The start and finish are only 25km apart but instead today’s stage does a big loop to borrow the route of one of France’s most popular cyclosport rides, the L’Ardéchoise with over 10,000 riders taking part each year. But there’s nothing amateur about today’s stage.
A series of cols, the profile above shows there’s little flat road in between the climbs and descents. But these diagrams don’t always tell the full story and today is not as mountainous as you might think. Instead here are the numbers:
- Km 45.0 – Col de Montivernoux – 16.1 km, average 4.2 %
- Km 95.0 – Col de Clavière – 12.1 km, average 3.7 %
- Km 108.0 – Col de Rochepaule – 3.6 km, average 4.8 %
- Km 121.0 – Col de Lalouvesc – 8.7 km, average 5.1 %
- Km 138.0 – Col de Fontaille – 2.2 km, average 4.9 %
- Km 160.0 – Saint Félicien – 2.5 km, average 4.4 %
Remember an Alpine climb is typically 7% so these climbs roll faster. To borrow from Greg LeMond, “it doesn’t get any easier, you just go faster“. Climbs like this tend to see the bunch shrink by a process of elimination with riders blown out of the back rather than the leaders attacking each other. Plus the descents today will be technical in places but will also require riders to pedal fast downhill.
The finish: an uphill climb at 4.4% is enough to deter many sprinters. But in addition to this the climb has two tight hairpin bends, one with 1500m to go, the next at the kilometre. Both make perfect places for a late attack.
Likely scenario: a breakaway goes away but we’ll see if it is filled with heavy hitters, riders like Luis Leon Sanchez, Rein Taaramae or Sylvain Chavanel and, or if it’s full of lower tier French riders trying to get TV airtime and impress ahead of Tour de France selection. Today’s finish is less suited to a sprint finish so we’ll see who chases. Will Sky defend the yellow jersey? The answer isn’t yes or no, it depends who is up the road and the gap they have. It is possible there’s a bunch sprint too but this kind of uphill finish will suit a different type of rider. There’s even a chance Cadel Evans strikes again.
Just what is Andy Schleck up to? There’s a piece on cyclingnews.com titled “Andy Schleck left behind in Saint Vallier” but this suggests passivity. Instead it appeared to me that he actively sat up, that he wasn’t left behind, rather he decided to leave the bunch. Nobody seems to have got a word from him so this can’t be confirmed. Either way he’s said he’s not here for a week of racing but instead wants to test himself on the Col de Joux Plane on Saturday so in some ways he’s asked to be judged by this day rather than yesterday.
If you thought Schleck had a bad day: spare a thought for Lieuwe Westra who finished over four minutes down. He was rivalling Brad Wiggins in Paris-Nice last March, now he’s well off the pace, finishing 157th.
Eerste rit gehad!was vandaag niet super … #geenpaniek ben nog in opbouw
— Lieuwe Westra (@lieuwewestra) June 4, 2012
Which translates as “Done my first race. Wasn’t super. No panic, things are under construction”. Time is running out for the building work. Plus of course Samuel Sanchez, Pierrick Fédrigo and Dan Martin all crashed yesterday and sustained injuries. They made it to the finish and are expected to start.
Weather: a pleasant day with sunshine and mild temperatures, the forecast looks unlikely to influence the tactics.
TV: the stage finish is expected for 4.00-4.30pm but don’t tune in for the sprint, aim to track the racing before so you can see the cols and the scenery in one of France’s least populated regions.
Food: chestnuts. Until the arrival of the potato five centuries ago and more organised agriculture, the humble chestnut was a big part of the diet in France. This edible nut was an annual crop but could be saved and even turned into flour for year-round uses, providing vital carbohydrates. Today it is still harvested in this region, indeed on an industrial scale. But it’s no longer a staple but instead a treat used to sweeten cakes or sold as a spread.