10/06 - Stage 6 - Arras to Reims - 194 km

This is another stage for the sprinters. After Wednesday’s brutal stage on the cobblestones, the riders should be able to enjoy a much less stressful day in the saddle today.

The route
Starting out in Arras, the peloton will be heading south-southeast for most of the day towards the finishing town Reims. The weather forecast shows a light possibility of rain but most likely, it will stay dry for most of the day. Many will be hoping for a quiet day on the bike after yesterday’s mayhem and, on paper, this looks like a very uneventful day. A strong tailwind will make for a fast stage, despite the length of nearly 200 km. However, in case the wind direction changes, this could be another crucial day with strong crosswinds. The GC riders have to pay close attention!

There are two KOM points up for grabs today. One on the top of Côte de Coucy-le-Château-Auffrique (900 meters at 6.2 %) and one on the top of Côte de Roucy (1.5 km at 6.2 %). Cyril Lemoine is still leading the KOM competition with a total of 6 points. The only riders able to take the polka dot jersey off his shoulders today are Blel Kadri (5 points), Jens Voigt (4 points) and his team mate Nicolas Edet (4 points).

There is a short uncategorized climb with a bit more than 30 km to go, but it’s nothing that should be able to prevent the inevitable bunch sprint at the end of the day.

The finish
Coming into Reims, the final part of the stage is pretty much straight-out. However, no less than nine roundabouts await the riders on the final 6 km. The peloton will be stretched out significantly here, meaning it’s very important to be near the front much earlier than usually. Giant-Shimano probably can’t afford to wait until the last 2 km before hitting the front. The last kilometer is straight-out all the way towards the finishing line. Despite the tricky roundabouts, this will be a very fast sprint, suiting the big power sprinter.

The favorite
Once again, the number one favorite is Marcel Kittel. As mentioned numerous times already, Kittel has the best leadout train in the peloton. Even if they don’t get it right, the big German has proven to be more than capable of winning anyway. Like many of the sprinters, Kittel crashed on the slippery roads on stage 5. However, his injuries don’t seem to be too serious. John Degenkolb, however, went down hard and suffered a small rupture in the gluteus maximus. He will be suffering today. Degenkolb is the third man in front of Marcel Kittel in the Giant-Shimano leadout train. Due to the many roundabouts, it might be required to take the lead of the peloton a little earlier than usually today. This means that Degenkolb has to pull for a bit longer than he normally does. It will be interesting to see if he’s up for the challenge. If not, this may hamper Marcel Kittel’s chances of a fourth stage win. Personally, I think he will win it though.

The best of the rest
Many riders crashed on stage 5, even before reaching the first pave section. Andre Greipel, Alexander Kristoff and Arnaud Démare all went down. It’s hard to say how their bodies will react after these crashes.

On paper, Andre Greipel should be the fastest rider after Kittel in this field. However, so far, the German champion has been horrible at positioning himself near the front for the sprints. Without Greg Henderson as his final leadout, I think it will be very difficult for Greipel today. Alexander Kristoff on the other hand, has been getting better and better as the race evolves. After an incredible leadout from Alexander Porsev on stage 4, Kristoff almost managed to hold off Marcel Kittel. In hindsight, Porsev probably started his leadout too early. The Russian champion is obviously in great shape right now. If he manages to time his leadout a little bit better, Kristoff will be able to give Kittel another close fight for the win.

Arnaud Démare had problems positioning himself well in the first couple of stages. This is Démare’s first Tour de France and, naturally, he has to learn how these sprints are done at this level. Still, the French champion is definitely not lacking any speed. On stage 4, Démare, once again in poor position, almost managed to catch Marcel Kittel after a long sprint. If FDJ puts Arnaud Démare in a good position this time, I’m sure the young Frenchman will prove his incredible talent and give Kittel and the rest a run for the money.

Peter Sagan is yet to finish outside of top4 in this Tour de France. The green jersey already seems secured, but the Slovakian wonderboy is still without a stage win. Sagan missed out on stage 5 when he paid too much attention to Fabian Cancellara. Most likely, this cost him the stage win. Today’s finish doesn’t really suit Peter Sagan but maybe he can turn his frustration into a victory. No matter what, I would be surprised not to see Sagan make top4 again today.

For other strong candidates look to Mark Renshaw and Bryan Coquard. Not to forget young riders like Danny Van Poppel and my personal super-joker Davide Cimolai

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