08/06 - Stage 4 - Le Touguet-Paris-Plage to Lille Métropole - 163.5 km

After three great stages in the UK, the Tour now enters France with yet another stage for the sprinters. Let’s see if the French spectators have accepted the challenge and show up in the same numbers as the Brits in Yorkshire. Most likely, it won't be the case.

The route
This is another relatively short stage. With only 163.5 km to overcome, the rides are in for another fast day in the saddle. The first 70 km includes numerous small hills. However, only one of them is categorized. There are only 2 KOM points up for grabs today. Therefore, it will be interesting to see if riders like Nicolas Edet, Jens Voigt and Blel Kadri will try to join the morning breakaway, hoping to take the polka dot jersey at the end of the day. All three riders are within two points of Cyril Lemoine.

Today's intermediate sprint is located in Cassel and will be a big challenge for the sprinters. The line is placed on top of a two kilometers long hill, meaning Peter Sagan will have a big advantage. As you can see on the profile on the right, the 2 km have an average gradient of about 5 %. The descent takes place on pavé roads, giving the riders a taste of what is awaiting them tomorrow.

The last climb of the day is Mont Noir (1.3 km / avg. 5.7 %). There are still 45 flat kilometers to go from the top of this category 4 climb. Even the heaviest sprinters shouldn't have any problems getting back in case they get dropped on the hills. There is a chance of crosswind after Mont Noir, but as of Monday evening, it looks more like a tailwind, setting for fast run-in.

The finish
With two kilometers to go, the riders pass under the railroads. The first couple of hundred meters are slightly uphill, making it very important to have a strong leadout. Then, the peloton turns left onto Boulevard de Lezennes. The last kilometer-banner comes soon after, leading up to a fast finish in front of the new Pierre Mauroy stadium. There is a big left-hand bend with about 400 meters to go. A rider entering this bend in second position with a strong leadout rider in front of him, will be extremely difficult to pass before the line.

The favorites
For a fast finish like this one, there really is only one favorite. Marcel Kittel has no match for these kinds of bunch sprints. Giant-Shimano performed another perfect leadout on stage 3, giving Tom Veelers time to celebrate before Kittel had even crossed the finishing line. The strong German says he’s not aiming for the green jersey, keeping his sole focus on winning stages. Kittel doesn’t contest in the intermediate sprint, which means he comes to the final sprint a bit fresher than Peter Sagan, for example. Without any incidents, I will be very surprised not to see Marcel Kittel take his third stage win in this year’s Tour de France on Tuesday afternoon.

The rest
Andre Greipel hasn’t had much luck in the race so far. Lotto-Belisol has been the first team to take responsibility in the peloton chasing the breakaways within the last couple of days. They should probably let the other teams do the work this time, saving their energy for the final sprint. The finish is perfect for Greipel and if his team performs well, he should be able to give Kittel a good fight. The most important thing is to take the front of the peloton on the final two kilometers. If Lotto-Belisolo can time it correctly this time, it will increase Greipel’s chances of success enormously. I see Andre Greipel as the second fastest rider in this race, meaning if something happens to Marcel Kittel, the German champion will have a good chance of winning this stage.

For Peter Sagan, the number one priority, once again, is to stay near the front and collect points for the green jersey. He doesn’t have the top speed to outsprint Kittel, but as long as he keeps on making top3 or top5, nobody will be able to rip the green jersey off his shoulders. Stage 5 on the cobblestones will be a much better opportunity for Peter Sagan to take the stage win, since Kittel and Greipel most likely won’t be there in the final. Today, I expect Sagan to win the intermediate sprint (within the peloton) and finish off the day with another top place just behind the best sprinters.

Before the Tour de France started, the most hyped Frenchman for the sprints had been Arnaud Démare, just off a fresh win at the national championships. However, so far, it has been another French rider who’s been showing the best sprinting legs. Bryan Coquard is contesting in the intermediate sprints - “to get some action” - and he’s proven to be very fast. Coquard comes from the track and has a very powerful kick. After his strong start to the race, Europcar has now devoted a couple of riders to make sure Bryan Coquard is perfectly placed for the final sprint. Yohann Gene and especially Kevin Reza are the two most important riders for Coquard. Europar won't be able to make a leadout train like Giant-Shimano or Lotto-Belisol. Instead, Kevin Reza has to place Bryan Coquard on the wheel of one of the top sprinters, preferably on the wheel of Marcel Kittel. It’s a tall order, but if it works out perfectly, I’m sure Coquard will be able to make podium in Lille.

For other candidates, look to riders like Mark Renshaw, the new designated sprinter at OPQS, Danny Van Poppel, Romain Feillu, Zak Dempster, Adrien Petit and Heinrich Haussler, not to forget Alexander Kristoff. The big Norwegian dug deep on stage 2 hoping to fight for the win, without luck. In London, Kristoff lacked a little speed, probably paying for his strong effort the day before. Stage 5 is a big goal for the Katusha sprinter. In case it gets too hectic in the sprint today, Kristoff may hold back a little, especially if he sees the win is out of his reach.

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