Middle of the first week and we already have a juicy Tour on the boil, and some spot on predictions from the Rouleur crew, including Mr Mole.
The Rouleur panel will be taking it one day at a time, making sometimes sensible – and often well wide of the mark – punts on stage winners, which top tipster Cycling Mole will mercilessly dissect before offering his own thoughts on the day’s likely victor.
Score on the doors so far: stage 2, Alaphilippe (Andy and Mole); stage 3, Ewan (Ian and Mole); stage 4, pretty much everyone bar the winner... Ach!
Stage 5: Gap - Privas (183km)
Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-McLaren) Stage 2 of La Route d'Occitanie had a not totally dissimilar profile to stage 5 here, especially over the final few km. Sonny Colbrelli won that day, admittedly against a significantly weaker field, so I'm backing him to win again here to bring a rare moment of joy to the beleaguered Bahrain-McLaren team. Who knows, if he gets a win, maybe he won't have to give back his very expensive watch at the end of the race.
Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) He's deceptively versatile and will be confident after that early stage win. I just don't think it's a tough enough finale to shake him and he has the speed to come from behind and beat the likes of Sagan and Van Aert, who I can imagine a few of my colleagues favouring.
Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-Quick Step) Bennett is a smart cookie. He knows he's got the legs, and that his problem is everyone else sitting on his wheel, waiting for him to go. I can see him doing something to disrupt things and make the watts count. The uphill finish won't hurt him, either.
Giacomo Nizzolo (NTT) My second attempt at willing the Italian champion over the line first. Sure, Ewan and Bennett have him licked for speed, but all it takes is for the stars to align. And for the other two to have an off day. And. And. And...
Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) With an uphill finish, this one has got the green jersey written all over it, assuming Mr Sagan still wears that shade by then. He's yet to make a deposit in this year's Tour account, missing out to the pure sprinters, I'm betting he's had this one in mind.
Cycling Mole says...
After a good couple of days, we drew a blank today as Roglič took home the bacon. Stage 5 is another one for the sprinters, but it has a tricky little finish. The final 7km is full of little kickers, roundabouts, street furniture and a narrow road at the flamme rouge. This is a day where we could see a successful late attack, but it’s still more likely we’ll get a sprint. Due to the nature of the finish, a good position is everything and it favours those with a long sprint train.
As usual I’ll start by looking at the horrible picks. Ben has gone with Colbrelli, because he won a stage in a tiny little French race. That’s like picking Kilmarnock [Who? - Ed] for the World Cup because they won the Ayrshire Cup. If Colbrelli wins this stage, I’ll happily get out my big wallet and buy everyone a drink.
Miles seems stuck in the past, and I’m not talking about his Rick Astley collection. Peter Sagan has been off the pace this season, and in this race, this is not the Sagan of old.
Then we get the real picks: Bennett, Nizzolo and Ewan. Two brilliant sprinters, and a very good one. Ewan took a magnificent win on Monday, threading the eye of the needle in a sprinting masterclass. If he starts this stage from too far back, he won’t be winning. Bennett was very close to a win, but I also have a few concerns about his sprint train. Quick Step worked very hard on stage 4, so you might find Mørkøv and Bennett all alone in the closing kilometres. Nizzolo should love this finish, he deals very well with hills and he’ll be confident of surprising the big two. I do worry about his lead out too, as Ryan Gibbons is still recovering from injury and it leaves them a little light in that department.
I feel in the mood to take a little risk. I think this finish is wonderful for those with a long sprint train, and that points to Team Sunweb. They have a full squad of fast men to help Cees Bol into position, and after going close in the opening sprint, I think my big Dutch pal will take the win.