As expected, it all ended in a bunch sprint on Stage 12 and that should be scenario again on Friday’s Stage 13. Let’s hope this superstitious combination won’t send more riders to the ground as ASO once again have made the final, well, shall we say “interesting” - more on that later.
Like Thursday’s stage, this is another flat one. There is a small category 4 climb with about 100 km to go but the 1.2 km of 4 % towards the top of Côte de Crotz will barely be noticed in the peloton. The intermediate sprint is located after 112.5 km of the stage and we will see the peloton speed up as usually, which should kill a breakaway’s chances of succeeding.
The route takes the riders southeast and that could make for interesting racing if the wind is strong. As it is now, it won’t be a factor though. With ‘only’ 173 km and a light tailwind, it will be a very fast stage and I can’t see a break making it. This is most likely the last stage for the sprinters before Paris and they simply can’t afford to miss out.
Looking at the profile, there seems to be a tough climb close to the line. That isn’t the case. The road does kick up a little but only for 2.5 km with an average of 2.6 %. This surely won’t be enough to drop the sprinters. The run-in towards the finishing line isn’t very complicated but again ASO have decided to spice it up with a couple of tricky corners on the last kilometer. First the peloton turns left in a roundabout, then right - onto a smaller road - then right again and finally left in a roundabout with 400 meters to go. These four corners mean it’s very important to have one or two leadout men left before the final stretch. The finishing line is placed on Rue Pelletier d’Oisy; a parallel road to Avenue du Tour de France which seems like a more logical choice? Oh well.
What Argos-Shimano and Marcel Kittel did on Stage 12 was simply outstanding. Without Tom Veelers, Koen de Kort delivered Marcel Kittel perfectly on the wheel of Mark Cavendish. Gert Steegmans did a great leadout for the Manxman and even though he seemed sure to take the win, Marcel Kittel managed to come around Cavendish on the final meters. Much like he on Stage 10, when Greipel seemed sure to win. Kittel is right now the fastest sprinter in the world and if Cavendish can’t beat him with a perfect leadout, it will be difficult to deny the strong German his 4th stage win of this year’s Tour de France Friday afternoon. For the first time this Tour, Marcel Kittel is now the man to beat but I doubt he will crack under the pressure…
The sprint ended early for Lotto-Belisol and Andre Greipel on Stage 12. So far, they have been great at hitting the front at the right time but now it will be more than difficult. Sieberg and Henderson - two of Greipel’s most important leadout riders - both went down hard in the crash and like Veelers, they probably need a few days to get ready again. Furthermore, Jurgen Roelandts hurts his back again after another rider didn’t manage to break in time.
Omega Pharma Quickstep did everything right on Stage 12 but Cavendish simply didn’t have the legs to finish it off. Naturally he - and the team - will be eager to take revenge but against Super Kittel, it won’t be easy. Peter Sagan seems satisfied with getting third and fourth and I expect him to do that again in Saint-Amand-Montrond.
As I said yesterday, I’m starting to run out of jokers to pick. I’ve already been through most of them and it seems like only Yohann Gene is left. Europcar have been trying to set him up for the sprint the last days and Gene is getting better and better. He has Kévin Reza to deliver him onto the right wheel and if he can stay out of trouble, he should be able to do Top10 again.
Favorite: Marcel KittelJoker: Yohann Gene
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