09/07 - Stage 6 - Abbeville to Le Havre - 191.5 km

The route
Today’s stage will be yet another windy day in the saddle for the riders. However, the weather forecast predicts much more sunny conditions than yesterday. It should stay dry all the way from Abbeville to Le Havre. The terrain is very undulating, with numerous hills to overcome. There are three KOM sprints on the menu, each of them offering 1 KOM point to the first rider over the top. This means that if the same rider crowns all three climbs, he will end up in the polka dot jersey at the end of the day.

The peloton takes on the first one of the categorized climbs soon after entering Dieppe. From here, the majority of the remaining 125 km will take place near the coast. The riders will be battling a crosswind, meaning we could easily see the peloton blown apart once again. The intermediate sprint is located in Saint-Léonard after 144.5 km on the bike. It’s a 2 km uphill sprint with an average gradient of 3.5 %. For the riders targeting the green jersey, it will be important not to open your sprint too early.

After crowning Côte du Tilleul with 30 km to go, the peloton continues on D940 all the way towards Le Havre. It’s not exactly right next to the sea but it doesn’t mean the wind won’t have an impact. The terrain is completely exposed, once again, without anywhere to seek shelter.

As the riders enter Le Havre, they reach the seafront with just under 6 km to go. They stay here for about a kilometer until a left-right bend takes them on to Boulevard Francois 1er. You can’t really see it on the profile but the following 1.5 km are ever so slightly uphill. It’s very important to be well placed in the peloton at this point as four sharp corners await the riders on the next couple of kilometers.

With 1.4 km to go, the road starts to kick up towards the top of Côte d'Ingouville. These 900 meters have an average gradient of 7 % with a few parts of double digits gradients. Especially the right-hand bend before la flamme rouge is steep. From the top of this uncategorized climb, the last 500 meters of the stage are straight-out towards the finishing line in front of Fort de Tourneville. 

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The favorites
Given his impressive performances so far, Peter Sagan has to be the prime pick for this stage. The number one priority is to keep Alberto Contador safe but without any incidents, the Tinkoff-Saxo riders shouldn’t have any problems doing just that. They have been very good in the crosswind and it’s hard to see Contador getting dropped today. The finish suits Sagan very well. The first part of the last climb may be a little bit steeper the Slovakian usually likes but if he survives that part, he’ll be able to turn on the afterburner on the last flat part. Sagan was very fast on the final meters of stage 5. He has finished in top3 on three of the last four stages. Today may be the day he finally gets it right. It would also be of huge importance for the green jersey, if the ascent proves to be too much for Andre Greipel.

The finish in Le Havre reminds me a bit of the one in Arcos de la Frontera in the Vuelta a España last year. Back then, Giant-Alpecin tried to set up John Degenkolb but hit the front too early and ran out of energy. This time, it may be different. The flat power sprint on stage 5 didn’t favor the German. This uphill finish, however, should be right up his alley. Don’t forget that Degenkolb won the extremely steep finish in Dubai Tour earlier this year.

Personally, I have high hopes for Bryan Coquard today. Despite coming from the track, Coquard is very strong on these kinds of finishes. He was in a league of his own in Route du Sud last month winning two stages. Yesterday, he crashed twice but he still managed to finish 8th in the difficult headwind sprint. With Nacer Bouhanni out of the race and Arnaud Démare far from his top level, Coquard could very well be France’s only chance of sprint victory this year’s Tour.

The outsiders
In case the finish turns out to be too hard for the sprinters, Alejandro Valverde may take revenge after a poor performance on Mur de Huy. On paper, this finish suits him perfectly. Much depends on positioning on the last 3 km, but if Valverde starts on the final climb amongst the first 10 riders, he will have a very good chance of taking an important stage win for him and the team. An uphill finish would have been better for the Spanish champion but he has proven numerous times that he’s more than capable of winning a flat sprint as well.

Edvald Boasson Hagen is another very good pick today. The strong Norwegian was constantly amongst the first on the paves the other day, proving to be in great condition. He opened his sprint too early, in a desperate attempt to catch Martin. It cost him a spot on the podium but today, he has another chance. The finish suits him very well. As it evens out on the last 500 meters, Boasson Hagen will be able to use his big engine to power past the light riders who may have a small gap after the climb.

For other fast riders who can do very well today, look to Tony Gallopin - who seems to be very strong right now - Davide Cimolai, Greg Van Avermaet, Dan Martin and the strong Etixx trio of Michal Kwiatkowski, Zdenek Stybar and Matteo Trentin who may get a chance to chase own success if Mark Cavendish can’t stay in contention. On his very best days, Alexander Kristoff wouldn’t be far off. However, he doesn’t seem to be on top of his game right now. Instead, Katusha may try something with Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez and Giampaolo Caruso just as they did in Arcos de la Frontera last year.

Usually, this would be a stage with Orica GreenEdge written all over it. Michael Matthews thrives on these kinds of finishes. Unfortunately, the young Australian is still suffering badly from his crash on stage 3. For him, survival will be the main goal again today. Orica GreenEdge’s best option today might be youngster Simon Yates who did very well on Mur de Huy.

For live coverage of the stage, go to steephill.tv.

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