediate sprints on Stage 1 and Stage 2, suggesting that he has his eye on the Points Classification, but if he is to wear the Green Jersey in Paris, he will need to back that up with a clutch on stage wins.
Those odds look short, though. Competition will be fierce, and Ewan has a tendency of disappointing early in stage races, seeming to take a few days to get used to the speed at which things happen in these top-flight bunch-sprints.
A much better bet is Arnaud Demare (7.006/1), who was left out of last year's Tour but went on to be the dominant force at the delayed Giro, winning the Points Classification there. Ewan and Demare have tended not to clash very often at Grand Tours but, crucially, when the pair have gone head-to-head in lesser races, it is Demare who has the upper hand, beating Ewan in every sprint that matters this season, including at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana.
Who are the most likely outsiders?
Tim Merlier (9.008/1) has been talked up relentlessly this season, and his stage win at the Giro in May showed he can mix it at the top of the sport. The world's best sprinters weren't at the Giro, though, and Merlier has tended to find one or two too good whenever he has stepped up to that level. On a trickier finish later in the Tour it might be worth considering him, but not here.
A better bet - and it's remarkable to be writing this - is Mark Cavendish at around 10.009/1. Seemingly out of the sport for good a year ago, he made headlines when picking up stage wins at the Tour of Turkey earlier in the season, but was not considered a serious prospect to line up at the Tour, let alone win a stage. An injury to Sam Bennett, though, and a stage win against most of the best sprinters in the world in Belgium a fortnight ago, means that he is a viable prospect here, especially as he has the most competent lead-out train, who should be able to control this straightforward finish.
Elsewhere, Wout Van Aert (10.009/1), Jasper Philipsen (15.0014/1), Cees Bol (20.0019/1) and Peter Sagan (26.0025/1) could profit if the main contenders find trouble, with Bol being the best of those at bigger odds.
What effect will it have on the overall markets?
We will hopefully see more fireworks in the Mountains Classification from Ide Schelling, but otherwise this should be a quieter day for the rest of the peloton, with all eyes on the main contenders for the Points Classification. Expect the Yellow Jersey guys to ride defensively and stay out of trouble.
*Odds correct at the time of writing
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