The Tour de France says goodbye to Brittany with a stage that sees the first summit finish of this year’s race. As the favourites get their first chance to make their mark, join The Roar for live coverage of Stage 6 from 10pm (AEST).
After last night’s stage saw the first real stretch of hilly racing, tonight’s stage follows a similar pattern, with four categorised climbs on the menu, including the stage finish on the category 3 Mûr de Bretagne.
It is here that we will potentially see some fireworks from the puncheurs, including Julian Alaphillippe and Dan Martin.
The race begins in the seaside town of Brest, up near the fictional home of Asterix the Gaul, but hopefully the riders won’t be needing any magic potion today as they head south-east away from the coast towards the double ascent of the Mur de Bretagne.
This will be a climb familiar to many Australians, for it was here seven years ago where Cadel Evans claimed victory over Alberto Contador on the way to his history-making win the 2011 Tour de France. BMC team director Jim Ochowitz was there on the scene back then and will be hoping Richie Porte might be able to do something similar today.
For a result more relevant to today’s stage, you only have to look back to the last time this climb was ridden at the Tour, in 2015, where Alexis Vuillermoz won the stage and Chris Froome stamped his authority on the race.
Greg Van Avermaet will find it hard to defend his yellow jersey with such a narrow lead to defend on a sharp climb and – unless he fancies his chances of surviving for the sprint finish, where he would be favoured to win – will likely race for his team leader, Porte.
This is the first climb of the 2018 Tour where the gradient consistently ramps above ten per cent and it should be a finish where both the classics riders and the puncheurs come to the fore. With little chance of a sprint finish, a larger than usual breakaway is probable.
Regardless of whether or not the breakaway succeeds, the fact that the climb will be ascended twice means that the race is likely to finish with a small bunch fighting it out for the stage win and, for the overall contenders, time gains.
Men like Dan Martin are likely to go full gas today for the glory of victory on the first summit of this year’s Tour. The Irishman will be at his strongest in the first week and looks a good pick for a stage win here, if not a high overall finish.
Others to watch include Frenchman Julian Alaphillippe, who will be keen for a first win in his home Grand Tour; old warhorse Spaniard Alejandro Valverde, who at 38 still has the potential to cause a surprise; and the two Belgian rivals Philippe Gilbert and Greg van Avermaet, who will fancy their chances if they can make it to the top in the final group.
And you can’t discount any of the main GC contenders if bonus seconds are on offer.