11/06 - Stage 7 - Épernay to Nancy - 234.5 km

The fast riders have had their say in the first week of this year’s Tour de France. Today’s tricky finish will most likely be too difficult for the pure sprinters.

The route
This is the second longest stage of the Tour. The 234.5 km from Épernay to Nancy don’t look like much but don’t be fooled. The final 20 km include two climbs, which will serve as great places to put in a late attack. At the weekend, the peloton reaches the first serious climbs of this year’s race and many of the GC riders will be happy to get a quiet day in the saddle today.

The sprinters’ teams know this won’t end in a typical bunch sprint, meaning today might be the first time we see an early breakaway make it all the way to the finishing line. One of the only teams with an interest in controlling the race today is Cannondale. The two climbs won’t trouble Peter Sagan. After making Top5 in each of the first six stages, this may be Sagan’s best chance of winning a stage.

The finish
With about 20 km to go, the riders turn left onto Rue de Nancy. Soon after, the category 4 climb, Côte de Maron, begins. In the road book, the 3.2 km towards the top are set to have an average gradient of 5 %. However, it’s mostly the first 800 meters which are steep with double-digit gradients. The final part is not very hard, meaning you have to attack early if you want to make a selection.

From the top of Côte de Maron, the peloton heads towards the finishing town Nancy. Tailwind and a short descent will set for a fast pace. With a little bit less than 7 km to go, it’s time for the final climb of the day. The riders turn left onto Avenue de Boufflers. After passing the cemetery on the right side, the road starts to kick up with an average of 8 %. The gradients are steepest towards the top, making this the perfect place to attack. There is a couple of difficult corners at the beginning of the descent. The weather forecast shows about 50 % chance of rain. Hopefully, the roads won’t be wet for the finish.

It’s downhill until about 2.5 km to go. Here, the riders turn 180° in a roundabout. The road is slightly uphill, meaning a lone attacker will have to save a little energy for this part. 600 meters later, the riders turn right, passing under the railroad. A hundred meters later, they go onto the final kilometer. After a sharp 90° right-hand corner, the last 800 meters are pretty much straight-out. The first part is slightly uphill, the final 300 meters are flat. If this ends in a sprint, it’s every important not to start your sprint too early.

The favorites
As already mentioned, Cannondale is probably the only team interested in controlling the race today. Peter Sagan is the number one favorite should this end in a sprint. Sagan is still without a win so far. The green jersey seems secured but, naturally, the Slovakian is eager to win a stage as well. It won’t be easy for Cannondale but if they can convince a few other teams to help chase down the breakaway, it’s hard to see who should beat Peter Sagan today.

On paper, John Degenkolb, would have been one of the top favorites for this stage. However, the strong German crashed twice on stage 5 and suffered a small rupture in the gluteus maximus. This means that Degenkolb most likely won’t be anywhere near the front today. For him, it’s all about surviving the upcoming stages, hoping to recover in time for the second part of the Tour.

GreenEdge has a very dangerous trio in Simon GerransMichael Albasini and Jens Keukeleire. Gerrans is the prime pick but his chances depend on how he’s feeling after his crash on stage 1. At the end of stage 6, Gerrans seemed to be taking it easy, probably saving energy for today while staying out of the trouble in the chaotic sprint. If this stage ends in a sprint, I think Simon Gerrans is the only rider in the field with a chance of beating Peter Sagan. It requires him to be at 100 % though.

The outsiders 
Fabian Cancellara is another interesting rider for this stage. On stage 1, he put in a strong attack on the final uphill section. On stage 2, he lacked a little on the extremely steep Jenkin Road. The climbs today are not nearly as steep and I think Cancellara has planned something for today. He didn’t manage to win on the pave. Today is a good chance to take revenge and win the 8th Tour de France stage of his career.

In case the pace isn’t too high on the final climbs, maybe Alexander Kristoff has a chance today. The strong Norwegian is much better uphill than his weight suggests. Jenkin Road proved to be too much for Kristoff, but he did put in a strong effort sticking to the front group for a long time. In a clean sprint against Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel, it will be extremely difficult for Alexander Kristoff to win a stage. This could be his best chance to win a stage in this Tour de France.

For other strong riders with a good chance, look to Michael Kwiatkowski, Ramunas Navardauskas, Sylvain Chavanel Thomas Voeckler, Arthur Vichot, Tony Gallopin and fast GC riders like Alejandro Valverde, Bauke Mollema and Rui Costa. As you can see, there are many strong contenders for today's stage!

This early in the Tour, Astana would be happy to let the yellow jersey go to a rider who won’t pose a threat in the general classification later in the race. It could be riders like Tony Gallopin (7th overall, 1:45 min down), Tom Dumoulin (15th overall, 2:25 min down) and Michael Albasini (22nd overall, 3:29 min down).

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