The Spin – Stage 7

Saturday, 7 July 2012

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.

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{ 30 comments }

OxChris July 7, 2012 at 12:26 am

Change of yellow tomorrow or is Cancellara up to this level of climb?

The Inner Ring July 7, 2012 at 12:49 am

I think the jersey will change. The finish is too steep for Cancellara. Even if he was there with 1km to go (unlikely) the final ramps are so steep we could see someone take 20 seconds with a late attack.

jj July 7, 2012 at 12:50 pm

I say this optimistically…the very end reminds me of the steep approach up into Siena, that long, steep climb. Who was that, a Swiss guy I think, who killed that on the Strade Bianchi this year? :) Okay well, i am being optimistic…

Torvidicus July 7, 2012 at 12:58 am

Think the big question is will sky let OPQS keep the yellow warm with chav. I can’t see them wanting to defend it this early in the race

SilverSurfer8 July 7, 2012 at 4:25 am

I think it’s going to very difficult for Wiggins not to end up with the yellow jersey on his shoulders tomorrow. Even though he doesn’t want it. He won’t win the stage, but his efforts to mark the other favorites will put him in the lead. Then he’s got it, and his team will have to defend it.

Grank July 7, 2012 at 5:02 am

So they’re going to ride an 8.5%, 6km grade at 40 kph???

Anonymous July 7, 2012 at 5:29 am

I was thinking the same thing. More like a 15-20min climb

The Inner Ring July 7, 2012 at 9:08 am

15 minutes I think. It’s really 5km when you turn off the valley road, although the approach road is uphill too.

Michal July 7, 2012 at 1:41 pm

My tip is about 25kph.

Ankush July 7, 2012 at 6:08 am

Sick of these crashes, there are some serious loonies riding in this race. As Jens Voigt mentioned on his blog, riders need to relax a little and give each other respect.

I would love to see Cadel win this one.

IrishCarrolls July 7, 2012 at 6:21 am

Love the preview. Thanks. (I forgot how much I enjoy reading your analysis.) It’s going to be another interesting day in France! As much as I love Cancellara in yellow, I’m chomping at the bit to see the next few winners. I’m just bummed that Frank got delayed.

Steve July 7, 2012 at 6:36 am

BMC, Tejay, American in yellow/polka dot for a US team. This how it may work everyone marks Evans, and Wiggo. TeeJay goes! Takes Chavanel with him 20K out. Sky has to work. Evans watches..a foil for Evans for a few days if he succeeds.

Bundle July 7, 2012 at 7:55 am

Good preview. Hard to understand why they didn’t throw in a couple of those plentily available climbs. Anyway, an interesting, Vuelta-like stage, with a final climb that will no doubt entertain us, and perhaps (perhaps not) will create some significant differences.
After yesterday’s debacle, Rabobank, Movistar and Schleck shouldn’t waste a second before to start testing Sky Team’s control capacities. Gesink and Valverde should try it long before the last climb. Schleck, Mollema and Rui Costa at its foot. Cobo and Kruijswijk and others should have broken away at the beginning of the stage.
But of course, and unfortunately, the most likely outcome is a resolution in the last 2kms. Van den Broeck and Valverde look good enough to me for that. Rodríguez will be missed.

JimmyJ July 7, 2012 at 9:18 am

Seems a fair bit of bad luck hit a lot of riders in yesterdays stage. Very unfortunate and detracts a little from the overall spectacle.

Thought Greipel was very unlucky. I believe he would have won that stage had he not had to start the sprint from so far out after he lost Hendys wheel due to the GreenEdge(?) rider in front of him unclipping when trying to start his sprint. Would have been three in a row.

Hope the riders like Gesink, Schleck & Hesjedal (if he starts) try something different on todays stage now that they are well down the GC.

Maarten July 7, 2012 at 11:59 am

Many of the guys who lost time yesterday are really cut up. I’d bet that they’ll be licking their wounds and taking it easy for a few days to recover before they start attempts to get into breaks on hard days.

Schleck should switch to riding for Klöden at this point if he’s willing to follow team tactics. On the other hand, Rabobank (Gesink), Europcar (Pierre Rolland), and Garmin (Hesjedal, VDV) have no one left to ride for and will be looking for stage wins.

Gerald July 7, 2012 at 9:55 am

Thanks for that preview. Really excellent. It will be interesting to watch Sky today, and to see if they have the same control as they did at the Dauphine. I’m hoping for Chris Froome to have a good day today.

