Saturday’s stage is where the Dauphiné hits the mountains with a vengeance. The stage starts with a quick climb, enough to encourage some to start attacking, before taking the scenic Eveaux gorges on the way up to the Col des Aravis. This is a proper climb, complete with hairpin bends and the echo of cow bells bouncing off the glacial scenery. The following climbs are steady, both the Tamié and Grand Cucheron are about 5%. It’s the final that’ll make all the difference. The Collet d’Allevard is averages close to 9% with some sections over 10%. It’s not the Zoncolan but it’s certainly one of the steeper climbs in the French Alps.
As such it’s a real test for Bradley Wiggins. He coped well with the climbing in the 2009 Tour de France but was helped by many a steady gradient, the only time he was in real difficulty was on the Col de Romme, a side route up the Col de la Colombière with double digit ramps. Word is that he’s confident with his power to weight ratio but I suspect others will challenge. It’s possible a breakaway goes clear, maybe someone like David Moncoutié takes their chance. But amongst the GC contenders Wiggins should try to pace himself whilst the others try more hot-headed riding. Look to the usual suspects: Evans, Joaquin Rodriguez, Van Den Broeck, Taaramae, Brajkovic, Samuel Sanchez and maybe a revenge-seeking Robert Gesink. But if I had to pick a winner then I’d watch climbers Thibaut Pinot and Dan Martin too.
A final day but no victory parade. It’s only 117.5km but features the Col du Glandon. The race director these days is Bernard Thevenet, a rider who dethroned Eddy Merckx in the Tour de France. But he always hated this climb so he’s making the riders pay, 22km with an average of 7% but the climb goes up in steps and it’s hard to manage. Then comes a fast descent that’s got its dangers before the final climb up to La Toussuire, a ski station. This is the climb where Floyd Landis blew up in 2006, losing his yellow jersey. The short distance means few should crack so spectacularly but we’ll see a very fast climb. Again some might want to breakaway but it’ll be hard to go clear. The climb to La Toussuire is steadier than the previous day but still a proper taste of the French Alps.
Overall the weekend will be rich with insight into who is climbing well and who is running out of time for July. But as much as we might focus on July, this is very much a superb weekend’s racing in its own right and should be enjoyed for the sport and spectacle it offers.