A second win for André Greipel on Stage 5 proved that his current ownership of the maillot vert is clearly no fluke, beating a fast finishing Peter Sagan and Mark Cavendish to take the glory in Amiens. Though the German’s form right now is potent, he will literally have an uphill struggle to maintain his dominance on a finish in Le Havre which favours those more adept at sprinting against a gradient. A rolling day in the saddle will appeal to those wishing to exert themselves amongst a worthwhile breakaway, which could make the most of terrain likely to interfere with the chase behind. Regardless, it is expected that a strong raft of teams will be eager to pursue any escapees in order to guarantee a bunch kick that appeals to many strong finishing riders at this Tour de France.
It will take 191.5km for the peloton to complete Stage 6’s journey from Abbeville to Le Havre, a day which should not concern the general classification riders too greatly, but the weather in these parts may have other plans in store. Though not mountainous, the riders will still face constant changes in gradient, demanding varied efforts to stick the pace uphill and down. Several uncategorised climbs are present early on, but it is not until the peloton reach Dieppe where they encounter the first official climb and where many will consider the race to then be ‘on’. Côte de Dieppe is a Category 4 climb which lasts 1.8km and is contested at a steady gradient of 4%, however more interest will be apparent here as to the climb being a marker to the races coastal location. From this point onwards it is coastal roads right the way to the day’s finish in Le Havre, ensuring that anxieties shall once again run high as teams attempt to keep their leader’s safe in the face of dangerous echelon forming crosswinds.
The Côte de Pourville-sur-Mer soon follows and is of a similar nature; being 2km in length and possessing an average gradient of 4.5%. An extended period of racing will then follow, which features zero official climbs until the Côte du Tilleul after 162km of riding has been completed. This final categorised climb of the day is a short 1.6km, but shall be a little more demanding given a gradient of 5.6% which could be magnified depending on race conditions at the time. Almost 30km shall now remain by this point, instigating the usual jostling for position as sprinters begin building the tempo and general classification men try to stay out of trouble by sitting on the front.
As the terrain is considerably flatter than what will have formed most of the day’s riding, the biggest threat as they turn onto the concluding flat roads to Le Havre is very likely to be the coastal winds. The real fight amongst the stage contenders begins as they drop down at Sainte-Adresse and start to bear down upon their finish as they pick up speed on the flatter roads. A few technical bends will need negotiating before they hit the bottom of the day’s decisive incline at 1.5km from the line; Côte d’Ingouville. The average gradient of 7% will begin to reveal the true contenders for stage honours during its 850m entirety; not finishing until only 500m remains. Positioning will have been crucial upon this decisive hill, as nobody wanting to contest the win will find success, should they end up boxed in by other riders slipping backwards down the pack. With the final 500m only managing a 1% drag, the tempo will be intense on the preceding climb to ensure anyone fast enough to win on the finishing straight is shelled out the back before being given the chance to sprint.
A winner here will need to be a rapid climber in the final 2km, able to go into the red to follow the attacks and still have enough left to finish the job with a winning sprint over the last 500m. The pure sprinters should find this whole affair too gruelling, so it is likely to be a mixture of sprinters with enough grunt to make it over Côte d’Ingouville with the frontrunners and lithe puncheurs who will fight for the gruelling victory in Le Havre.
Given his recent demonstrations of speed, positioning and brute force; Peter Sagan is the standout candidate to walk away with a Tour de France win on Stage 6. The Slovak rider seems to have reignited the blend of pace and strength which first saw him become a Green Jersey force at Le Tour, performing very well at the Tour of California this year and appear to have carried this form over to France. The uphill section ahead of the line should blunt the top end speed of his faster rivals and perhaps even deter the likes of André Greipel and Mark Cavendish from contesting this finale; especially given the much more favourable conclusion to the following Stage 7. Regardless of who he does find to be his strongest rival on the day, Sagan is bound to be well placed going into the climb and equally well positioned exiting it onto the finishing straight, where his current turn of pace will be hard to match for many.
Alexander Kristoff warrants inclusion here thanks to his prowess upon these difficult finishes, but could possibly have favoured an uphill sprint right to the line; rather than the almost flat drag to the line once the preceding hill is tackled. If the riders do not hit the uphill section at quite as high a speed as expected, then Kristoff will come right into contention, as it should allow him to pace the climb well enough to leave a sufficient acceleration in reserve to challenge for the victory. The Norwegian has consistently performed beyond expectations this year, so he cannot be totally excluded from the podium; even if he is forced to ride the Côte d’Ingouville at a strong pace.
