Tour de France Stage 8 Preview
It was Dylan Groenewegen who took his stage win at long last. The stage was very long and very easy in the peloton, no threats or accelarations throughout the day chasing a duo in front, in the final kilometers it proved a somewhat organized sprint where Deceuninck easily took the front but in the end Viviani clearly lacked the power to finish it off, Groenewegen came from behind and took the win in front of Caleb Ewan and Peter Sagan. A curse seems to be developing as I called for Groenewegen in the previous two stages and now I did on Viviani, and it would seem they completely blew it in all stages.
Positive: Groenewegen finally took his expected win from the race, now he can take it easier, the team has been doing great but no doubt he was under pressure to take a win. Phillipsen a nice surprise in the sprint.
Negative: Viviani blew up a great work by his leadout, just didn't have the legs, as was Kristoff and also Matthews keeps loosing ground on the green jersey, as expected Sagan is already with a massive advantage.
Stage 8 is the first of a couple of days in the Massif Central. In some years the stages are harder than others, summit finishes aren't frequent anymore but there are some interesting hard stages, with lots of traps and lots of opportunists looking for an elusive win. And the 200 kilometers on the way to Saint-Étienne are very hard indeed with 3850 meters of climbing, a constant up-and-down, with no serious mountains but lots of them, most with a steep identity to them.
It's just a generally hard day, I won't single out any climb as decisive, in the rolling terrain the attacks, either from a breakaway or the peloton can come at any time, sense of opportunity and good tactics will be as important as the power necessary to overcome the combination of climbs.
The stage is lumpy all the way to the finish, it isn't marked in the oficial profiles but that climb summiting with 2 kilometers to go is 700 meters long with 7% gradient, if there's still anything to be decided there's still a chance to attack there, a sprint winner is highly unlikely in such a day.
A tailwind all day long, not only will this majourly benefit the chances of a breakaway, it can even cause some damage in the peloton if some teams lean towards that scenario. The wind will be 10-20Km/h depending on where you are but it will come from the north and that's the ideal for agressive racing.
There are some scenarios that may happen, it's a very interesting stage where the dynamics will dictate how the pace will be and how the peloton will behave. I would assume that some teams will want to strike INEOS whilst Wout Poels isn't yet at his best, INEOS are strong but weren't dominant in Planche des Belles Filles, the high mountains are easy terrain for them to control but here it won't and some teams can take advantage of the spark they showed in the Vosges, FDJ and Astana mainly but alliances and outsider riders like Bardet and Nibali can cause some serious pressure and damage, which is towards INEOS at all times because although they haven't taken the lead of the race the pressure to do so is obviously on them, as is the "obbligation" of winning the race.
With that said there are riders that aren't far in the GC that can try to launch themselves into the front, as I previously mentioned Bardet and Nibali don't have much to loose and here is when they can turn their race around at least before they enter the pyrinees, AG2R have reconned these stages in the Massif Central and they should know exactly how to race, Bardet is an explosive rider more fitted to the short climbs so we may see a bit more of him here than in the high mountains. Riders like Alejandro Valverde, Patrick Konrad, Alexey Lutsenko and Warren Barguil are well within the GC fight and thrive on this type of route, FDJ have Gaudu, Molard and Reichenbach in a space of minutes besides Pinot and I would seriously argue that they will try to inflict some damage.
Whilst INEOS can find an allie in Trek I doubt other teams will support the chasing, Thibaut Pinot, Jakob Fuglsang and Mikel Landa are the riders that will be hoping for an agressive race and the truth is all of them do have the team for it, they are the ones that can have the biggest saying in how the stage goes. Not discounting Alaphillipe who should also love the stage route but in his team Mas won't work, Asgreen has been working everyday and besides Dries Devenyns there's no-one else capable of going deep into the climbs, so it will be more about picking the right wheels if the opportunities come, but he will very likely try to regain the lead of the race and will try something even if only on the run-up to Saint-Étienne. Not that Buchmann is a reliable podium contender, but Bora with Konrad, Muhlberger and Schachmann, alongside Sagan and Oss/Postleberger who are really powerful can also make some big damage here, Buchmann isn't an explosive rider but he's quite good tactically.
After a long but fairly easy day in the peloton some riders will have recovered from a hard day in the Vosges, considering the amount of points available the riders targeting the KOM jersey will try to be in front, Wellens and the Lotto Soudal team will surely try to fill the gaps, Wellens, de Gendt and Benoot are very familiar with this type of racing. Toms Skujins and Natnael Berhane should also have big intentions.
Then there are stage hunters, lots of them, Alberto Bettiol can be one if he finds the freedom, it's a possibility since Uran has Woods as a vital support and Woods himself can be an agressive rider in the day, Greg van Avermaet and Alessandro De Marchi of CCC, Rui Costa will also really like the profile he's another prestine stage hunter with freedom, Michael Matthews and Wilco Kelderman may try something, it seems clear at this point that Matthews is fit enough to climb with the previous names in the list, Lilian Calmejane is another name to note down and finally in Dimension Data it will depend on their legs but Kreuziger and Valgren should like the route.
⭐ Matthews, Fuglsang, Pinot, Gaudu, Nibali, Bardet, Woods, Konrad, Benoot
I'll go with Greg van Avermaet to win from the break, he looks in great form, can climb really well in this type of climbing, both his Tour stage wins were obtained in the Massif Central and that says a lot about what he can do in this terrain, with a team behind him and the possibility of having De Marchi with him if they're in front CCC have a stage perfect for them.
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