EYMET, France (AFP) — Tuesday’s flat stage may have been a stroll in the Dordogne countryside, but the prospect of crosswinds on Wednesday has got the Tour de France peloton feeling jittery.
Race leader Chris Froome admitted that Tuesday’s 10th stage had been the calmest of this year’s race — perhaps of any Tour he’d taken part in — but he’s expecting something entirely different on Wednesday.
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The 203.5-kilometer route looks pretty flat and should favor a bunch sprint finish, but talk of the possibility of crosswinds means the overall contenders will face a tense day in the saddle.
“Any talk of crosswinds gets the whole peloton quite nervous and everyone will be fighting for those positions at the front,” said the three-time Tour winner.
“We’re going to have to be ready to go to war again!”
Crosswinds are like kryptonite for cyclists, as they can be fatal to a rider’s chances of final victory by causing splits in the peloton that are difficult to bridge.
Spaniard Alejandro Valverde got caught behind a split in the peloton in 2013, Froome’s first Tour victory, and lost more than 10 minutes that day to end his overall hopes.
Wednesday’s route from Eymet to Pau is not one where a rider can make a positive difference, but if he were to be caught out by the wind, he could lose all hope.
Otherwise, the stage will likely follow a classic pattern, with a breakaway being allowed a certain amount of leeway before the sprinters’ teams chase them down and set up the final dash to the line.
If that happens, it will be all about German Marcel Kittel. The 29-year-old has already won four stages so far this year, taking him to 13 in total.
But his performance on Tuesday was highly deflating for his sprint rivals as he proved far stronger than the rest, making victory seem easy.
And there is a sense that his rivals are starting to lose all hope.
“That’s his fourth victory, he’s the strongest sprinter at this Tour de France,” said Frenchman Nacer Bouhanni.
“He’s won four sprints out of five, there’s not much we can do.”
The one sprint Kittel didn’t win was on the fourth stage, when he was held up by a crash in the final kilometer and found himself too far back to have any chance of catching those in front.
Otherwise, he’s simply been on a different level, even catching Froome’s eye.
“He’s pretty impressive, to say the least!” Froome said.