Following two brutal days in the Alps and the first rest day of the Tour de France on Monday, Stage 10 will return to the flats where a sprint finish will take place in Valence. Mark Cavendish has won the previous two sprint stages in Fougères and Châteauroux, making the Manx Missile the firm favourite to win his 33rd Tour de France stage.
Stage 9 of the Tour de France was dominated by Ben O'Connor from the breakaway. The Australian won with a margin of more than five minutes to any other rider, catapulting himself into GC contention. He's now second overall and only two minutes behind Tadej Pogačar. Nairo Quintana also gained the polka-dot jersey.
Stage 10 profile
The stage departs from Albertville. The town is almost always in the Tour de France these days — the Tour has visited five times in the previous ten years. Most recently, Albertville hosted the start of the shortened stage 20 in 2019, where Vincenzo Nibali won from the breakaway and Egan Bernal secured the yellow jersey.
This year, there are no categorised climbs on the menu bar the Col de Couz. The ascent begins 51km in and averages 2.8% over 7.4km. A single KOM point lies at the top for the first rider to cross, meaning the leader of the king of the mountains classification doesn’t need to be in the breakaway to defend the polka-dot jersey.
The next point of note takes place at kilometre 82 in La Placette with the intermediate sprint. This time, the sprint finishes atop the Col de la Placette which is 4km in length and averages just under 4%. The pure sprinters will struggle to take any points here, meaning this is a great opportunity for Sonny Colbrelli or Michael Matthews to gain ground in the green jersey competition.
The next 55km are mainly flat. The major obstacle before the finish in Valence is an uncategorised climb which peaks 35km from the finish. The ascent is over 5km long but not particularly steep at 3.8%. However, BikeExchange, Bora-hansgrohe and Bahrain-Victorious could all see this as an opportunity to push the pure sprinters out the back for their leaders. Bora employed this tactic at the Giro d’Italia to great effect this year which allowed Peter Sagan to win stage 10.
Nonetheless, a mass-sprint is anticipated in Valence. The major obstacle in the final kilometres is a right turn around 400m from the finish. The lead out trains will be tasked with entering this corner first, as there isn’t enough time to make up lost ground afterwards.
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Despite the 1,500m of climbing over the stage, Mark Cavendish enters as the clear favourite. The Manx Missile is back to his best with two Tour de France stage victories in the bag this season. That takes his career tally to 32, just two shy of Eddy Merckx’s all-time record of 34. He doesn’t want to talk about it, but we will. A win in Valence for Cavendish would place him just one victory behind Merckx with numerous sprint chances to come. Davide Ballerini and Michael Mørkøv are his leadout men and placed him well to jump to Jasper Philipsen’s wheel on stage 6 in Châteauroux.
Alpecin-Fenix have two stage wins at the Tour de France already. As a ProTeam, this can only be considered a success. However, Jasper Philipsen has been beaten by Cavendish twice when chosen as leader ahead of the rapid Tim Merlier, which is the only sour note for the team. Merlier and Mathieu van der Poel have both now exited the Tour de France meaning Philipsen is the guaranteed leader, though his leadout has been severely weakened.
Nacer Bouhanni is one of the surprises thus far. The 30-year-old had never finished in the top three of a Tour de France stage before but has achieved that feat three times this year already. A win still eludes him though. Bouhanni only needs a Tour de France stage to complete the Grand Tour stage trilogy having already won at the Vuelta and Giro.
If Michael Matthews, Peter Sagan or Sonny Colbrelli are to stand a chance, they must shake things up. They cannot lead Cavendish to the line and hope to beat him — Cav appears to be too confident, powerful and tactically astute at the moment. This means that Bora, BikeExchange and Bahrain could all try to make things difficult on the climbs to push Cavendish out the back.
However, the only categorised ascent occurs 130km from the finish which means the uncategorised Beauregard-Baret is their only choice. At only 4%, this isn’t as difficult as the Valico della Somma which Bora utilised at the Giro d’Italia earlier this year. It’s a bold, aggressive strategy, but may be their best chance of winning the stage.
Wout Van Aert has now dropped out of GC contention which means he is free to go stage hunting. Although Jumbo-Visma don't have the riders available to lead him out, this didn't prevent Van Aert from winning two sprint stages at the Tour de France last year. Don't write him off.
Some sprinters succumbed to the 4,600m of climbing on stage nine including Arnaud Demare and Bryan Coquard. They will not be able to start stage ten.
Other sprinters with a chance include Cees Bol, Christophe Laporte and Mads Pedersen.
With a pivotal corner occurring at 400 metres to go, the sprinters must rely on their leadout train. With Tim Merlier and Mathieu van der Poel having left the race, Deceuninck Quick-Step boast the premier leadout at the Tour de France. That only boosts Mark Cavendish's chances and he is our pick to win stage 10 of the Tour de France.
Cover image: Michael Steele/Getty Images