Stage 4 of the 2018 Tour de France sees the race wind its way north into Brittany and barring accidents or weather, it should be one for the sprinters. Join The Roar for live coverage from 9:30pm (AEST).
Following the shake-up of the general classification standings after BMC’s dramatic victory in yesterday’s team time trial, the major teams would ideally be hoping for an easier day in the saddle in a stage that contains only one categorised climb. Greg Van Avermaet shouldn’t have any trouble keeping his yellow jersey today.
The stage starts in the seaside resort town of La Baule on the Atlantic Ocean, heading inland north-east to an intermediate sprint at the village of Derval, before making the turn back west towards the Gulf of Morbihan and an extremely likely sprint finish in Sarzeau, the home of UCI President (and town mayor) David Lappartient.
The only uphill stretch of road deemed worthy of official recognition is the category four Côté de Saint-Jean la Poterie, a short and relatively sharp interlude of 800 metres at 7.8 per cent, 60 kilometres out from the finish.
If New Zealander Dion Smith wants to extend his historic stay in the polka-dot jersey, he’s going to have to make the break and lead the race over the top of this summit or risk surrendering his lead to one of the breakaway riders.
Aside from this categorised climb, today’s stage will be relatively flat, but a few uncategorised Breton hills will be sure to test the legs of anyone feeling under the weather.
Most of the focus, however, will be on the finish of the race and on a star-studded sprinting line-up who will no doubt be licking their lips at the prospect of tackling the longest stretch of straight road in French cycling – measured at four kilometres.
With no corners or any sort of turns to navigate in the lead up to the finish, this is sure to be a finish where endurance and power will come to the fore. This will be a long sprint, one where the timing of the final kick to the line will be crucial, and one which is likely to give a clear indication of where the major sprinting contenders are truly at.
An uphill finish over the last two kilometres is likely to suit world champion Peter Sagan, who will go in as slight favourite ahead of Colombian young gun Fernando Gaviria, who has looked in ominous form, as well as German giant Marcel Kittel and Norwegian Alexander Kristoff.
Others likely to be in the mix include Italian Sonny Colbrelli, in strong form and looking to break his Grand Tour duck, local hope Arnaud Demare and grizzled German veteran Andre Greipel. Aussie hopes will rest on Michael Matthews, who is an outside chance here.
Questions will start to be asked of Mark Cavendish’s form if he fails to fire here, with the 33-year Manxman yet to register a top ten result over the first two sprint finishes.
I’m tipping Sagan for the win simply because of his experience, power and tactical nous but Gaviria is definitely the man to watch and will be hungry for more success after his Stage 1 victory.