This is a very interesting hilly stage which has the potential to turn out in a bunch of different directions after a start to the Tour which has pretty much followed the script so far.
These are outputs of machine learning models trained on top-level races in the last six years.
Climbing difficulty: 5.4 (on a scale where 0 = flat and 20+ = high mountains)
Probability of morning break winning: 32%
Probability of ending in bunch sprint: 8% (at least 20+ riders finishing together in winning group)
And 220 kilometers in length, which is the longest of this year’s Tour
Recent similar stages in terms of parcours and uphill finish include Stages 1 and 2 in 2021, Stage 3 in 2019, Stages 5 and 6 in 2018, Stage 3 in 2017, and Stage 2 in 2016. Each had hilly parcours without any significant climbing efforts, but ending in a fairly short uphill finish. Those seven stages have been won 3x by Sagan, 2x by Alaphilippe, and once by MVDP (with Dan Martin winning also). So these stages tend to be won by ultra-elite punchy riders.
However, the yellow jersey was in play at least hypothetically for a bunch of riders entering those stages which kept their teams engaged in A) limiting who got away in morning breakaway and B) trying to pull that break back. In those seven stages, between 4 and 7 riders got into the morning breakaways and the groups were mostly riders from second tier teams with 2019 Tim Wellens being the best of the bunch.
In this case, only four other riders are within 30 seconds of Wout Van Aert. Of them, Lampaert and Boasson Hagen don’t have a chance of taking the jersey from Van Aert from the peloton tomorrow. Powless perhaps has a very outside shot. Pogacar probably has no interest with the efforts on the cobbles yesterday and a mountain top finish tomorrow. That leaves no team particularly interested to chase to try to get into yellow.
In terms of the stage win, this is not a finish for sprinters. Of the seven comparison stages, they were contested by final groups of 40 or fewer riders where Sagan, Michael Matthews, and Sonny Colbrelli were the most “sprinter-like” riders in the bunch. Translating that to 2022, that means Ewan, Groenewegen, Philipsen, and Jakobsen probably have no shot tomorrow. That means four fewer teams who will be interested in chasing things down; rather, they’ll want to fire riders up the road in the breakaway.
That leaves almost every team outside the six with GC favorites (UAE, Jumbo, INEOS, Movistar, Bora, and FDJ) interested in making sure they are represented in the breakaway. In the first week of stages in the last four Tours it has been extremely rare for double-digit riders to get into the morning breakaway. We’ve seen it only twice, once on Stage 6 in 2019 (summit finish) and once on Stage 7 in 2021. It is rare to see large breakaways go in the first week, but this could be the day.
How it could play out
I would amend the model’s estimate of the breakaway’s win probability upward to something like 80%. That remaining 20% is if Jumbo-Visma stubbornly brings the breakaway back to keep Van Aert in yellow/try to get another stage win or if something weird happens with morning break and a lot of strong teams don’t get someone in it.
Stage 7 from last year might be the template for how the stage goes. That was also the longest stage in the race after a first week where two hill top finishes and a time trial established a hierarchy. It was hillier with more climbing and less climbing at the very end of the race, but not dramatically so. In the end, nearly 30 riders got away in the first 50 kilometers of the stage including major one day race/classics/puncheurs like Asgreen, Van Der Poel, Van Aert, Mohoric, Stuyven, and Kragh Andersen. The GC group motored in five minutes down still 30 riders strong.
My model which is designed to predict which riders will get in breakaway based on tomorrow’s parcours predicts the following chances (trained on past breakaways so this considers both desire and ability to get into the break). All together, this model predicts 9 riders. So if we see something like 18 riders, we could multiply these chances by 2x. I’ve italicized anyone probably on team duties.
15%: Wellens, MVDP
12%: Cort, Politt, Perez, Gallopin
11%: Storer, Clarke, Dewulf
10%: Rolland, Teuns, Oliveira, Bouchard
9%: Van Moer, Lafay, Mohoric, Soler, Gilbert, Simmons
8%: Goossens, Tratnik, Mollema, Sanchez, Houle, Van Der Hoorn, Benoot, Turgis, Martin, Kamna, Woods, Dillier
Notably on this list there isn’t a Quick Step rider as Cattaneo, Honore, Bagioli, and Asgreen are all 6-7%. Surely they will be represented in any move which has a chance to stick.
In addition, it’s possible we see non-traditional breakaway specialists try to get into the move. This could be someone like Sagan, Michael Matthews, or even Jasper Stuyven if he gets any freedom from the peloton.
Combining this intuition about break’s chances with support from the numbers I have the following probabilities for tomorrow given an 80% chance of morning breakaway winning:
|Van Der Poel Mathieu||21.2%|
|Van Aert Wout||1.9%|
|Honore Mikkel Frolich||1.3%|
MVDP at 21% is pretty rich given his mediocre form so far, but given his overall ability + propensity to get into breakaways I can make sense of it. I doubt Bonnamour at 2.5% to get his first pro win today is close to right.