The stresses of the cobbles were surprisingly well navigated by the majority of the general classification contenders on Stage 4, only Thibaut Pinot really suffering noticeably through a series of unfortunate events. Despite a brief period were a small group of general classification favourites and stage contenders went clear with approximately 5km remaining; it was one well judged move which would steal the show. Tony Martin saw his opportunity to counter his misfortunes, which left him just missing out on the yellow jersey on each of the first three stages, and took off solo in the final moments to time trial his way to victory and beat the sprint finish behind to the win. Stage 5 promises to be a less stressful affair for many, but with such a limited amount of sprinter stages available at 2015’s edition of Le Tour de France, the pressure could be on to set this up for another bunch kick.
The 189.5km trip from Arras to Amiens offers the sort of rolling terrain which a breakaway will aim to take advantage of, but they will face a strong battle for the outcome once out on the road. With 2015’s Tour de France route favouring the sprinters so poorly, any opportunities which they feel are possible are bound to be fought for by all teams present with an interest for a bunch kick. Not a single categorised climb is present on the route despite its rolling nature, surely making this a day for the general classification big guns to take a breather after the previous day’s stresses.
An incredibly simple day awaits those aiming to set this up for a sprint finish, the sole requirement being to know when exactly to reel in the expected breakaway. Of the entire route, it is the finale itself which is likely to pose a headache for the leadout trains which are built to sail a safe course into the final 500m before letting their sprinter fly. The run in includes several roundabouts and other road furniture, eventually turning onto an easy enough road which then bends sharply right and begins heading uphill. It will be imperative for any likely winner to be placed well at the front of affairs here, eventually exiting onto the finishing straight which begins tilting downhill 500m from the line.
André Greipel is the sole sprint victor as it stands and is clearly in fantastic form heading into the Tour de France, but his team has already been hit hard by injuries. Adam Hansen, Greg Henderson and Jens Debusschere have all hit the deck previously and are now operating in varied states of discomfort ahead of this perfect sprint stage. Regardless, Greipel will not wish to see such form go to waste and shall not hesitate to make the most of this fitting stage in his campaign to win the Green Jersey at the end of all this in Paris. If he musters up the courage to stay at the front despite a lack of support in the final turns, the German has all the speed required to emerge victorious once again at this year’s Tour.
Etixx-QuickStep not only have the firepower for today, but those required are all evidently in great shape having safely completed the cobbled frenzy of Stage 4. Mark Renshaw, Matteo Trentin, Michal Kwiatkowski, Tony Martin and Zdenek Stybar are likely to prove to be an invaluable arsenal as Mark Cavendish stakes his claim to stage honours here. The Manxman started his sprint too early on Stage 3, but with that lesson learnt, he must surely be considered the favourite to dominate here with a team so clearly in form currently. The long and exposed finishing straight on Stage 2 clearly drained Cavendish earlier than many expected, but after a fantastic showing on yesterday’s cobbles, he clearly has the legs to go again in pursuit of victory.
Peter Sagan is well known for his bike handling skills and demonstrated his ability to take crucial last minute corners perfectly at the Tour de Suisse last month. On this stage he has a good chance of being in the mix yet again and will find confidence in the downhill run to the line which follows the final tight bends. Though he might lack the top end speed of Cavendish and Grepiel, should he managed to exit the last bend in a well fancied position, he has the strength to open a gap which everyone will struggle to close before the line.
John Degenkolb narrowly missed out on a stage which seemed destined to be his yesterday, after too much hesitation in the wake of Tony Martin’s attack, meant his compatriot took the win by only a margin of three seconds. Stage 5 is a difficult task for the German as the terrain and finishing straight is not suiting to his talent, nor is the technical final which precedes the line itself. However, if Degenkolb manages to place himself well despite his usual selection of support riders being absent, his raw power could be enough to capture the win.
Had he entered this race in top condition, Nacer Bouhanni could well have been the favourite to win on this technical run in to town. The Frenchman is known for his skill to find the best wheel in such frantic finishes and possesses the potent acceleration to exit the last corner rapidly in order to establish a significant gap ahead of the line. It is unclear as to how badly he is still suffering from his injuries during the national championships, but his perfect mix of talents for Stage 5 means he remains a contender for the win.
Should the race prove more attriontal than expected due to a mixture of strong winds and heavy rain, much attention shall be placed upon Alexander Kristoff to dominant proceedings. His luck in the last day or two has been pretty horrid and he could well find the perfect tonic to this in Stage 5. A really tough race would benefit the strong Norwegian and there is little doubt that he has the pace to beat his normally faster rivals if the conditions have blunted their speeds sufficiently before hand.
Though he lacks an organised lead out train to support him, the blistering acceleration of Bryan Coquard could well see him challenge for a podium in the decisive moments late on. The Frenchman is not particularly skilled on such technical courses, but this is often overblown by the cycling press and does not mean he can be totally overlooked for Stage 5. The downhill slant of the last 500m certainly does not help his cause, though he is maturing well and should be a contender regardless.
Given the firepower of his team and their demonstration of force during Stage 4, Mark Cavendish must be the favourite to take Stage 5 through yet further potent teamwork, likely to position him well on the relatively short finishing straight which could see him burst from the front dominantly. Though operating with an injured team, André Greipel will be eager to remain a force in proceedings, in order to protect his Green Jersey interests and challenge for another stage win. Two interesting challenges come from the in form Peter Sagan and the deadly Bryan Coquard, both of which enter this race short on support in a sprint finish. The former is clearly in fantastic form and does not even require a lead out most of the time, usually confident enough to surf the wheels and deliver a win under his own steam. The latter on the other hand would benefit much more from a clear lead out train, but will instead have to lean heavily upon his ruthlessly fast acceleration; on a tricky finish which does not play easily to his strengths at all.
1st Mark Cavendish 2nd Peter Sagan 3rd Bryan Coquard