In a few kilometres the race will reach Carhaix-Plouguer, site of one of France’s biggest music festivals, the Festival des Vieilles Charrues, or Old Ploughs Festival. This year’s event will be held next week, and headlined by Depeche Mode and Gorillaz.
Quick Step are still pushing at the front of the first peloton, and that group is now 1min 35sec ahead of the second. This is being widely interpreted as a very bad thing for Roglic.
85km to go: All of this excitement and acceleration has eaten into the breakaway group’s lead, which is now down to 3min 20sec.
Most of the yellow jersey favourites are in the first group of the peloton, with Primoz Roglic the biggest name left behind. LottoNL-Jumbo are currently working hard on trying the improve his situation.
The next town on the route is Poullaouen, which literally means “hole of joy”. The mind boggles.
98km to go: The leaders will soon reach Huelgoat, an apparently sleepy town, with a lake and a handsome old watermill. The breakaway group still have a healthy lead but it’s a lot less healthy than it was a few minutes ago, now at 5min 30sec.
The peloton has split, with 50-odd riders hiving off the front, with Quick Step very much to the fore.
“Surely one good thing about the environmental impact Tour is that it goes through so many places,” suggests Ben Everard. “For most sporting events, all the spectators have to travel to the stadium and all this travel must release loads of CO2. With the tour, just wait in your French village and watch as the cyclists come to you.” But does it take more energy for the Tour, with all its support vehicles, team vehicles, random sponsorship promotional vehicles, signage and stuff, to travel France than it would for it to stay still and all the interested Frenchmen to travel to it?
112.5km to go: And Smith does reach the arch first, taking his fourth point. He is level with Toms Skujins, who is wearing the polka dot jersey today, but behind on countback. So his day’s work is far from done.
Smith will want to gobble up the single point available at the top of this climb, which is just a couple of hundred metres away with the five breakaway riders clustered together.
Here’s a picture of Plouneventer, complete with giant haystack man and flying bike.
124km to go: The breakaway continues to break further away, the gap now approaching seven minutes. The day’s second categorised climb, the category four Côte de Roc’h Trévézel, is looming.
Fortuneo-Samsic’s Laurent Pichon, another Breton-born rider, has just cycled past his family and given them a thumbs up.
“I have done some calculations, and fear the Tour de France is bad for the environment,” writes Andrew Benton. “A car driving the 3500km route would release about a tonne of carbon into the air (I think), and a cyclist about 90kg (due to production of the food he eats), ie about 11 times less. So on the face of it, 200 people cycling the route should be far more environmentally friendly than 200 people driving the route. However, the cyclists need a huge number of support cars that would not be needed if they were driving themselves, and you can get four or five cyclists in one car, thus reducing the per-person emissions enormously. Environmentally, it would therefore probably be best to bus the cyclists round in electric busses. This is how Tours could be in twenty years’ time.”
I think that would be a lot less fun. What I worry about most are the television helicopters, the single-use disposable bottles and gels, the unwanted promotional handouts to fans and the effort, expense and materials that go into roadside displays destined to be glimpsed on television for a fraction of a second.
128km to go: The leaders are about to reach Sizun, a town that grew on the back of a flax-related boom that carried it through the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. It has a magnificent-looking church and its very own and really quite handsome Arc de Triomphe.
137km to go: Smith reaches the summit first, and pockets a couple of points. He could be back in the polka dot jersey by the end of the day, if it goes his way.
Fabien Grellier goes for it on the climb, but Dion Smith follows him and the two of them will contest the points.
139km to go: The Côte de Ploudiry, a category three climb, is the day’s first significant challenge, and the leaders are about to head up it.
The New Zealander Dion Smith is the notional race leader, being the best-placed of the five breakaway riders. They are now nearly six minutes ahead of the peloton.
“I have noticed some bikes in the peloton with disc brakes and others traditional rim brakes,” writes Ian Macaskill. “What is the feeling in the peloton about the mix, especially when big downhill stages with braking into corners are encountered?” Disc brakes were only introduced to the Tour last year and are still very much lesser spotted, though André Greipel and his Lotto Soudal team-mates have all used them this year, for the first time. Peter Sagan spoke about using them last week, and said he expected to use them in most stages of the Tour:
With the disc brakes now, the handling is just amazing. I was racing at the Tour de Suisse with the disc brakes, and I can say it’s a big advantage. There is a big difference [with braking] compared to the rim brakes.
The next significant town on the route is Plounéventer, AKA Gwineventer in Breton. The history of the town on its website has a chapter on “mayors, lawyers and tax collecters”, which doesn’t sound enormously exciting.
160km to go: The breakaway group has extended their lead to very nearly five minutes.
Groupama’s Olivier du Gac comes from Plouvien, so this will be a special day for him. He’s riding into town a little ahead of the peloton, and past a massive “allez Olivier, Plouvien avec toi” sign.
The five-man breakaway includes Laurent Pichon of Fortuneo-Samsic, Direct Energie’s Damien Gaudin and Fabien Grellier, Anthony Turgis of Cofidis and Dion Smith of Wanty-Groupe Gobert.
173km to go: The first staging post of the day is Plouvien, a small town which has never been visited by the Tour before. Their historical sites include The Garden of the Prat, which seems unnecessarily rude.
Two riders from Direct Energie, including Fabien Grellier, lead an immediate breakaway.
While the race remains neutralised, there’s still time for a bit of reading.
The riders are making their way calmly through Brest, with the actual racing due to start in 10km and about 15 minutes.
So today we hit Mûr-de-Bretagne, a place whose first two syllables are “murder”, and which might have a few riders dreaming of doing something like that to whoever made them do that climb not once but twice. It’s a 181km stage that the GC contenders will be eyeing greedily, and it’s about to get under way.