‘The hardest I’ve ever seen’ – Cavendish’s Tour de France stage-by

Mark Cavendish

Mark Cavendish is riding the Tour de France for Dimension Data for a third time

Mark Cavendish is “looking at getting closer to that record of Eddy Merckx” when the 105th Tour de France begins on Saturday.

The Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka rider has won 30 stages, four behind Belgian legend Merckx.

While fellow Briton Chris Froome goes into the race as favourite to join Merckx, Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain as a record five-time winner, the sub-plot involving Cavendish is just as intriguing.

The 33-year-old, who is riding in his 12th Tour, has compiled BBC Sport’s stage-by-stage guide for this year’s race – a route he calls “the hardest I’ve seen in my career”.

The 21-stage race will take place almost entirely in France – with just 15km dipping into Spain when it hits the Pyrenees mountains. A total of 176 riders – 22 teams of eight – will set off on the 3,351km (2,082-mile) route, which starts in the Vendee region…

Stage 1: Saturday, 7 July – Noirmoutier-en-L’Ile – Fontenay-le-Comte, 201km

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Mark’s musings: It’s going to be a bunch sprint with the winner taking the coveted yellow jersey. It’s what the Tour de France organisers want. It’s not often sprinters get the opportunity to go for the yellow jersey but it’s one we all relish. Normally on the Atlantic Coast – this stage spends more than 100km by the sea – crosswinds can be a factor but the temperature looks great and the forecast looks fine so we might not get them.

That doesn’t mean it’s going to be an easy stage because everyone will be vying for position at the front. It will be a good test to see which teams are strong and we’ll be going for the win.

My Dimension Data team will be looking to control the riders who get in the break, although we have to look out for the time bonus sprint only 15km from the finish. That can upset teams trying to set up their lead-out trains. There is a right-hander with just over one kilometre to go but then a nice straight run to the finish.

Cav’s one to watch: Mark Cavendish (GB/Dimension Data) It will be an honour to go for the yellow jersey again, having won it on stage one in 2016.

Stage 2: Sunday, 8 July – Mouilleron-Saint-Germain – La Roche-sur-Yon, 182.5km

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Mark’s musings: We reconned stage two, which is basically a big circle around the Vendee region. It’s quite open at times in the countryside but, as on stage one, the weather should be good so I don’t know if crosswinds will play a factor.

Teams will be stressed again because it’s just the second day and guys who missed out on stage one will be looking to make amends. We have looked at the final – it’s a tricky run-in after a big, long, straight road for about 15km.

You come into a town and there are lots of lefts and rights and ups and downs. It’s a fast narrow run-in and with a couple of kilometres to go there is a 100 degree corner at a roundabout and then the road shoots up at a 3% gradient for the last kilometre so it’s not going to be an easy bunch sprint.

If you’re too far back in the last corner you’re going to find it hard to come back up. It’s going to be lined out in the last kilometre and won’t be a pure bunch sprint.

Cav’s one to watch: Arnaud Demare (Fra/Groupama-FDJ) - a sprinter who can grind a big gear up a slight rise is going to win. Demare is a two-time French national champion and won a stage on last year’s Tour.

Stage 3: Monday, 9 July – team time trial, Cholet, 35.5km

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Mark’s musings: I did a similar individual time trial circuit in my second Tour de France in 2008. It’s open roads and it’s relatively straightforward but that means horse power is needed. My Dimension Data team will be trying to save energy for upcoming stages. We know we’re not really in with a chance of winning but we’ll give it our best shot.

Cav’s one to watch: BMC Racing - The team time trial will show how strong teams are for the rest of the Tour .

Stage 4: Tuesday, 10 July – La Baule – Sarzeau, 195km

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Mark’s musings: It’s great to have three sprint opportunities in the first four days. This stage is just really about getting through the kilometres. There is nothing of great difficulty and there’s a nice fast run-in to the finish. It does drag slightly uphill in the last kilometre but with it being a straight road and not coming in off a corner it should mean a bunch sprint.

It will be important to try not to jump too early on a finish like this with a slight rise. Some guys will jump early and fade. There’s likely to be a headwind at the finish, so I’d look to try and come from behind and use the slipstream of others to come through and win

Cav’s one to watch: Fernando Gaviria (Col/Quick-Step Floors) – A world champion on the track, the 23-year-old is making his Tour de France debut but won three Tour of California stages earlier in the season.

