Stage 3: Marseille - La Grande-Motte
Thursday, July 2, 2009 11.00pm
Drama expected on way to bunch finish
A salty sea air stage from the Old Port in Marseille across the plains of the Camargue to the heart of "French Florida", La Grande-Motte. The wind should play an essential role in the crossing of protected nature reserve of Camargue - a marshland with pink flamingos and wild horses. The leaders should be on their guard as not only a sea breeze could disturb their ride, but also the dreaded Mistral gale from the North could make for dangerous echelons in the peloton.
The regional capital of Marseille was on the first Tour de France programme in 1903 as the finish line of the 374 km stage that left Lyon. In a much more agreeable format, the Tour's last visit to the Phocean city, in 2007, gave Cédric Vasseur a chance to stand out in the final Tour de France of his career. Today, the flat terrain of the Camargue will surely see a sprinter raise his arms in La Grande-Motte.
Jonathan Vaughters' views
This day is going to be harder to predict, as I’d need to be a very keen weatherman to be able to do it. This area of France is famous for “La Mistral”, which are very strong winds. If it’s blowing in the right direction, this could be a key stage to the whole Tour.
Some teams will be up front, others will be caught out. It's usually impossible to bring back a split on strong crosswinds if the riders up front are strong and feel the death rattle of a few GC contenders behind.
The winner? Hard to say, but perhaps a sprint/drag race between strong men like Cancellara and Thor Hushovd.