10/07 - Stage 7 - Livarot to Fougères - 190.5 km

The route
Today, the riders finally should be able to take a breather. The weather forecast is good and even though a head/crosswind will accompany the peloton for the majority of the day, it doesn’t seem to be strong enough to cause any splits.  

The only categorized climb of the day comes at the very beginning of the stage and has its top after just 12.5 km of racing. Côte de Canapville is 1.9 km long and has an average gradient of 4.7 %. It offers 1 KOM point, which means Daniel Teklahaimanot will keep the polka jersey as long as Purito Rodriguez doesn’t win the sprint.

With 125 km to go, the peloton reaches the intermediate sprint in Argentan. It’s an easy run-in on a long straight-out road. The riders targeting the green jersey will be able to fight for important points and still be well rested in time for the final sprint.

Since this stage easily could be the last chance for the pure sprinters to shine before Paris, it seems highly unlikely that a morning breakaway will make it today. It’s been a hard start to the Tour de France but the teams of the sprinters simply can’t afford to miss out.

As the riders enters La Chapelle-Janson and turn right, there are just 10 km to go. From here, they continue on the undulating D17 for about 6 km as they head towards the finishing town Fougères. With about 4 km to go, the peloton turns left in a roundabout. About a kilometer later, there is another roundabout. The following part is downhill, meaning it will be difficult to move up in the pack as the peloton is already stretched out due to the roundabouts.

Soon after passing under the 2-km-to-go banner, yet another roundabout awaits the riders. Here, it’s important to stay in the right lane as it’s shorter than the left one. If you go the wrong way around, you will lose important positions, which might ruin your chances of success if you have to spent unnecessary energy getting back to the front.

The last kilometer of the stage also includes a roundabout. Once again, the peloton will be stretched out. A tailwind on the last 600 meters will make for a fast finish. Usually this would mean that strong power sprinters could afford to start their sprint early and still win. However, it’s very important to remember that the final 300 meters are uphill with an average gradient of around 4 % all the way towards the finishing line. You need to time your sprint to perfection if you want to win this stage.

The favorites
For the third time in just six days, Peter Sagan had to settle for second place as Zdenek Stybar won in Le Havre. Luckily for the Slovakian, he will get another chance in Fougères. The uphill finish suits Sagan very well. Again, the main priority is to keep Alberto Contador save and sound but it shouldn’t really be a problem today. If he can position himself well on the last couple of kilometers, Sagan will be very difficult to beat.  

Andre Greipel has been the best sprinter so far in this year’s Tour de France. He won stage 2 in Holland and got the needed confidence boost, which helped him to power past everybody else in Amiens on stage 5. Usually, a flat sprint would favor Greipel but in the past, he has proven to be very good on these kinds of finishes as well. Don’t forget that Greipel once finished second in Stirling in Tour Down Under, only beaten by an exceptional Michael Matthews. It won’t be easy for Lotto-Soudal to position Greipel well without a couple of his main leadout riders. However, on stage 5, he showed that he can do just fine with only a few strong riders at this service.

Giant-Alpecin has tried hard to set up John Degenkolb the last couple of days. They messed up in Cambrai when they reacted too late to Tony Martin’s attack. In Amiens, they forgot to drag the leadout to the side of the road, which caused Degenkolb to lose the wheel of his teammates. On stage 6, the late crash left Degenkolb alone in the group without any teammates to reel back Stybar. Despite all this, Degenkolb has still been able to finish 2nd, 6th and 4th the last three days. The strong German is obviously in great shape. He just needs a little luck with his leadout. It’s difficult for him to match the big power sprinters on flat road. The uphill finish today, however, suits him very well. If Giant-Alpecin gets their leadout right - which they have done brilliantly so many times in recent years - Degenkolb may finally take his first ever Tour de France win.

The outsiders
Given this is a flat stage, it may not seem fair only to mention Mark Cavendish as an outsider. However, the fact is that the Manxman hasn’t been able to win yet. He and his team messed up in Zeeland and in Amiens, Cavendish lost the wheel of his leadout train and started his sprint way too early. There is no doubt that Cavendish is in good condition. However, he needs to have more patience. The last 300 meters uphill don’t exactly favor him but with a proper leadout, it won’t be a surprise if he wins either.

On paper, this stage suits Alexander Kristoff perfectly. With an uphill tailwind sprint, Kristoff will be able to perform one of his well-known sprints from far out. At 100 %, few in the world would be able to beat the Norwegian on a finish like this. However, Kristoff doesn’t seem to be on top his game right now. He’s getting there but only slowly. He’s not the top favorite but, like Cavendish, it would be a big mistake to underestimate him.

For other good riders well suited for this kind of finish, look to Davide Cimolai, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Arnaud Démare, Julien Simon, Sam Bennett, Armindo Fonseca and of course Bryan Coquard who turned out to be just as strong as expected on stage 6.

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

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