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LIMOGES, France (AFP) — The Tour de France’s daring escape artists could finally have their day on Wednesday, according to Australian Matt White.
The Orica – BikeExchange team manager believes Wednesday’s lumpy, 216-kilometer fifth stage into the Massif Central will favor those risk-takers willing to push the pain barrier and set out for victory in a small group.
“[Wednesday] could be a good day for the breakaway,” White said. “The racing has been fairly negative at the start of the stages, but the hilly profile could certainly suit the breakaway.”
None of the breakaways have made it to the finish yet, with the sprinters dominating the honors so far.
Peter Sagan, a well-rounded rider who is also a capable sprinter, won Sunday’s second stage on an uphill sprint and currently holds the race leader’s yellow jersey, while pure fast men Mark Cavendish (stages 1 and 3) and Marcel Kittel (stage 4) have also enjoyed their moment in the limelight.
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But it won’t just be the breakaway specialists eying Wednesday’s fifth stage, it’s also ideally suited to a puncheur — those riders who excel in hilly, one-day classics.
At least that’s what reigning champion Chris Froome thinks.
Although he also believes the overall contenders will be able to snare a few seconds on each other if they’re on form.
“I think it’s a bit too early to see a real GC battle, but it’s definitely somewhere where there will be time gaps,” the Sky team leader said.
“Maybe it’s a stage for someone like [Julian] Alaphilippe, [Alejandro] Valverde, or Dan Martin.”
With time bonuses on the line for the first three finishers, those last three could all take over the yellow jersey with victory.
Alaphilippe is second at 12 seconds behind Sagan, while Valverde is third at 14 seconds. Martin, Froome and other top contenders are 18 seconds behind.
Depending on how hard the racing is over the last 30km, Sagan may find it hard to keep up.
There are five categorized climbs in the final 75km, with two second category ones in the last 30km.
Those are the Pas de Peyrol, 5.4km at an average 8.1% gradient rising to more than 1.5km above sea level, and the Col du Perthus, 4.4km at 7.9%.
Spaniard Valverde said he wouldn’t shy away from an opportunity to win the stage.
“If the chance presents itself and I’m there, we won’t pass it up, but it’s not essential,” he said.
Valverde’s main aim is to keep Movistar leader Nairo Quintana out of trouble, but the Colombian climber is feeling confident. Quintana is 18 seconds out of first.
“The arrival in the mountains means we’re entering terrain that suits our characteristics,” Valverde said.