Today’s stage six route from Tours to Chateauroux is realistically the last chance the sprinters will get in the limelight before Monday’s rest day, with a taxing weekend in the Alps to come, and Mark Cavendish will be determined to seize the chance to win his 32nd Tour de France stage after that sensational victory on Tuesday.
The omens are good: Cavendish’s first stage win at the Tour came in 2008 and that day also finished in the Indre capital of Chateauroux. Caleb Ewan’s collarbone break in a nasty fall at the finish of stage three has opened up the sprints for the rest, and aged 36, with a strong Deceuninck-QuickStep team around him, Cavendish knows he will not get many more chances like this one.
Plenty of other riders will see today as an opportunity, however. Peter Sagan survived that collision with Ewan and seems to be in the condition to challenge at the nose of sprinter’s stage. Michael Matthews and Arnaud Demare have won on days like this before too. Tim Merlier already has a stage win and could get another here. And then there are the riders who could pull away from the rest long before the line if they are determined enough, like Matthieu van der Poel, Julian Alaphilippe and Sonny Colbrelli. Don’t discount Wout van Aert either, a rider who wins all sorts of stages including sprints.
There is a categorised climb in the middle of the stage, but the category-four Cote de Saint-Aignan is unlikely to play a major part in disturbing the sprinters. There may be some breakaways or solo attacks, but it seems too inviting an offer for the fastest to pass up. There is no tricky climax or technical challenge, just a straight road for more than a kilometre into the finish.
For the overall contenders it is a day to get through without trouble. Mathieu van der Poel’s yellow jersey is unlikely to come under threat here while Tadej Pogacar will be happy to continue to sit on his shoulder, eight seconds back in the standings and in prime position to take yellow once the road steepens. The greatest threats to the reigning champion – Ineos’s Richard Carapaz and Geraint Thomas, Jumbo-Visma’s Primoz Roglic and Ef Education’s Rigoberto Uran – are all around a further minute and a half behind, but today is not one to claw back time.
Route map and profile
The sensible bet is Mark Cavendish. He showed on Tuesday he still has the power, and the racing instinct to surf wheels and sense a gap will never leave him. The wildcard is Wout van Aert, a rider who can appear out of nowhere on a stage like this one and do it single-handedly. But there is another thing in Cavendish’s favour and that is the strength of the team around him. QuickStep have been barely affected by the early crashes on this Tour and have some of the best lead-out riders in the field, including the old master Michael Morkov. Cavendish has the team, the motivation and the stage to write history again.
The stage is scheduled to start just before 1pm BST and is expected to finish at around 4.30pm.