Sprinters on parade as Tour take to the coast
Mark Cavendish and fellow sprinters are licking their lips ahead of Tuesday’s Tour de France fourth stage, a coastal run that barring a miracle will end in a mass sprint finish.
The 195-km (125 miles) stage from La Baule to Sarzeau offers the peloton a stunning backdrop on a road that never strays far from the coast and ends in an epic four-kilometre home-straight, with the only danger coming from stiff off-shore breezes.
After three different yellow jersey wearers in three stages so far, the new wearer Greg van Avermaet, the Olympic road race champion, says he plans to hold on to it this time.
“It won’t be easy with the wind and there are many teams chasing the honour of wearing the jersey,” Van Avermaet, who races with Monday’s time trial winners BMC, told AFP just ahead of the Tuesday’s departure.
“But we’ll be working hard as a team again to protect the yellow jersey,” said Van Avermaet, who many pundits feel may have a couple of stage wins in him before the Tour turns to the Alps.
But the 33-year-old is unlikely to win on Tuesday and among those aiming to stop him is Briton Cavendish, a veteran with 30 stage wins to his name.
That leaves Cavendish just four short of the all-time record of Eddy Merckx, but he has yet to hit form himself on this Tour.
“I’m here to get closer to that record,” said the 33-year-old.
“But I’ll be honest, I’m just excited to still be here at what is not only the biggest event in cycling but one of the biggest events in world sport.”
This year’s race offers Cavendish the chance to emulate 2016, when he won the first, third and sixth stages as well as the 14th.
Last year, his Tour ended early with a crash as he chased another victory in a bunch sprint at the end of the fourth stage.
Thought to be the purest sprint specialist in the game, Cavendish has had to watch Marcel Kittel and Peter Sagan steal the early limelight on the 2018 Tour.
Sagan took the yellow jersey on Sunday and was gutted to have to give up the ghost on Monday in the team time-trial, where he took his foot off the pedal at 25km and rolled in three minutes off the pace.
“I’m here for stage wins too and the next couple of days there are wins and points to be won,” he said.
“Tuesday’s stage might be tricky, you have to watch out for winds and the narrow roads and not get trapped behind a fall,” he said, perhaps thinking of the scenario on Sunday when the sprint was marked by a multiple pile-up.
Sagan is the man in green Tuesday as he leads the sprint points race and is hoping to cash in with a maximum 70 to be won here, 20 at the intermediate sprint and 50 at the line.
He has 104, ahead of Fernando Gaviria on 78, Alexander Kristoff on 53 and Arnaud Demare on 41.
Though the sprinters are expected to dominate the day, spectators are also set to revel in the road show on the glittering Brittany coastline bathed in sunshine.
“The Tour has always been a good advert for France and this is one of the stages that will look good on the television,” Tour director Christian Proudhomme said at the official unveiling of the route back in October.
All this makes the stage highly watchable for a bit of arm-chair tourism, a relaxing day for the front-runners and a tense one for the sprint teams with fierce competition due to the meagre pickings they have been offered so far this year.