Cycle//Tour de France
by Jonathan Davies
Stages 7, 8 and 9 bring to an end the first week of the Tour de France ahead of the first rest day on Monday.
Stage 7 - 10 July: Livarot - Fougères (190.5km)
After travelling along the coast of Northern France to Le Havre in stage six, the riders leave Livarot near Caen in Normandy on another long, flat stage to Fougères in Brittany where it will stay for another two days. As in previous days, we're likely to see a breakaway try to get the stage win from distance with the sprinters' teams reigning them in for a bunched sprint finish. Sprinters without a stage win so far will be keen to cross the line first before the flat stages run out next week.
Stage 8 - 11 July: Rennes - Mûr-de-Bretagne (181.5km)
Rennes, the capital of Brittany, is the starting place of this penultimate stage of the first week. Despite its flat categorisation, there are a few short, sharp climbs and an uphill finish on the Mûr-de-Bretagne, which could cause problems like stage three's climb on the Mûr-de-Huy when Chris Froome took the yellow jersey.
The Mûr-de-Huy averaged 19%, however, compared to the Mûr-de-Bretagne's 2km at 6.9%. It could see one of the GC contenders make a last ditch attempt to gain a few crucial seconds over their rivals. The time bonuses for the first three riders across the line come to an end on stage eight, so it's their last chance to make up an extra bit of time. Alternatively, the leaders' teams may choose to let the breakaway have its day so as to not risk rivals securing the time bonuses instead.
A puncheur like Joaquim Rodriguez or Alejandro Valverde is suited best for stage victory, but as we saw in Huy, the GC favourites could spring a surprise.
Stage 9 - 12 July: Team Time Trial Vannes - Plumelac (28km)
The riders stay in Brittany for the team time-trial in the final stage before the much needed rest day. Despite 'only' being 28km, teams will ride together in a relay to try to beat the time of their opponents. Remember: the time of the fifth rider to cross the line is the time given to the team.
Unlike most team time-trials, there are three real inclines, including a 1.7km long finish at 6.2%. These time trial bikes aren't exactly geared towards climbs, so that will make things more difficult for the teams.
Orica-GreenEdge would have been clear favourites after their win in the Giro d'Italia, but having already lost three riders before the start of stage six, it will be hard for them to replicate that form.