Start location: Amorebieta-Etxano
Finish location: Bayonne
Start time: 13:00 CEST
Finish time (approx): 17:19 CEST
Before bidding farewell to the Basque Country, there’s time for one more stage in the cycling-mad region, this time one that crosses the border towards the end of the day from the Spanish part of the region to the French. It wasn’t so long ago that the entire region was avoided altogether by the Tour’s neighbouring Grand Tour, the Vuelta a España. After protests caused some stages of the 1978 edition to be cancelled, and amid a violent, ongoing conflict in which Basque separatists fought for independence from Spain, the Vuelta did not visit again until 2011. By then the conflict had cooled and the separatist organisation ETA had announced a ceasefire, and the region had been considered safe once more.
The Tour de France still visited the Basque Country during this time, however, including a stage to today’s destination of Bayonne in 2003. Historically a coastal town of maritime trading, Bayonne is also known for its dry-cured ham known as Jambon de Bayonne, and for its chocolate, which was introduced to the town by Jewish refugees fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. During the 100 Years’ War, it was also a bone of contention between the French and the British, and remained under the rule of the latter until the end of the conflict in the 1450s — contemporary French cyclists may relate to their plight, what with Brits Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas all having conquered the nation’s home race in recent years.
Stage three profile sourced via ASO
Bayonne is situated at the confluence of the Nive and Adour rivers, the latter of which has its source at a certain Col du Tourmalet — indicating just how close we are to the high mountains of the Pyrenees. Indeed, when the Tour visited in 2003 it was a climber who was victorious in the form of Tyler Hamilton, attacking on the Col Bagargui to take a long-range solo win. (At the time this victory was considered heroic, given Hamilton was riding through the pain of a broken collarbone sustained earlier in the race, but the American’s reputation has since been tarnished after multiple doping offences and confessions).
This time, however, all the nearby big climbs have been carefully avoided, in what should be the first day for the sprinters of this Tour. All four of the day’s categorised climbs are gotten out of the way within the first of the stage, and the longest is only 5km and none are ranked tougher than category three. If there is to be a complicating factor, it might come from the wind blowing from the Bay of Biscay, which the riders will spend most of the day transversing the coast of. This bay is what gives the Basque Country its temperate climate, due to its low-pressure systems and mild air, but today it will leave the riders exposed to crosswinds should the wind blow strong enough and in the right direction. But though this coast is known for its rough seas, the worst occurs during the winter months, and it tends to be much calmer around this time of year.
The sprinters will need to battle over some tough climbs to have their shot at going for the win today, especially in a stage which provides plenty of springboards for opportunistic attackers. Of the fast men, European champion Fabio Jakobsen is one of the key favourites – he has a strong lead out train with Soudal-Quick Step, importantly including Michael Mørkøv, known to be one of the best lead out men in the world. One person who will want to spoil Quick-Step’s party is Jasper Philipsen of Alpecin-Deceuninck. The Belgian rider has been vocal about his aims for this stage and has the full support of Mathieu van der Poel who could lead out Philipsen but may also be able to go for this stage himself if Philipsen is unable to make it over the climbs.
Another key sprinter who will be looking for victory is Jayco-Alula’s Dylan Groenewegen. The Dutchman has had a strong season so far, winning two stages consecutively at the Tour of Slovenia last month. Groenewegen may be let down by a slightly weaker squad leading him out compared to the likes of Quick-Step who bring a team almost solely dedicated to Jakobsen.
Should he be given the freedom to attempt the stage win, Wout van Aert is another contender for today. He was close on stage two, finishing second in a reduced sprint, and he will be keen to go one better today. Mads Pedersen of Lidl-Trek is another rider who will be licking his lips at the stage profile, both he and Van Aert will hope for a slightly harder stage in order to put some pressure on the pure sprinters. Biniam Girmay of Intermarché-Circus-Wanty is another rider who fits into this category – the Eritrean rider won a stage at the Giro d’Italia last year on a day with a similar profile to stage three of this year’s Tour.
Caleb Ewan of Lotto-Dstny is a pure sprinter who will want to get back on top form in this year’s Tour de France, he has struggled in more recent seasons to beat the very best when it matters and this year’s Tour de France provides a good chance to change this. Mark Cavendish is another rider who will hope for success today, targeting his 35th Tour stage win in order to better Eddy Merckx’s famous record. Peter Sagan of TotalEnergies could go for victory too, although his form hasn’t been as impressive as year's previous so far this season. Alexander Kristoff (Uno-X Pro Cycling Team) and Jordi Meeus of BORA-hansgrohe are also outside bets for the win today.
We’re backing Jasper Philipsen for victory in today’s stage. The Alpecin-Deceuninck rider has plenty of firepower in his team to help him cross the line first and the pure speed to finish it off.