Once again the riders face a day in excess of 200km as they make their way down towards lumpier territory before the weekend begins. Today is a 216km jaunt from yesterday’s finish of Limoges to Le Lioran, where a rather tricky finish is likely to lure the puncheurs to the fore as a battle breaks out upon the late ramp to the line which hovers around the 5% – 6% mark.
Alejandro Valverde was meant to be keeping a low profile during these opening days of 2016’s Le Tour de France, but the temptation for victory was evidently too great when finishing 3rd on Stage 2. The veteran Spanish rider loves this type of finale and never normally struggles to demonstrate this fact when given the opportunity to do so. The greatest negative in regards to the chances of him winning at Le Lioran is the likely lack of support from his Movistar teammates, of which they look more likely to protect leader Nairo Quintana than himself.
Julian Alaphilippe came incredibly close to securing his maiden grand tour victory on Stage 2, but saw his chances snatched from him by a perfectly timed sprint by Peter Sagan. The French prodigy is another exceptional talent on finishes such as these, as demonstrated by his recent emergence in the Ardennes classics. Given that his Etixx team are likely to be riding on a high after Marcel Kittel’s surprise win in Limoges, they will wish to continue their success here and look to set Alaphilippe up for the win on Stage 5.
Dan Martin offers a fantastic back-up plan for Etixx if Julian Alaphilippe looks unable to contest the finale, dropping a hint as to his current form when finishing 4th on Stage 2. There is no doubt as to Martin’s ability to dominate this type of uphill finish, but there is certainly a question as to whether or not the gradients are truly tough enough to see the best from him.
Tony Gallopin is another Frenchman harbouring ambitions of winning here, looking to finally convert the efforts of his Lotto-Soudal team during this opening week into a stage win at last. There is little recent form to suggest something special from Gallopin here, but a Frenchman at his home race is always a danger to the major contenders.
Romain Bardet will no doubt be part of any front group which forms late on today, within which all the big name contenders for the overall title shall be situated. For Bardet though there is an extra incentive, as Stage 5’s route will feature roads he knows particularly well, which could give him the inspiration to attempt a stage win here; depending on how the final 50km are ridden. He is no slouch in an uphill contest and it is likely that we will see a greater number of general classification contenders than normal in the mix for a stage like this.
Rounding out the list of contenders who are perhaps closer to being sprinters and will only come into contention here if the race is ridden easier than expected include; Michael Matthews, Peter Sagan and Edvald Boasson Hagen.
1st Alejandro Valverde 2nd Julian Alaphilippe 3rd Romain Bardet