14. In Which Peter Sagan’s Bora-Hansgrohe Team Squishes Everyone.
Clermont-Ferrand to Lyon
There are all kinds of ways this hard-to-predict (discounting Bora-Hansgrohe) stage could unfold. It’s long, with a moderate amount of climbing (2 600 meters) over five categorised ascents including a longish Category 2 about a third of the way in, which suggests we’ll see a breakaway. This year, as in past Tours, breakaways have grown in size as the race progresses and teams that originally had aspirations for the overall find themselves seeking other opportunities.
But there’s also an intermediate sprint relatively early (38km in) and the route to that point is flat. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) has tried several times without much success to chip into Deceuninck-Quick Step sprinter Sam Bennett’s lead in the green jersey competition. This might be Sagan’s last chance to start to gain on his rival, which could play a role in the prospects of any early breakaway. Whether they go from the gun or after the sprint, expect attackers to get away eventually.
What happens after that depends largely on how things develop on that Category 2 ascent, the Col du Béal. It’s 10.2km long, but not especially steep at 5.6 percent average. If Bennett and other pure sprinters like Alexander Kristoff (UAE-Emirates) and Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) can stay with the main field or catch back up on the descent, the rest of the stage is generally flat or downhill, which sets up a possible sprint if the pack can keep the gap to the break to a reasonable amount.
But wait, there’s more: a pair of short Category 4 climbs, which come 10km and 5km before the finish in Lyon. That’s another chance for Sagan, and other teams with Classics-style riders like CCC’s Greg van Avermaet, to push the pace and try to gap some of the field sprinters so they can contest a field sprint without some of the peloton’s fastest finishers.
Expect a three-way battle between the teams of the pure sprinters, the breakaway specialists, and teams with Classics-style riders like Sagan and van Avermaet, with shifting allegiances and tactics throughout the day. Unexpected crashes or mishaps aside (the weather forecast is partly sunny with light winds), it should be a relatively quiet day for the overall yellow jersey standings, as they’re saving legs for Sunday’s summit finish on the Grand Colombier.
Bora-Hansgrohe’s Sagan for the win?
Early in the race we may see some tactical battles between Bora-Hansgrohe and DQS as Sagan probes for opportunities; time is running out for him. Then, look for breakaway hopefuls; it’s a good day for riders who aren’t specialists of a particular kind (i.e., climbers or sprinters) but can hold a high pace for long periods of time.
DQS will be active as always; they like to play multiple cards on every stage. Lotto-Soudal’s Thomas de Gendt tried to get in the Stage 13 move but didn’t quite get there; he might try again here. Sunweb’s Tiesj Benoot seems to be feeling better after his hard Stage 1 crash and was active on Stage 12; it’s a good course for him. We’d also expect to see smaller teams like NTT, Israel Start-Up Nation, and Total Direct Energie continue to put riders in the break.
All of which is excellent, sensible conjecture; Bora-Hansgrohe will surely do everything to deliver Peter Sagan – minus the sprinters – to the line. Boy, it’s going to be fun for us to watch.