Yesterday had a big climb but it was too far from the finish to determine the result. If it wasn’t what you wanted, note it was included “for fun” by the organisers and when the Tour de France goes over the finish will be much closer. When Evans and Nibali got away over the top, a move like this could stick if it goes earlier.
But there’s no hiding or tactics today, this is a pure Alpine stage where the final climb is followed by a rollercoaster descent to the finish in Morzine. Today could well be more decisive than last Thursday’s time trial stage because the time gaps can be bigger for some and all sorts of tactics, risks and surprises can happen.
Note the early finish time and TV broadcast mentioned below.
A series of mountain passes make up the route with the Col de Plainpalais right from the start.
- Km 11.0 – Col de Plainpalais – 11.6 km 6.5% avg – Cat1
- Km 32.0 – Col de Leschaux – 7.2 km 4.3% avg – Cat3
- Km 67.0 – Col des Essérieux – 4.2 km 5.5% avg – Cat3
- Km 102.0 – Col de la Colombière – 11.8 km 5.7% avg – Cat1
- Km 129.0 – Côte de Châtillon – 4.8 km 4.8% avg – Cat3
- Km 155.0 – Col de Joux Plane – 11.7 km 8.4% avg – CatHC
The two that stand out are the Colombière and Joux Plane. You might remember Floyd Landis’s testosterone-fuelled Alpine raid in 2006, the roads of today’s stage are the same with the two climbs. The Colombière is a regular climb with 6% slopes, a steady affair but enough to wear the riders down. A fast descent, some riding and the small Côte de Châtillon to cross over from one valley to another and then the approach to the Joux Plane.
The most Italian of Alpine climbs in France, this is short but steep with regular sections at 10%. The profile shows easy gradients to start with but I’m not sure if this is right; certainly there are some 12% sections at the beginning, perhaps they are spaced out by flatter parts. It changes in gradient, it twists, it. Joux means woodland and this is a proper mountain pass, not a modern road engineered to bus tourists up to a ski resort but an old path that’s probably been used for thousands of years before it got surfaced.
In more recent history it was Lance Armstrong’s unlucky climb. Ride the Alps enough and you’re bound to crack somewhere; Armstrong had his bad day here; Jan Ullrich cracked on the road to Les Deux Alpes, Bernard Thévenet hated the Col du Glandon. Still this is a hard and selective climb.
I can’t see Wiggins in trouble but a bad day is possible. Still, Cadel Evans would have to take off early to claim back his 1.44 deficit and most other threats are more than two minutes down. Time gaps like this can be claimed back but it would require efforts beginning on the Colombière to thin the group and Sky seem to have riders capable of supporting Wiggins. Instead there could be two races today, a breakaway up the road and the overall contenders scrapping for the podium. Because if Wiggins looks solid, there’s plenty to fight for. The podium matters and UCI ranking points go down to 10th place, third place in this race brings in as many precious points as seventh in the Tour or sixth on the the Giro. Maybe Evans doesn’t want to fight too hard but the likes of Wilco Kelderman and Andrey Amador can aim for a salary boost today.
The Schleck Test: all week fans, pundits and others have been exasperated by Andy Schleck’s performance. But he’s played it cool – he’s probably handy at poker – and declared from the beginning that today’s stage would be his test. So we’ll see how he fares, whether he jumps into the early breakaway or saves things for the Joux Plane… or whether his crash in the time trial prevents anything.
Weather: cool conditions at altitude but the forecast says it will be dry and sunny with a temperature of 20°C in the valleys (68°F).
TV: the stage is planned to finish between 2.30 and 3.00pm Euro time. This is earlier than the other stages so don’t be caught out. Live video should start at 1.25pm Euro time which means the climb of the Col de la Colombière probably won’t feature but the descent will.
Food: cheese. The grassy pastures are home to dairy cows and the region produces a lot of cheese. Since milk goes bad transforming it into large roundels of cheese is an ideal way to preserve it and concentrate the calories for a year round source of calories. Local dishes include fondue savoyarde, a pot of melted cheese in which you dip bread on a long fork and tartiflette, a mix of cheese, bacon, onion and more. The Alps might welcome climbing cyclists but the diet is an opposing force.