Stage 16: Le Puy-en-Velay to Romans-sur-Isère (165km)
Pre rest day, Stage 15 saw an exciting day of racing with Bauke Mollema taking his first Tour victory from a large breakaway group that contained a plethora of riding talent. The Wolf’s best bet, Tony Gallopin, managed to grab a podium finish but it was Mollema that was the star of the day with his brave attack 30km from the finish line. The GC battle was kept interesting with Froome suffering from an ill-timed broken spoke on the final climb and AG2R setting a furious pace on the front of the peloton in the hope of splitting the race in two. They almost succeeded in isolating Froome but as has been the case on numerous occasions in the past, the strength of Team Sky is just incredible and his teammates were able to pace the defending champion back to the group. The top 6 riders are now split by just 77 seconds as the race heads towards the Alps. Chris Froome and Sky will be put under immense pressure to hold onto the jersey by the likes of AG2R and as a side bet, The Wolf really likes AG2R to take out the team classification at it’s current price of $3.75
Will the day belong to the breakaway or will the sprinters again shine? The Wolf is intrigued by what is in store on Stage 16 and team tactics will have a lot to say on the outcome of the stage. The route is set up for a breakaway win but with the race for the Green jersey getting closer between Kittel & Matthews and the Intermediate Sprint point just 40km from the finish, the sprinters might just have enough in the tank to pull back the breakaway for the fight to the line.
The stage begins with a CAT 3 climb of the Cote de Boussoulet and we should see the break form on this climb. There then follows a plateau for the next 40km culminating in a CAT4 climb of the Col du Rouvey. Once crested, the riders then enjoy a descent of almost 50km into the Rhone Valley before they hit the Intermediate Sprint at 121.5km. The run to the finish is essentially on a flat track but the finish itself looks tricky with plenty of road furniture to tackle. If we do indeed finish with a bunch sprint, positioning will be key to the stage win and we could see a chaotic finish.
The Wolf is again tipping that the breakaway will succeed tonight and will be making selections based on that assumption. Sunweb should be looking to set a furious pace at the start of the race in the hope of dropping Kittel on the first climb. Once crested, the onus will then be on them to control the peloton for the entire race as they try to deliver Bling to the IS point ahead of Kittel. The breakaway can take advantage of the battle between Sunweb & Quick Step behind, forging out a decent gap on the undulating roads on the plateau to the descent. If Kittel is distanced on the climb then most of his team will have a fight on their hands in trying to get him back into the group and with Sunweb fighting hard to keep him at bay, the breakaway has the chance to power on for the stage win. There is also the issue of crosswinds to be tackled which could just blow the race apart. 18mph gusts are predicted towards the finish and if the riders are on exposed roads, it will play havoc with the tactics.
Given the above, The Wolf can see the sprint teams cancelling each other out, leaving the breakaway free to battle for the stage win…..
Steve Cummings – $34
The double British champion has been riding off the back of the peloton since his attack on Stage 12 and he will surely have targeted this stage to add to his 2 Tour stage wins over the past 2 years. The rolling nature of the stage suits him and he’ll look to attack off the front of the break on the valley roads. The way he rode on Stage 12 shows that he has the legs to put in a decent performance and if he gets into the break, he’ll be amongst the favourites for the win. The market has been priced with a bunch sprint in mind, meaning that Cummings is at a tasty looking $34. Another point to consider is that it’s Mandela Day and Cummings is riding for Dimension Data – A South Africa team.
Stefan Kung – $34
BMC made a complete mess of Stage 15 with a victory in sight. They had 4 riders in the break but managed to miss the final split and Roche couldn’t get back onto the group. Caruso has now moved into the top 10 for GC but BMC are still hunting a stage win. Stefan Kung could well be the man for the break tonight as he has been quiet in recent days. He has a huge diesel engine and can really power the break along using his immense TT skills.
Tiesj Benoot – $101
Not a day goes by without Lotto Soudal putting at least one man into the breakaway and tonight will be no exception. With the withdrawal of Wellens and both De Gendt and Gallopin active on previous stages, The Wolf like the look of Tiesj Benoot at triple figure odds. The Belgian has has an impressive Grand Tour debut and has all the attributes to perform well on this type of rolling stage. He has shown that he has the legs to challenge on the slopes and has the engine to power along on the flatlands.