A man who no doubt has the perfect paring of sprint speed and the strength to survive is the German John Degenkolb. He was impressive on Stage 4, which he clearly should have won had Tony Martin not given everyone the slip and soloed to a three second winning margin ahead of his compatriot sprinter. Tough races seem to bring the best out of Degenkolb and the likely mad rush during the last 30km will benefit a man who currently has the whole team at his disposal. Position will be crucial for him, though he can compensate somewhat once he hits the flat and opens up his sprint to the line. Much like Kristoff, he needs to survive the Côte d’Ingouville in as best condition as possible in order to execute a competitive sprint, something which is bound to ensure other teams make life as hard as possible on this decisive final climb.
The sight of a vanishing Tony Martin up the road could well be replicated by Greg Van Avermaet as he aims to steal a march on his faster finishing rivals. The Belgian is riding well at the moment and has perhaps been playing it safe so far, not wanting to invest too much energy into stages which are unlikely to yield a worthwhile return. It is hard to see him beating the likes of Sagan, Kristoff and Degenkolb if shoulder to shoulder on the last 500m, making it possible the BMC man will take off just ahead of the hill in order to gain an advantage and compensate en route to victory.
Perhaps underestimated on this finish is Europcar’s Bryan Coquard, a sprinter who has displayed previous prowess on these drags to the line; including wins at Tour du Sud on similar finales ahead of Le Tour. Like many in the peloton at the moment, Coquard has already touched down on the tarmac, with two hard impacts yesterday alone. The chances are he could wake up feeling a bit too sore in order to give it everything, though he remains one of France’s best options for a stage win here.
There is no doubt that Lampre-Merida’s Davide Cimolai is dangerously underestimated on terrain which clearly favours his abilities. The performances of the young Italian at Paris-Nice this year demonstrated why he cannot be discounted, especially with the backing of a team which has limited hope of walking away from the entire three weeks with a victory. He will be confident of being positioned well by those around him, and once over the climb, could be one of the freshest riders ahead of the sprint finish.
André Greipel holds little chance of featuring on Stage 6, but instead of throwing the towel in entirely, Lotto-Soudal may decide to switch plans and back Tony Gallopin to perform well in this finish. The Frenchman is once again in good shape for his home tour and looked impressive on Stage 3’s trip up the Mur de Huy. He is very talented on this sort of terrain and even has a good sprint to fight for the win if unable to drop his rivals before the final 500m; Gallopin could attack solo before the Côte d’Ingouville or stick with the frontrunners to try his hand in a bigger sprint.
Considering the final climb flattens out to form the 500m finishing straight, it suits the talents of Edvald Boasson Hagen very nicely and he should be a prominent feature late on. The Norwegian has already turned in two impressive sprinting performances so far at this tour on Stages 5 and 4, making him a clear contender for victory in Le Havre. His MTN-Qhubeka team has the talent to ensure he has support on Côte d’Ingouville and he should be well positioned as a result of this. It has been quite some time since EBH has been competitive at a grand tour, but today could change all that if the African squad execute their plan to perfection.
Though there is much to calculate in order to win Stage 6, it is likely to be a case of whoever survives the final climb in the best shape becomes favourite, to then use up anything remaining to sprint hard for the line. Peter Sagan should feel confident of succeeding here and has already stated that he wishes to convert his second place finish into a victory during the first week. His late acceleration was so impressive during the sprint for the previous day’s line, he probably would not have even needed an extra five meters to take the win; such was his pace. Sagan has a fantastic ability to recover rapidly after big efforts, combing this with his current condition, he is the clear favourite to win here. John Degenkolb and Alexander Kristoff are both considerably faster on the run to the line, but an intense ride up Côte d’Ingouville could leave them too drained to contest the victory at full gas. Both Bryan Coquard and Davide Cimolai are underrated as threats for the win on Stage 6, equally gifted for these sort of finales, though both are likely to have preferred it having finished atop the last hill itself. There of course remains the chance that a rider could get a jump on the entire field of favourites and solo over the Côte d’Ingouville in order to beat the sprinters before they even get the chance to wind up for the rush to the line. Should such a situation arise, then Greg Van Avermaet of BMC and Tony Gallopin of Lotto-Soudal are two riders who could prove extremely difficult to reel back in by the sprinters’ teams.
1st Peter Sagan 2nd Greg Van Avermaet 3rd John Degenkolb
Outsider: Tony Gallopin