Tom July 7, 2012 at 9:57 am

That S-Works is way too big for that guy.

The Ladder July 7, 2012 at 10:07 am

Unless I am missing something in the reporting, are the race organisers doing anything about these crashes? In terms of identifying the riders who are causing them and doling out some form of punishment? You have to expect some riders to hit the deck, with nearly 200 of them funneling along at 40/50kmh, but to classify all the first week incidents as ‘just racing’ is not good enough.

Clearly the amount of broken bones and tour ending injuries don’t seem to matter. Does someone need to die for something to be done about this?

The Inner Ring July 7, 2012 at 10:14 am

The organisers pick reasonable roads and even ask the regions to repair the roads or remove street furniture. Yesterday’s crash happened on a wide road. There’s little that can be done to prevent it, normally a touch of wheels would bring down 2-3 riders but yesterday it was more like 20-30.

The Ladder July 7, 2012 at 10:20 am

I guess my point is, is dangerous riding by one or more causing these crashes? And if so, should the ASO do something about it? Human error can be accepted for some crashes, but these guys are supposed to be the best in the world. I suppose the high stakes of the TdF leads to more nervousness in the bunch, it’s just so frustrating to see so many contenders affected yesterday by that pile-up.

Wishing a speedy recovery to all the bruised and battered of the first week.

Bundle July 7, 2012 at 10:30 am

I fully share this concern, because this just happens too often, but I’m not sure it’s so easy to blame it on someone’s recklessness or lack of attention. A smaller field, at slower speed, would certainly help a lot.

Maarten July 7, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Not all the crashes have the same cause, of course.

Some riders are saying many of the crashes are due to everyone wanting to be in front. The teams with strong sprinters want to set up for the sprint, and any team with a GC contender want their guy plus a few teammates at the front as well. That means almost all of the teams have a reason to want to be near the front. Voeckler specifically said that the team directors are making everyone twitchy by yelling into the radio ear buds telling their teams to get to the front–he’s against having the radios.

The Ladder July 7, 2012 at 12:26 pm

It must be terribly distracting having people yelling at you in an already stressful situation – ploughing along at 50kmh, surrounded by dozens of riders, whilst feeling pretty knackered after 200k (and several days) of racing in the legs. So it’s no surprise some mistakes happen, but I still think there has to be more investigation into these. Yesterday’s carnage demands some sort of inquest, surely?

Steppings July 7, 2012 at 10:42 am

I’m loving these daily stage reviews. Going to stick my neck on the line again this week and say Pip Gilbert. :-)

CEVENOL July 7, 2012 at 11:20 am

Voeckler yesterday had an interview on french TV where he was blaming the radios, saying the directors where putting too much pressure on their riders to be up front at certain spots and that there is no room for everybody to do so…There was a mini debate, they asked Shleck and Cancellara who desagreed especialy Shleck.
Jalabert couldnt make up his mind but seemed to favor banning the radios.
Has Inring written about the radio issue in the past?

Simon E July 7, 2012 at 12:21 pm

Voeckler’s comments were reported in L’Equipe too, he’s one of a minority that are in favour of getting rid of radios.

I don’t know whether he was saying that the majority of crashes were due to riders responding to DS instructions or just that incident in particular.

Either way, the crash was on a well surfaced, fairly wide, straight road in favourable weather conditions. I think the speed (75 km/h) and urgency of the peloton contributed to its seriousness. It’s difficult to blame that solely on the DS, rider inattention/risk-taking or something else, particularly when no-one appears to know exactly what caused it.

Maarten July 7, 2012 at 12:38 pm

> “particularly when no-one appears to know exactly what caused it.”

I read somewhere this morning that Petacchi took off his shoe covers, handed them to a teammate, and the teammate flailed a bit too much trying to stuff them into his pockets.

At high speed in very dense packs the margin of error is really, really small.

Anonymous July 7, 2012 at 1:15 pm

What would be the disadvantage of putting a couple of mountain stages upfront rather than just flat ones?

Breakaway Artist July 7, 2012 at 2:54 pm

Hey Inrng,
A technical comment: for some time now (a couple of weeks), your website has been loading on and off as a mobile version although I am on a computer. This is very strange. A the bottom this page it says “Mobile Theme On/OFF” and when we click OFF, it stays ON.
Anyone else has this “problem”?? Strange…

The Inner Ring July 7, 2012 at 3:47 pm

Is this fixed? I tried a recommended tech fix yesterday and was wondering if it worked?

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