High winds greeted riders as they got up on Wednesday morning for stage 11 of the Tour de France: GC contenders will have to be wary of splits in the bunch

High winds could shatter the peloton and provide an unexpected challenge to the overall contenders on stage 11 of the 2016 Tour de France on Wednesday.

Strong winds blowing off the coast as the riders make their way from Carcassonne to Montpellier over 162.5km could create splits in the bunch. There’s potential for GC contenders to get caught on the wrong side of a split and lose time on what was originally predicted to be a flat, calm day.

Tour de France 2016, stage 11 profile - Wednesday July 13, Carcassonne to Montpelier, 164km

Crosswinds caused Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) to lose 90 seconds on stage two of the race in 2015. If that doesn’t seem like a significant time loss, remember that the entire current top 10 after stage 10 is separated by only 61 seconds.

Triple 2016 stage winner Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), who is one of the leading contenders to take the victory on the stage, tweeted on Wednesday morning: “When you’re here and woken by the wind banging the window shutters, it’s not likely to be a calm day on the bike!”.

Former rider and three-time green jersey winner Robbie McEwen said: “Wind howling from WNW up to 70km/h. This stage just became one of the most important.”

The wind speeds will make for a nervous start to the stage, as the general classification contenders’ teams will want to stay near the front of the bunch and keep the pace high to prevent splits. It might be hard for any riders to initially form an escape group.

Stage nine winner Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) said that the “stage will probably be nice to watch on tv. For us riders? Not so much… #wind #stress”.

Giant-Alpecin coach Adriaan Helmantel said in a short video he posted on Twitter ahead of the stage start: “Normally flat means a sprinters’ stage but the wind is strong so maybe there will be echelons… hectic. Most of the time, time trials and uphill finishes are important for GC riders but be aware today that it could be a really important stage.”

>>> Tour de France 2016: Latest news, reports and info

The conditions will, of course, favour riders with experience in the spring classics, where crosswinds are part and parcel of the racing. Expect to see race leader and defending champion Chris Froome making full use of Sky team-mates Luke Rowe and Ian Stannard to keep him safe in any blustery conditions.

Belgian and Dutch teams may also thrive in the conditions, with Etixx-Quick Step, Lotto-Soudal and LottoNL-Jumbo possibly moving to the fore, along with individual classics specialists such as Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) and world champion Peter Sagan (Tinkoff).