The seaside resort of Le Touquet plays host on Tuesday to the start of what should be a fast, exciting fourth stage of the Tour across northern France, a brief day’s respite by the seaside before the horrors of the cobbles to come.
This looks like a stage for the big sprinters, with just two fourth-category climbs and a long, flat run-in to metropolitan Lille. The riders will first head south along the coast, which could be dangerous if crosswinds blow and split the peloton into fragments or echelons, as happened last year when the eventual Tour winner Chris Froome lost time in Brittany.
Le Touquet is known as the “Paradise of Sports” thanks to its long sandy beaches that encourage all manner of competition, but this could be a hellish day for a yellow jersey contender left behind in the wind. All being well, however, things should come together for a bunch finish and, with Mark Cavendish no longer in the picture, perhaps Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel will resume their all-German battle for sprinting supremacy.
Lille has a rich history of hosting Tour stages: in 1980, the irascible Frenchman Bernard Hinault won in the industrial capital of northern France after a 249km (156-mile) stage from Liège in Belgium that crossed cobbles.
The city has experienced the darker side of the sport. The leaders of the infamous Festina team were taken here for questioning during the 1998 Tour de France, after Belgian masseur Willy Voet had been arrested trying to traffic drugs across the Channel.