The Tour de France began with climbs aplenty, meaning the GC riders had to be on from the start. However, the climbs dried up over the last few days, with sprint finishes dominating the Tour, aside the thrilling stage 5 time-trial.
The hills return on stage 7 though, and with over 3,000 metres of climbing to be navigated over 250km, the riders must be prepared for a long day in the saddle.
Stage 6 was dominated by Mark Cavendish. The Brit returned to Châteauroux to win his third Tour de France stage in the city, and take the 32nd Tour stage win of his career. Cav is now just two wins behind Eddy Merkcx' all-time Tour de France stage record. Jasper Philipsen finished second whilst Nacer Bouhanni was third.
Stage 7 profile
Stage 7 is the longest stage of the 2021 Tour de France. With just under 250km on the menu, the riders must retain their concentration throughout.
The stage begins in Vierzon and heads in an easterly direction throughout. The first two thirds of the stage are flat, meaning the only point of note in the opening 150km is the intermediate sprint which occurs at kilometre 115 in Saint-Benin-d'Azy.
The breakaway will form in this phase of the race, and they will have their best chance of stealing stage victory so far in the race. With plenty of mountain points coming up, the exuberant Ide Schelling will undoubtedly look to join the break to protect the polka-dot jersey.
The first point he’ll need to be wary of is the Côte de Château-Chinon, which is a third category climb that occurs at kilometre 165. The ascent is 3.2km long and averages 5.3%. This leads directly into the Côte de Glux-en-Glenne, which is fourth category at only 2.6km. A single KOM point will be given to the first rider over the top.
A short valley section will follow, but this is the final respite the riders will be allowed until the stage finish. The Côte de la Croix de la Libération will kick-off the fireworks in the final 50km. The third-category ascent is 4.6km in length and averages more than 5%. The final 2.5km of the climb are much steeper however, and the climbing doesn’t stop after the KOM sprint, with another kilometre or so at slightly easier percentages. When the climb peaks, around 35.5km of the stage will remain.
Next is the Signal d’Uchon, which is the first second category, and therefore the most challenging climb of the 2021 Tour de France so far. The climb averages over 5.5% for 5.7km, though the final section of the climb does feature absurdly steep sections well over 10%. The climb also features eight, five and two bonus seconds to the first three riders that cross the top of the climb respectively, which could encourage the GC riders to be offensive.
The riders will descend into the final climb of the day, which is the fourth category Côte de la Gourloye. From the top, there will be just 8km to the finish. These kilometres are mostly downhill until the final kilometre, which is briefly uphill to the finish line.
Image credit: A.S.O./Pauline Ballet
The breakaway stole stages left, right and centre at the Giro d’Italia earlier this year but have been less successful so far at the Tour de France. That can be illustrated by the stage 4 finish, where despite his best efforts, Brent Van Moer was caught and passed by the sprinters with no more than a few hundred metres left.
Depending on the form it takes, the breakaway could find their first major success on stage 7. With 250km to ride, many teams will prefer to conserve their resources rather than committing to controlling the breakaway all day.
Mike Woods lost a heap of time on stage one, which gives the Canadian the freedom to attack up the road. He is a brilliant puncher and will be difficult to stop on the final couple of hills if he makes his move there.
Woods beat Alejandro Valverde to stage victory on stage 7 of La Vuelta España last season, but Valverde may see this as an opportunity to win a stage at the Tour for the first time since 2012. Joining the breakaway is his best option.
Other riders that could be dangerous from a breakaway include Omar Fraile, Tiesj Benoot, Benoît Cosnefroy, Michael Valgren, Quinten Pacher and Alex Aranburu.
In the GC battle, Julian Alaphilippe may see this as an opportunity to gain time. The World Champion is the most consistently explosive puncher in the world, and the steep ramps close to the finish suit him. Alaphilippe is a natural attacker who often cannot resist flying up the road. If he chooses to attack, few will be capable of following.
Jumbo-Visma’s Tour de France changed when Primož Roglič crashed on stage 3. The Slovenian shared an image of his body covered in dressings ahead of the next stage, calling himself a 'mummy’. However, he recovered well on the stage 5 time-trial and is now firmly back in contention for yellow. The short, sharp climbs suit Roglič's skillset, though he will be wary of stages eight and nine which will probably provide larger time gaps. Instead, Jumbo-Visma may look to launch Jonas Vingegaard, who produced a stunning time-trial on stage 5, in order to shake things up.
Mathieu van der Poel is the man wearing the yellow jersey. His lead over Tadej Pogačar is slim at eight seconds, and the minimum requirement for Van der Poel will be to retain the jersey for another stage. However, Van der Poel could go one step further and win his second stage of the race. He’s strong on steep hills, which was on full display when he won Strade Bianche this season, and would be one of the quickest riders left should the stage be decided via a sprint.
Michael Matthews and Sonny Colbrelli are two versatile sprinters who can climb capably. If they can cling on to the front of the race, they'll have their eyes on stage glory. Joining the breakaway is also an option for both riders, which would mean their teams don't need to chase for long periods.
Other riders that could challenge for the stage from the main favourites group include Pierre Latour, David Gaudu and Sergio Higuita.
We think that the early breakaway have a great chance of winning the stage here. Astana Premier-Tech have a range of potential breakaway candidates, and although the stage could suit Alex Aranburu, we are picking Omar Fraile to win stage 7 of the 2021 Tour de France. Fraile recently won the Spanish National Championships and a strong time trial on stage 5 shows that he has carried that form into the Tour de France.
Cover image: A.S.O./Pauline Ballet