The two stages in the heart of the Brittany hills represent a high-speed, back-to-back test of nerves and fitness for the overall contenders at this year’s Tour de France, with everyone scared and determined not to lose time to their rivals so early in the race.
Stage 5 to Quimper ended with a sprint finish and a select group of 38 riders finishing on the same time. Thursday’s sixth stage is much harder, with two times up the Mur de Bretagne climb and a finish atop the two-kilometre climb that kicks up in double digits and then eases near the finish. Any tiny gaps that open between the wheels can rapidly become significant and precious time differences.
All the overall contenders were relieved to finish together in Quimper but know that the Mur de Bretagne has always produced time gaps – in 2011 when Cadel Evans beat Alberto Contador in a photo finish, and again in 2015 when Vincenzo Nibali lost 20 seconds.
In Quimper Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors) was last in the front group in 38th place. If he or anyone else had been on the wrong side of even a one-second gap to the rider in front, their time gap would have been measured against the moment when Sagan hit the line, so they would have lost at least 14 seconds. Such are the rules on timing in Grand Tours and stage races.
Fortunately, every overall contender made sure they were up tight and close to the riders in front in the group that followed Sagan over the line.
Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) could have perhaps challenged for the stage win, but he sacrificed his own chances to work for Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas. They were happy to avoid losing time.
Every second counts in the virtual GC
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