MURET: Tour de France sprinters will be breathing a sigh of relief and be anxious to take their chances on Friday’s 198.5km stage 13 from Muret to Rodez.
After three gruelling days in the mountains trying simply to get home within the time limits, the sprinters will be feeling this is a stage for them.
Despite the Pyrenees being about the climbers and overall contenders, the Tour’s green sprint jersey was eagerly contested over the last three days.
Slovak Peter Sagan started the Pyrenees in green but Germany’s Andre Greipel wrested it away from him on Tuesday’s first mountain stage courtesy of the day’s intermediary sprint.
However, he was unable to follow an acceleration on an uphill slope on Wednesday — his birthday — and lost it as Sagan finished much the higher in the day’s intermediate sprint.
And Greipel just missed out on snatching back the jersey on Thursday by a mere two points.
Friday’s stage starts off flat and although it’s made for a breakaway, there will be points to pick up in the intermediate sprint, where Greipel may well become the virtual green jersey wearer on the road, should he finish above Sagan.
However, the stage then starts becoming very lumpy and the finish in Rodez tackles a 570m climb with an average gradient of 9.6 percent.
That’s far more suited to a Sagan or John Degenkolb than the bigger, burly Greipel.
So far the green jersey battle has been a straight shoot-out between the German and Sagan but Degenkolb and Mark Cavendish have been keeping their points ticking over to give themselves a faint chance of wearing green in Paris.
To do so, though, they’re going to need to win a couple of stages as the sprint points on offer at the finish are far greater and the differences wider than in the intermediate sprints.
Degenkolb and Sagan, though, will likely get their teams to up the pace into the finish in Rodez in the hope of dropping Greipel and Cavendish on the steep finishing climb.
But as long as the breakaway has been reeled in, punchers such as Joaquim Rodriguez — winner of the third and 12th stages already — Alejandro Valverde, Dan Martin and Michal Kwiatkowski may all fancy their chances.
So too could Australian Michael Matthews who’s been recovering day by day from his crash on the third stage of the race in Belgium.
The overall contenders will at least be hoping for a quieter day in the saddle, particularly with the Alps looming.
And Chris Frooome will likewise expect to be given a break from constant questions about doping and bicycle motors.
It’s a transition day at the Tour and wary limbs, and minds, will be keen for some respite.