Stage 5: Wednesday, 11 July – Lorient – Quimper, 204.5km

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Mark’s musings: Although we don’t go to high altitude, the actual climbing kilometres will add up quickly because it is up and down all day on small roads with loads of lefts and rights. The last half of the stage is peppered with small climbs, and the vast majority of them are not categorised. Even the bonus sprint is on a punchy uphill finish.

It will be important to stay near the front and keep your team around you. I don’t see a massive group coming in together in Quimper but it will be a group of one-day classics specialists and I expect to see something between Greg van Avermaet, Peter Sagan and Michael Matthews

Cav’s one to watch: Greg van Avermaet (Bel/BMC Racing) – He loves short, punchy climbs and both of his two previous Tour de France stage wins have come over similar terrain.

Stage 6: Thursday, 12 July – Brest – Mur-de-Bretagne, 181km

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Mark’s musings: We’ve done this finish up Mur-de-Bretagne a couple of times before, but never two circuits of the final climb. It’s a hard climb. It doesn’t look much on paper but it really goes narrow and kicks up at the bottom and you just have to grit your teeth over the first kilometre-and-a-half. It then flattens out to the end. Cadel Evans won here on his way to overall victory in 2011 and climbers usually go well but I think it’s definitely a stage for Peter Sagan.

Cav’s one to watch: Peter Sagan (Svk/Bora-Hansgrohe) – He is going for a joint record sixth green points jersey this year, chiefly because he can sprint and he can get over hills like these.

Stage 7: Friday, 13 July – Fougeres – Chartres, 231km

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Mark’s musings: The Tour will probably be calming down a bit by now. But this is the longest stage of this year’s race and although it’s a very easy stage on paper, flat going through countryside, it’s easy to forget to look after your energy. If you go into the wind too much you’ll pay for that going into the final part.

It is made for a bunch sprint. The run to the finish drags up but not too much and it’s pretty straight. It does kick right with just a couple of hundred metres to go but there are nice big boulevards for the sprinters.

Cav’s one to watch: Mark Cavendish (GB/Dimension Data) – Bunch sprint finishes are hard to predict but expect me to be in the mix.

Stage 8: Saturday, 14 July – Dreux – Amiens, 181km

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Mark’s musings: Another bunch sprint, although this time it’s a bit more of a technical finish. It’s a straight run-in for 10km until we enter the city with about 6km to go and then it’s lefts and rights and roundabouts. It will be important to stay at the front from 10km to go and you’ll see the lead-out trains in full force to put riders in a good position for the last corner with 600m to go. It’s going to take power to get out of the corner be able to settle and then do your sprint.

It’s a difficult sprint to get right when you have a corner with 600m to go but it’s one I’ve done before and the sprinters will be looking forward to it before we have to take a back seat for a few stages.

Cav’s one to watch: Dylan Groenewegen (Ned/Lotto Jumbo NL) – He is one of the young sprinters coming through. He won the final stage in Paris last year and can accelerate out of corners.

Stage 9: Sunday, 15 July – Arras – Roubaix, 156.5km

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Mark’s musings: This is a stage for one of the one-day classics specialists in the peloton. Fifteen cobbled sections totalling 22km doesn’t sound much over a 160km stage but they definitely add up. It’s the accelerations you have to do into the cobbles and the constant fighting for position before each section that makes a big difference.

We don’t do any of the hardest five-star sectors that feature in the Paris-Roubaix one-day race but there are definitely some four-star sectors. They contain some big, big cobblestones and the hardest thing is fighting for position. Every one of the general classification (GC) favourites will be up there with their teams trying to not lose time.

This stage could have a shake-up to GC but it’s not hard enough to make Peter Sagan an obvious winner, like he was at this year’s Paris-Roubaix.

One to watch: Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor/Dimension Data) - I’d love to see my team-mate succeed after he missed out at Paris-Roubaix this year.

Rest day: Monday, 16 July – Annecy

Stage 10: Tuesday, 17 July – Annecy – Le Grand-Bornand, 158.5km

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Mark’s musings: A mountain stage is always difficult after a rest day. Your body goes into recovery mode, trying to store water. You can feel a bit flat and that’s not nice when you have five categorised climbs to contend with – three category one and one HC, which signifies the hardest of all ascents.

It’s going to be the first fight between the general classification guys but I don’t see it playing a big factor in the overall result at this stage of the race.

