All change. If you’ve been dipping in and out of the Tour de France during the last week, today’s the day to plunge right in as first proper summit finish of the race appears. But the climb is not Alpine: it will give us clues about the relative form of riders and 10 minutes of tension.
- Km 112.0 – Col de Grosse Pierre 3.1 kilometre-long climb at 6.4% – category 3
- Km 150.5 – Col du Mont de Fourche 3.1 kilometre-long climb at 6.4% – category 3
- Km 199.0 – La Planche des Belles Filles 5.9 kilometre-long climb at 8.5% – category 1
The Route: if eyes are on the summit finish there’s some climbing to do before. But don’t imagine this as a mountain stage, even if the final climb is serious. The climbs in the middle of the stage are mild. However the feel of the race will change as the roads twist and turn, rise and descend.
We will also have to see how the riders are doing. Several teams were battered by crash yesterday and it’ll be interesting to see how the bunch approaches the stage, whether the racing starts as normal or whether there’s a moment to ease back into the racing.
The intermediate sprint: straight… but uphill. The race passes through the town of Gérardmer and there is a mild incline for a change.
The Finish: the strategic point of the day, the final climb to the small ski-station of the Planche des Belles Filles is going to shake up the race. Beware the approach, it features a twisty descent.
Freshly resurfaced for the Tour, the climb is steep enough to create gaps between the riders but not long enough to change the overall classification by minutes. This is the first test of how riders will fare uphill but it will only provide clues rather than settle the race.
The climb is only 5.9km long but at 8.5% it will hurt, especially since it contains many steep ramps along the way, although it also includes micro downhill stretches too. The ever-changing gradient suits punchy riders capable of changing pace. After a long steep ramp to the first hairpin, things then ease with a variety of steep inclines and flatter sections. The finish sees the road get progressively steeper, culminating in final 300 metres where the road bends round to the line at 14% and a section at 20% to the line.
This is an intense effort, perhaps more like the climb above Mende, the Montée Jalabert, that is sometimes used in Paris-Nice and the Tour de France or the early season Mont Faron. At just under 10 minutes’ effort it’s not for the Alpine diesels, a rider will need more power to succeed here. Assuming a breakaway is reeled in, who of the contenders could win? Rather than run through the list of contenders, here are five to watch:
- Bradley Wiggins: it’s a test of his form and he coped fine in Mende. Expect to see Sky hit the front of the bunch today.
- Cadel Evans: the safe pick. Well suited to this type of climb, he can cope with everything from the Mur de Huy to the Col du Galibier.
- Samuel Sanchez: the bookies’ favourite, he can sprint well at the end of a climb and might be allowed to go away as he’s less of a threat to the overall.
- Peter Velits is an outside pick. He seems to be in good form and has a fast finish.
- Rui Costa was out-climbing Frank Schleck in the Tour of Switzerland so I’ll be interested to see how he and Valverde cope.
There are many more to watch and it should be a good moment of discovery, both in terms of form and, after yesterday, health. Dan Martin for example, one of the few Garmin-Sharp riders unharmed.
The Scenario: will a break stay away? If some strong names go up the road it could stick but tomorrow seems the better bet. We should expect a tactical finish to the race with teams riding like sprint trains to place their rider at the front for the climb because if you don’t start near the front you’re out of contention. The approach includes some climbing before a descent through the small town of Plancher Les Mines and, up or down, the pace should be fierce and I think this could ruin the hopes of breakaway riders.
King of the Mountains: it’s a first category climb but as a summit finish the points count double, meaning 20 points are on offer. Unless Michael Mørkøv wins the stage the mountains jersey will change shoulders.
Sagan: can he cope with the final climb? I don’t think so, this is surely too much.
Planche what? Plancher is the name of the town nearby and belles filles means “beautiful girls”. Legend has it that during the 17th century some local women hid to escape pillaging Swedish soldiers. But word of their location got out and rather than get caught they threw drowned themselves in the lake atop the mountain.
TV: live images from 2.00pm Euro time and possibly a quarter of an hour earlier. The final climb will take just nine minutes but aim to watch the last hour.
There’s a useful video preview of the stage courtesy of IG Markets:
Local rider: Thibaut Pinot. The FDJ rider lives 25km from the finish and the route goes through his village. In fact he’s so local his dad is mayor of the village of Mélisey. One of the youngest riders in the race he’s classed as a “grand hope” for French cycling but unlike many with the same label he has already delivered some impressive results and has a level of self-belief that other French riders often seem to lack. He could be a candidate to win today.
Weather: a mild 21°C (70°F) with sunshine and clouds and a mild breeze. In other words a nice day out for a picnic and nothing tactical to factor in.
Do: …have a go yourself. The regional authorities want to make the area more of a tourist attraction for cyclists and one obvious way is to host a race with a finish like this. It’s not the first time the climb has been used, the modest pro Tour d’Alsace has climbed it and every year the Trois Ballons cyclosportif finishes at the top.
Don’t: …think this is the only climb in the area. Nearby is the Ballon d’Alsace, one of the first mountains ever to be used by the Tour de France, indeed when crossed for the first time in 1905 by René Pottier the press declared him “le roi de la montagne” or the king of the mountain and the phrase has stuck ever since.