What’s the stage like?
Most of its 192km looks pointless. The first 155km must qualify as one of the longest sections of completely flat road in Europe, and the last 12km reverts to type. Plonked at the end, though, are two incongruous climbs, both short and vicious, with sections topping out at gradients of 20% and 18%.
The climbs will undoubtedly cause splits, but it’s not guaranteed that the sprinters will be eliminated by them, so whilst it’s a stage that points us towards the puncheurs, it’s worth considering which fastmen might make the selection.
Who are the favourites?
It’s little surprise to see Peter Sagan (3/14.00) topping most lists – as we’ve continually noted, he’s in fine form – but those odds are short when there are a few doubts over whether this stage really suits him as well as it might first seem.
First, Sagan is vulnerable to an early attack by a rival on either of those climbs and, being the marked man that he is, everyone else will sit back, feeling it’s Sagan’s job to respond and not theirs. His team, Bora Hansgrohe, might be able to mitigate this risk by getting enough pace up front to discourage and chase down any late breakaways. But it’s still a risk.
Second, should Sagan go for a late break himself, much like he did on Stage 10, he will have to contend with a wide, straight run-in – not ideal for a rider who is trying to disappear off the front with a peloton in chase.
There is another risk for Sagan, too.
Who are the most likely outsiders?
Arnaud Demare (19/120.00) might seem out of contention on this parcours, but he showed on Stage 4 and Stage 6 that he’s more than capable of coping with some hills in the approach to a sprint finish, and his four stage wins so far tell us that if he contests a sprint against this field, he’ll likely win it.
A case can be made for a host of others – including Diego Ulissi (15/116.00), Ben Swift (13/114.00), and Davide Ballerini (13/114.00) – but it will take an audacious approach for them to deny Sagan, and if the peloton stays together, Demare might deliver his most unlikely stage win yet.
What effect will it have on the overall market?
Which leaves the Points Classification centre stage. Sagan now finds himself 36 points behind Demare, and he’ll be hoping to close that gap enough to really capitalise in the final week when Demare will begin to struggle in the mountains.
*Odds correct at the time of writing