You won’t see fireworks until 121km into the stage at the start of the difficult climb of Col de Romme. Team Sky usually like to put down their marker on the first mountain stage of the Tour de France and if it’s not Chris Froome, it’s likely to be Geraint Thomas or Michal Kwiatkowski.

Cav’s one to watch: Geraint Thomas (GB/Team Sky) – The Briton has been told that he can race up to the first rest day. It will be interesting to see if he is riding for Froome.

Stage 11, Wednesday, 18 July – Albertville – La Rosiere, 108.5km

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Mark’s musings: Another mountain day and while it’s only 108km, about half of that is uphill. It’s the first mountain-top finish of this year’s Tour and it’s likely to be a grinding out on the final climb because it’s not steep enough to see people absolutely blowing. A group will get whittled down gradually.

It’s going to be difficult to stay within the time limit for the sprinters – all riders must finish within a certain percentage of the stage winner’s time or they are disqualified – but hopefully we’ve got a grupetto – riders that form a group at the back of the race – that just wants to reach Paris.

Opportunities for sprints are few and far between now so hopefully the grupetto can collaborate and we’ll just look at surviving this.

Cav’s one to watch: Chris Froome (GB/Team Sky) - He will want to put a marker down on the first uphill finish.

Stage 12: Thursday, 19 July – Bourg-Saint-Maurice Les Arcs – Alpe d’Huez, 175.5km

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Mark’s musings: For me this is the hardest stage of this year’s Tour de France with 5,000m of altitude gain. It’s going to be savage. The Col de la Madeleine takes two hours to climb. It goes up, there’s a flat bit in the middle and then it just seems to go on forever. You start this knowing you’ve got two further HC climbs to come – it’s very daunting.

What makes it difficult for the gruppeto is we normally make some time back on descents and flat bits but there’s no flat and they are not the type of descents where we can make a lot of time back easily, so we’re going to be fighting all day. This is the hardest stage to make the time limit but it’s always a quality finish on Alpe d’Huez and hopefully we can get a boost from the fans.

It will be a fight between the climbers for sure – everybody wants to win on Alpe d’Huez and it would be nice to see a French winner.

Cav’s one to watch: Romain Bardet (Fra/Ag2r La Mondiale) – He is the home nation’s main hope for a first overall winner since Bernard Hinault won the last of his five in 1985.

Stage 13: Friday, 20 July – Bourg d’Oisans – Valence, 169.5km

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Mark’s musings: A bit of respite from the mountains and it will be a sprint day if we have managed to get through the day before. It’s a transition day and at 170km shouldn’t be too bad but sometimes down in that part of France the winds can pick up. We can get mistral winds and that can turn it from a recovery day into one of the hardest days of the Tour de France.

But if there is a bunch sprint, we’re into the town with about 5km to go. There are a lot of corners to the last kilometre and then a nice boulevard finish. We do have a roundabout with a few hundred metres to go but if you’re near the front you should get through that quite safely to start your sprint.

Cav’s one to watch: Fernando Gaviria (Col/Quick-Step Floors) – It’s a sprint that provides a long launchpad, so somebody who can go long, somebody who used to ride the track could win.

Stage 14: Saturday, 21 July – Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux – Mende, 188km

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Mark’s musings: This type of stage is normally gruelling. We’re going up and up and up into the Massif Central, rolling through the countryside. On the profile it doesn’t look like too many blips but it really does go up and down. There’s no let off for the last half of the stage and then a horrible steep climb up to Mende. I remember when Steve Cummings won from a breakaway in Mende on Nelson Mandela day in 2015.

And I think a breakaway will stay to the end this time too.

Cav’s one to watch: Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa/Astana) – This stage suits a rider who is good at getting in breaks and can climb. All of his four Tour de France stage wins have come on similar stages and from being involved in a break.

Stage 15: Sunday, 22 July – Millau – Carcassonne, 181.5km

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Mark’s musings: There are other ways we could have got to Carcassonne without going over the category one Pic de Nore near the finish, which will break things up for the run-in.

Hopefully the sprinters will be OK to get to that climb and then we can roll in because we won’t be looking to do anything but there’s definitely guys who can get over this category one climb and come to the finish. If Michael Matthews is on a good day surely he could do it.

Cav’s one to watch: Peter Sagan (Svk/Bora-Hansgrohe) – He hangs on with the climbers and then wins the run-in.

