Thursday marks the longest day of this year's Tour de France and could provide a surprise winner after a brutal day of racing on Wednesday.
Carnage was promised as the peloton took on the cobbles and the route didn't disappoint, with Israel-Premier Tech's Simon Clarke outlasting Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert Materiaux's Taco van der Hoorn in the sprint.
As ever, two-time defending champion Tadej Pogacar was the main winner, tacking onto Jasper Stuyven's wheel. While yellow jersey Wout van Aert's heroics kept his Team Jumbo-Visma colleague Jonas Vingegaard in touch, at what cost will it come?
Onto Thursday and race director Christian Prudhomme has described the 220km route from the Belgian city of Binche back across the border to Longwy as a "long trek through the Ardennes".
It looks set to prove a balancing act for the favourites, with the first mountain finish to Les Super Planches des Belles Filles to come on Friday, providing a dilemma. The overall contenders will need to both measure their effort and ensure they do not lose time.
Therefore, it may prove to be a day for the breakaway, especially with the Category Three Mur de Pulventeux situated six kilometres from the finish. That climb could act as a launchpad for the puncheurs to mount a stage-winning attack heading onto the closing Cote des Religieuses.
Tour de France, Stage Six
Binche, Belgium, to Longwy, France
11:05 UK Time, Thursday 7th July, 2022
|How to Watch:|
Live on ITV4, Eurosport, Discovery+ & GCN+
|Odds:||Wout Van Aert 7/2, Matthieu Van Der Poel 11/1, Michael Matthews 14/1, Tadej Pogacar 14/1|
With Wednesday's bruising over the cobbles behind them and with Friday's final ascent in the back of the peloton's collective minds, this should be transition day at the Tour but the length and difficulty makes that impossible.
The length of the stage makes it more than a headache, while the rolling route means there will be few opportunities to switch off.
There are two Category Three climbs and a Category Four along the route and little flat terrain to relax. That provides the potential for fireworks but the difficulty of the finish suggests the big teams will control the break in anticipation of a potential shootout in the final.
Both the Cote de Montingny-sur-Chiers and Cote de Pulventeux come in the final 20kms, with the race finishing on the Religieuses.
Any hesitation will be seized upon, and with no Julian Alaphilippe in the race, it has a really open feel to it.
Thibaut Pinot - 300/1
A darling of the French public, Thibaut Pinot arrived at this year's Tour de France without the responsibility of leading Groupama-FDJ, with compatriot David Gaudu instead acting as their protected rider.
Gaudu was one of Wednesday's surprise packages, belying his slight frame to power along the cobbles and solidify his top-10 hopes.
Pinot played his part in guiding him home and can be more selfish on stage six. Friday is sure to be his goal but he could test his legs 24 hours earlier.
With three categorised climbs, there are King of the Mountains points available and the polka-dot jersey is something the climber is prioritising.
Marc Hirschi - 250/1
A breakout star of the 2020 Tour, Hirschi endured a quiet 2021 but has shown signs of improvement this year in winning some minor one-day races and adding top-10s at Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Amstel Gold.
Pogacar's ride on Wednesday means his UAE Team Emirates colleagues can almost have a day off, with the Slovenian unlikely to lose time on this stage.
His teammate Hirschi, nominally a one-day racer who thrives in the breakaway, is unlikely to be one of his final domestiques on Les Planches and could be given some freedom here.
Now 23, the Swiss no longer holds the element of surprise but the profile of this stage suits his style of riding.
Mathieu van der Poel - 10/1
Despite a stellar opening time-trial, Van der Poel has otherwise been off the pace so far at this year's Tour and needs a performance.
He was expected to feature heavily on Wednesday but the Dutchman didn't have it in the legs, eventually finishing almost four minutes behind Clarke.
This is another day that doesn't suit his Alpecin-Deceuninck team's sprinter, Jasper Philipsen, and he will be given licence to attack.
A punishing finale such as this is where Van der Poel usually excels and the 27-year-old needs to show he is still worthy of his place at the Tour.
Van der Poel has said he doesn't have his best form "right now" but his ability to produce a performance from nowhere means he has to be respected.
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