So, the day where they turn the map the other way around and put the big mountains at the start of it becomes the day the breakaway stays away and delivers a winner. Yesterday was the Tour’s equivalent of declaration bowling in cricket – everyone has a contractual obligation to be there and deliver a result, but only a few are going to put real effort in. It was down to a combination of factors – riders tired from two tough days in the mountains, a course for the stage that the sprinters didn’t fancy, and a breakaway that was willing to push on and open up a gap that wasn’t going to be chased down. Of course, days like yesterday are good for the future of the Tour, as they ensure that people will keep trying to get into breaks in the hopes that they might be doing it on the day without a chase.
While the peloton were having an impromptu rest day and recovery ride, the five riders up front were making the most of their opportunity and did provide an exciting finish. Sometimes a successful breakaway can end with the one rider who has some strength left soloing to the line, but Peraud and Millar had the strength to sprint for the line, giving David Millar the chance to pick up his first stage win since 2003 and the rather fitting sight of a British repentant ex-doper winning on the anniversary of Tom Simpson’s death. That’s the fourth stage win by a different British rider in this Tour, with BMC’s Steve Cummings now the only British rider in the peloton without one.
Could today see the fifth British win, and Mark Cavendish’s second? It certainly looks like a sprinter’s stage, though there’s the complication of a category 3 climb not long before the finish. If the sprinters make it over that in the main group, then there’s a tricky finish to negotiate with an almost Giro D’Italia style tight bend within the last kilometre. The hill might mean a determined break could stay clear, but it’s more likely to be where a few riders get shed off the back after helping their sprinters to get over. The tight finish does mean that a sprinter can go from hero to zero very quickly if they’re following the wrong wheel, so it’s a bit of a lottery.
It’s also Bastille Day, so don’t be surprised to see heroics from French riders looking for victory or simply a bit of glory. While the rise of Rolland and Pinot means the French aren’t desperate for a winner this year, it’s still the national day in the Tour de France, and a French winner today would be guaranteed minor heroic status for a few years.