Rest day: Monday, 23 July – Carcassonne

Stage 16: Tuesday, 24 July – Carcassonne – Bagnères-de-Luchon, 218km

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Mark’s musings: Another long stage. We’re approaching the Pyrenees now and we hit the foothills at the end of today’s stage. You can call them foothills but there’s still two category one climbs. The breakaway could go the end again. Or Team Sky might want to get to grips and put their dominance in before the big showdowns in the Pyrenees, in which case they will control it and we’ll see an attack from Chris Froome at the end.

Cav’s one to watch: Lilian Calmejane (Fra/Direct Energie) – He won a similar stage last year after making a break.

Stage 17: Wednesday, 25 July – Bagneres-de-Luchon – Saint-Lary-Soulan, 65km

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Mark’s musings: A 65km road stage in the Tour de France is something that is unheard of and they are trying a novel idea with gridding the riders at the beginning because we start directly up the Col de Peyresourde.

I don’t think the gridding of the riders will have any affect on the race but we start with the Peyresourde from Bagneres-du-Luchon many times and it’s a gruelling climb. It’s horrible. And horrible to start your day off with. It will be full gas from start to finish, no matter who you are. Some guys just go faster than others. I think you have to know what you can sustain for those climbs and every single rider in the peloton will be looking at their power metres.

Cav’s one to watch: Chris Froome (GB/Team Sky) – It needs a team that is able to go strong and knows exactly what they can do. Team Sky is top of that list and will set a tempo that keeps it together until the last climb up Col du Portet.

Stage 18: Thursday, 26 July – Trie-sur-Baise – Pau, 171km

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Mark’s musings: This provides perhaps another sprint opportunity into Pau unless the big breakaway goes. When we normally do stages around this region it can take a long, long time for the break to go, especially as this is the last opportunity without the big mountains where you see the rouleurs trying to go for it.

But I think the sprint teams will know as well it’s the only opportunity before Paris and will want to control the break and bring it back. It is up and down into the finale, which really saps your energy. The run-in to Pau is slightly uphill and its quite technical into the town. There’s a roundabout and a left hand turn in the last kilometre but a nice big sprint to finish outside the park.

Cav’s one to watch: Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor/Dimension Data) – You are looking at who survives the mountains in good nick, a sprinter who has been able to save energy. It would be nice to see him get in a break and win from that, like he did late on in last year’s race.

Stage 19: Friday, 27 July – Lourdes – Laruns, 200.5km

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Mark’s musings: The last big showdown in the mountains for the climbers. It’s going to be a long old day in the saddle and it’s going to be everyone leaving everything they have on the road. If the general classification is not too close you’re likely to see a group of riders fighting it out. The likes of Rigoberto Uran, Romain Bardet, Warren Barguil and Dan Martin. But if it is close, Team Sky are likely to throw one last firework.

One to watch: Chris Froome (GB/Team Sky) – If he needs to, Froome can make one big attack to the finish.

Stage 20: Saturday, 28 July – individual time trial, Saint-Pee-sur-Nivelle – Espelette, 31km

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Mark’s musings: A 31km test against the clock with a mixture of ups and down on technical roads. It’s not going to be someone who can only mash a big gear who is going to win this. It’s going to be someone that can make a plan and stick to that. A lot of guys will go off hard and with a little kick in the last 3km are likely to lose a lot of time even though its less than a kilometre long.

Cav’s one to watch: Geraint Thomas (GB/Team Sky) – He won British national time trial title in late June and took the yellow jersey after winning the Tour’s opening, albeit shorter, time trial last year.

Stage 21: Sunday, 29 July – Houilles – Paris, 116km

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Mark’s musings: This is easy, easy, easy. It’s time for photographs and celebrations before we hit the Champs-Elysees where you get the best sensations ever in cycling when you roll on to the Place de la Concorde and up the Champs-Elysees for the first time. The crowds are incredible. I get goosebumps, not just because it’s an opportunity for a sprint finish but also because everybody who reaches Paris is finishing the Tour de France.

This year’s route seems to be the hardest I’ve seen in my career but it will all be worth it if I get to Paris.

The Champs-Elysees is the hardest sprint to get right. It’s slightly uphill, it’s on cobbles and the finish line comes at a distance from the final corner that if you go from the corner you’re going too far out. If you leave it too long, someone will get the jump on you. Time it right and pick the right spot on the road – because it’s peppered with potholes – and you’ll win the holy grail of sprints.

Cav’s one to watch: Mark Cavendish (GB/Dimension Data) – If I make it to Paris I’ll be chasing my fifth win on the Champs-Elysees.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/cycling/44576490

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