Épernay — Metz (128.9 miles/207.5km)
Friday 6 July
On the last day before the 2012 Tour enters its first true mountain test the sprinters should be chomping at the bit for a stage win in Metz, after the 207.5km run from Épernay. The mostly flat stage should bode well for a mass sprint, with a pancake-flat run to the line.
The Cat. 4 Côte de Bruxières shouldn’t cause much trouble for the sprinters, though a well-placed attack by a rider hoping to contend for the green jersey early in the race could soften the legs a hair. Look for the yellow jersey’s squad to relinquish control of the bunch low on the climb and force the sprinters’ teams to work for a win.
So long as he rides uninjured, Mark Cavendish (Sky) will enter every bunch finish the favorite. His 20 Tour wins have earned him that right. But a tricky, roughly 120-degree corner inside the final kilometers is textbook for tripping up the Manxman. This may end up a day for Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) or J.J. Rojas (Movistar) to shine.
Épernay, the capital of Champagne, welcomed its first of four previous Tours in 1963, hosting the first stage of the 50th edition — one in which Jacques Anquetil won his fourth overall title. Épernay was the start town in the Tour’s most recent visit, 2010, when Mark Cavendish took the sprint finish in Montargis.
Metz, the capital of the Lorraine region, will boast 105 years of Tour history this year, with 40 finishes since 1907. Metz was the first foreign city to be visited by the Tour, when it was in German hands in 1907. Six winners of the Tour de France have won in the region, including Lance Armstrong who won the last stage to finish there in 1999.