Tour de France preview: Stage 4

Stage 4: Abbeville to Rouen, 214.5km, flat

Another flat stage for the sprinters – the four fourth category climbs en route are little more than inconvenient speed bumps – but the GC contenders can’t afford to sit back and daydream. Once the peloton gets to Mers-les-Bains from Abbeville, the peloton rides for approx 110km along the coast. If the wind is coming in from the English Channel, that could split the peloton and echelons could form that would put riders caught out at a distinct disadvantage.

It also means the sprint teams are going to have some work cut out for them to get their men in position for the finish in Rouen, especially with two tight turns in the final kilometre as they cross the Seine before a flat 750m final straight. Expect the usual suspects for this one: Cavendish, Greipel, Goss and Sagan, if they all come together at the end, although this could also be a perfect stage for a breakaway to stay away and cross the finish line first. Don’t bet on it, though. Those sprinters are hungry for success – and will be looking to deliver fireworks on the Fourth of July.

Cycling the Alps’ interactive videos of the route can be found here.

Link: Official website

Tour de France: Stage 3 review

Stage 3: Orchies to Boulogne-sur-Mer, 197km

The ‘Tourminater’ aka Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) easily triumphed once more on a stiff ramp and celebrated with a new Forrest Gump-style victory dance. He insouciantly sailed over the line ahead of runner-up Edvald Boassen Hagen (Sky). Peter Velits (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) was third, while Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) finished fourth to retain the maillot jaune.

Ruben Plaza (Euskaltel-Euskadi) initiated the day’s five-man breakaway, which was never allowed more than a five-minute advantage. Andriy Grivko (Astana) and mountains jersey wearer Michael Morkov (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) – the latter in his third consecutive breakaway, earning him today’s most combative rider prize – were the last to be taken back. By then the race had already imploded with around 30km remaining, after a series of crashes and punctures on narrowing roads split in the peloton.

French housewives’ favourite Sylvain Chavanel (OPQS) launched his attack 5km from the finish on a course where last year he won his national road race. After almost coming to grief at a roundabout, he was reeled back in by the decimated, BMC-led chasing pack whose trajectory was halted in the final few hundred metres by a Vacansoleil rider falling in their midst.

As the final climb ramped up, Sagan jumped away and powered to his second win in three days, emulating a feat – two wins in a debut Tour – last achieved by Tom Boonen. He now has a firm hold on the green jersey, while Cancellara‘s still looking imperious in yellow.

VeloVoices rider of the day

This was a tricky one. In the end I went for Saxo Bank’s Michael Morkov. This is the third consecutive day he’s been in a breakaway, hoovering up King of the Mountains points to consolidate his hold on the jersey. A smart move, as his leader-less team needs both points and exposure.

Like Sagan, he too is a Tour virgin but, as his super smooth pedalling style reveals, he’s one of Denmark’s many, and probably most decorated, track stars. I’m hoping Saxo’s kit provider is finally going to spring for some spotted shorts and socks to go with the shirt, helmet and matching handlebar tape. At this stage, a spotted bike would be totally over the top – although team chef Hannah Grant has obviously been busy:

Morkov is also clearly a fan of the film Mary Poppins because in the post-race interview below (audio only) he described Sagan’s victory today as “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”.

Observations

With about 20km of the stage remaining, it looked as if Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), escorted by a handful of his teammates, had punctured but it was instead a problem with his derailleur. His team car couldn’t get up to him so he resorted to the Mavic neutral service vehicle which was visibly ‘tangoed’ by the excitable orange-clad posse all shouting instructions in Spanish and Basque to the French-speaking mechanic. Fortunately, he rapidly resolved the problem and Samu and his boys shot off in pursuit of the leading group.

The various crashes in the final hour produced the first three abandons of the race: Kanstantsin Siutsou (Sky) fractured his left tibia and Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) broke a collarbone, while Maarten Tjallingii withdrew after making it to the finish with a fractured hip.

Tactical analysis

Event director Jean-Francois Pescheux warned that today’s stage contained potential perils and that the Tour could be lost here. After a few seemingly innocuous spills and punctures in the first 100km of the race, it all blew apart in the final 30km. Those with the wit or luck to be up the front of the peloton took advantage of the crashes, punctures and narrow roads to decimate the bunch. So who were today’s losers?

Despite crashes, punctures and mechanicals, none of the GC contenders lost any time on today’s stage. Three riders – Philippe Gilbert (BMC), Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) and Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) – all of whom might have hoped to be in contention for today’s stage win, were distanced by the crashes and didn’t figure. Voeckler finished nearly 7½ minutes down complaining about the injured knee which nearly kept him out of the Tour.

More significantly, Sky have lost a valuable workhorse in Siutsou which puts team leader Bradley Wiggins at a disadvantage. Similarly Robert Gesink’s chances are diminished by the loss of Tjallingii. Garmin-Sharp’s Ryder Hesjedal may be in a similar situation if Tom Danielson’s shoulder injury prevents him from taking the start line tomorrow.

Conversely, who were today’s winners? One word: Sagan, who cemented both his growing reputation and his grip on the green jersey, extending his lead over Sky’s Mark Cavendish to 43 points.

VeloVoices will bring you previews of each day’s stage every morning, live coverage of every stage on Twitterreviews in the evening and in-depth analysis after selected stages.

Link: Tour de France official website

Tour de France preview: Stage 3

Stage 3: Orchies to Boulogne-sur-Mer, 197km, rolling

Another rolling stage for the puncheurs, this stage starts out in Orchies – a name familiar to anyone who loves Paris-Roubaix – so we know this’ll be a stage that calls for guts. Add to that six sharp hills  – five of which contain 10% gradients, with four within the last 16km – and the whole peloton will be screaming “shut up, legs!” If that’s not enough, the finishing climb into Boulogne-sur-Mer is 700m at 7.4%.

Another win for Peter Sagan? An opportunity for yellow jersey Fabian Cancellara to reverse the stage one result? Or a chance for Philippe Gilbert to redeem himself? The shortness of the final climb will discourage attacks among the GC contenders, but don’t be surprised if an opportunistic Cadel Evans looks to regain some psychological points – and maybe a handful of seconds – back from Bradley Wiggins.

Although the finish isn’t one for the sprinters, there will still be 20 green jersey points up for grabs as the intermediate sprint comes after 119km, before the first of the six climbs. A long, straight approach will give the sprinters time to set up for a slightly uphill run to the line. With Sagan, Edvald Boasson Hagen and perhaps Matt Goss the only green jersey contenders likely to have the legs to the contest the hilly finish, this will be a critical opportunity for the pure sprinters to keep themselves in touch.

Cycling the Alps’ interactive videos of the route can be found here.

Link: Official website