A group of blokes went faster, much, much faster than the other groups of blokes. Sky were even more dominant than I thought they would be today, beating BMC by 38 seconds with third placed team Lotto Soudal coming home 53 seconds behind.
Annoyingly Mitchelton finished 3 seconds down on Soudal in the end to make it an abysmal afternoon. Looking at the split times, it would appear they went out too fast and suffered for it in the end. Oh well, moving on, again!
Team Sky are now in a very strong position GC wise with 4 competent climbers occupying the 1-4 spots in the standings. There is still plenty of racing left though for some to challenge them so let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders on stage 4.
Tomorrow marks the start of 4 days in the mountains for the riders.
With 3200m of elevation, it isn’t the toughest test they will face this week but the stage is back loaded with climbing. Don’t expect much to happen until around the 55km to go mark when the ascent of the Col u Mont Noir begins. Arguably one of the toughest climbs in the race, it averages just under 7% for 17.5km.
As you can see the climb is quite irregular with the percentage of each kilometre constantly changing, but it does mostly stay between the 6-9% range. The toughest gradients come in the middle third of the ascent so if there is any major damage to be done, this will be the place, as it gets slightly easier near the top.
A fast descent follows before the road goes up in steps towards the finish. The initial uncategorised drag is 9.5km at 3.5%, before the oxymoronic rolling-plateau, which is followed by the final climb to the finish line.
Depending on how aggressively the previous part of the race has been approached, the 4.8km at 7.5% climb could see some GC splits but it is most likely to bear witness to a group of favourites coming to the line together.
How will the race pan out?
There are significant time gaps in the GC after today’s TTT but that was almost expected!
I’ll be intrigued to see if anyone throws the kitchen sink at it tomorrow because there are still three very hard stages to come on Friday through Sunday. Tomorrow’s stage is the most traditional mountain stage as well, coming in at 181km whereas the other remaining days are 130km or less. A lot is expected of these short stages from the organisers and the press, so there is a chance that teams already have one eye on them and might not risk everything tomorrow.
With that said though, Col du Mont Noir is arguably the hardest climb in the race so a lot of riders can be put into difficulty there. The only issue with that is a team will need a good few domestiques left to push the pace on the uncategorised drag and rolling terrain before the final climb itself. If not, it is just a wasted effort.
Sky might play it defensively, knowing what is to come, particularly on Saturday and Sunday but then again, they could be aggressive and send someone on the attack and force other teams to chase. That’s quite unlike them though.
I would love to see someone attack from far out, let’s say Dan Martin for example, but I just think it would be a foolish move to make with tricky valley roads and climbs to negotiate before the actual finish climb.
Therefore I think we’ll see a fairly controlled pace on Mont Noir from Sky, keeping things together going into last ascent. At just under 5km they should have enough firepower to hold things together for the majority of the ascent too and it might be in the final kilometre that we see an attack from a GC rider. Even if they break the Sky stranglehold, they won’t gain more than 15 seconds on them there. It could even come down to a 5-6 GC rider sprint, as I alluded to before.
There is a chance that the break makes it all the way tomorrow but it all depends on how determined Sky are to bring it back together, or if they keep it on a tight-ish leash, who takes the bait and works in the final 40km.
If so, some names to look out for include De Gendt (obviously), Cummings (needs a good performance at some point this race), Gaudu (if he’s recovered from his hand injury), G. Martin (if someone high-up-ish on GC wants to get into the move).
I don’t think anything will come to fruition on Mont Noir so it will all come down to the final climb and we’ll either see a controlled pace from Sky that will lead to an all out last kilometre, or, there will be attacks at the bottom that possibly might be let go dependant on how far down the rider is on GC. Then again, Sky aren’t known for letting that happen too much in races so most likely they’ll be brought back for an all out battle in the final kilometre.
Well, looks like it will be an all out battle in the final kilometre then…
Alaphilippe – If the pace on MN isn’t high then he is stage favourite as a 5km climb is no issue for him, it is when back to back climbs are taken at pace that I worry for him. In a sprint to the line it will be tough for any GC guy to beat him.
Yates – Possibly the only rider here confident of going against Alaphilippe in an uphill sprint on a climb, the Mitchelton rider is very explosive when needed. He’s slowly been building his form looking ahead to the Tour. Can he produce what his brother did in the Giro?
D. Martin – He’s been awful this year, I’m not going to beat around the bush. Having only managed to top 10s all season, a big result is needed this race for a confidence booster. Normally this finish would be ideal for the Irishman.
Thomas – I think he’s flying at the moment and would not be surprised to see him win tomorrow. He would have won the prologue and he was strong today in the TTT – it will be interesting to see how that relates to climbing legs though.
Bardet – The rider everyone will be watching, he has said he is here to win the race. Currently sitting 1’52 behind Kwiatkowski, some of that deficit needs to be cut tomorrow. Capable of a stinging uphill attack, he has a good chance.
Zakarin – Will we see a #ZakAttack? With the uphill finish he will certainly fancy it compared to some of the days that are filled with treacherous descents. At 2 minutes down, he won’t be immediately marked.
The remnants of the break to make it all the way with Guillaume Martin taking a surprising stage win after beating De Gendt on the final climb.
Maybe, who knows.
GC wise, Thomas to stamp his authority on the race.
De Gendt too short for my liking so
1pt WIN G Martin @ 66/1
1pt WIN Gaudu @ 40/1 (hoping he’s recovered from his crash)
Might back a GC rider in-play.
Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow and how? Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.