The big summit finish of the race. The start town of Châteauneuf-du-Pape is somewhere to linger rather than leave. Once home to the Pope, the riders cannot stay because they have a meeting with heavens on the Montagne de Lure.
Will the race be decided today? Can Andrew Talansky cope? The answer is expected at 4.00pm today.
- Km 47.0 – Col de Mûrs, 10.3 kilometre-long climb at 4.3% – category 2
- Km 85.0 – Côte d’Oppedette, 7.1 kilometre-long climb at 4% – category 2
- Km 123.0 – Côte de Saint-Martin-les-Eaux, 2.7 kilometre-long climb at 3.7% – category 3
- Km 134.5 – Col de la Mort d’Imbert, 4.5 kilometre-long climb at 4.4% – category 3
- Km 152.0 – Côte des Mourres, 2.9 kilometre-long climb at 4.9% – category 3
- Km 176.0 – La Montagne de Lure, 13.8 kilometre-long climb at 6.6% – category 1
176km with plenty of climbing along the way but the six listed ascensions en route look small compared the Montagne de Lure at the end of the day. The visuals are right and the stats above confirm how gentle the route is although they each play their role in sapping the energy and motivating riders to go up the road to win points for the mountains jersey, currently worn by IAM Cycling’s Johann Tschopp.
The Lure is the smaller sister of Mont Ventoux and 13.8km at a gradient of 6.6%, flattered by a softer section in the middle before the final four kilometres rise at over 7% to the line. But it’s easier than Ventoux and significantly faster in feel.
Starting at St Etienne les Orgues the passage through the town is awkward with narrow roads, drains and potholes, this matters because the pace will be fast as teams try to place their riders at the front. The first kilometre is steep and means riders will be going out of the back right from the start. The middle section is fast, some might deploy the big ring on the 5% sections and riders benefit from drafting. Then it kicks up for the last 4km, the serious part of the climb. The gradient eases for the finish line becoming a false flat and the road is some seven metres wide.
Overall this is no monster climb to savage the peloton. It’s fast in places and should be tactical, don’t be surprised to see a lot of riders glancing at their bike computers every 30 seconds to check if they’re riding to plan when it comes to their power output.
There are at least two races on today. First the fight for a stage win. Here there’s a big cast of contenders but anyone hoping for a win has to be a good climber. If a breakaway stays away only those at ease in the mountains should win. But it’s unlikely a move sticks because several teams will set a high tempo towards the final climb in order to set up their leaders, thus reeling in any escape move. Still for the stage win, rather than going in an early move we could see the likes of Robert Gesink who are down on the overall but still hungry for a stage win. The Dutchman could be “allowed” to ride away because he’s no longer a threat on the overall. The same for Nairo Quintana who crashed yesterday but seems to be ok.
Second there is the overall classification race, a subset of the first group. There are 22 riders within 26 seconds of Talansky – all listed below – and given the time bonuses available, it means one of several riders just need to get a gap on Talansky and take the stage and they’ll take the lead. Of these riders, only Chavanel looks likely to drop out of contention. When the race visited the Lure in 2009 he was in the yellow jersey and lost beaucoup time but these days he’s been training at altitude and has improved his climbing. Still I think this is too much. But there are many names ready to pounce. Lieuwe Westra lost contact on the descent in yesterday’s stage finish and looked solid when he rode back solo to the lead group, he also won the “mountain” finish last year above Mende. For an outsider, watch Lotto-Belisol’s Bart de Clercq who’s not a big name but rode away from the field to win a stage of the Giro on the Montevergine di Mercogliano climb, no feat to hold off the bunch for 7km solo.
Talansky rode well to take the lead but looked isolated yesterday and we’ll see if he’s got the likes of Jack Bauer and Fabian Wegmann on hard for support. If not his best interest is served by a small group forming quickly so he only has a few riders to survey. Yesterday’s stage saw a series of attacks on the descent into St Vallier but this time any attacks will shred the group and only the strongest survive.
Weather: cloud and rain, at times heavy. Temperatures will reach 14°C (57°F) and a light breeze of 5-10km/h from the south is expected. It will be much cooler on the Montagne de Lure but most will be going up fast and so the cold temperatures won’t be noticed.
History: the Montagne de Lure was climbed in 2009 when Alberto Contador rode away to win the stage but he later lost the race after running out of energy on another stage, prompting Lance Armstrong to tweet about Contador “having a lot to learn”, an early round of their proxy war ahead of the Tour de France. Things have changed since those days, for example Contador’s mystery coach Pepe Marti from that year was caught in the USADA case (there’s still no verdict for him and Bruyneel). Fränk Schleck was second, Luis Leon Sanchez finished third and went on to win the race… but he’s now stuck at home as his Blanco team fret about his possible links to shady doctors.
Ride It: The sister mountain to Mont Ventoux, the Lure is worth riding up as it offers a peaceful experience compared to the busy ascension of Mont Ventoux where you might ride in the slipstream of cycling history but you also go into exhaust fumes and the stench of burning brakes and clutch plates from passing tourists in their cars. The Lure is trying to establish itself as an alternative, or at least an addition and there’s a “challenge” where riders can add their times to a list – currently topped by maxbouet, aka Maxime Bouet of Ag2r, today’s local – and get a diploma.
Eat It: Drink it because the start in Châteauneuf-du-Pape rhymes with wine. The nearby Rhone valley and ancient glaciers deposited a bed of gravel which helps the wine, as ever poor soil makes for good wine. It’s also a big tourist destination for general holidays in July and August.