A final time trial to settle the race. Can Richie Porte be beaten? As Greg Lemond said on the eve of the final stage of the 1989 Tour de France “if he has a bad day and I have a good day anything is possible”, and the American went on to beat Laurent Fignon by just eight seconds on the overall.
But that was a memorable exception. Porte is playing at home and the course is short so he should be safe. But still, who knows? What’s more certain is that the final podium places are unknown. Andrew Talansky, Lieuwe Westra, Jean-Christophe Peraud, Tejay van Garderen and more all all within reach.
The Route: the climb itself is part-technical, part obvious. There are no narrow parts, nor sharp bends but given it is just 9.6km, every second counts. The road climbs away from Nice on some steep sections and there is often a tailwind for the first two kilometres. Then the course begins to bend back towards the sea and level off before the midway section of 7% and then it continues on with spectacular views of the sea below. Each section of road matters: nowing when to change down a gear is important, knowing when to change up is even more important.
The Scenario: it’s hard to see past Richie Porte for the stage win. He won after dropping everyone else on the Montagne de Lure and is probably better against the clock then he is at climbing. He’s a local too, living in nearby Monaco and has been known to climb this road several times a day. In addition his team will know all about pacing the effort after Wiggins won last year and can measure themselves against the time checks of others if need be.
But as recounted earlier this week the mighty Eddy Merckx was so sure of winning one year that he posed for photos with the boat offered to the winner before riding the final stage… only for Raymond Poulidor to win the time trial and take the overall.
Andrew Talansky is the other obvious pick. He might be as strong as Porte, after all he felt so good he attacked three times on the Lure. Plus he’s got motivation to ride fast. He’s good at this effort too, last year he almost beat Wiggins in the uphill time trial of the Tour de Romandie. Talking of almost beating Wiggins, last year Westra almost won on the Col d’Eze so he could win in the absence of the Briton.
Van Garderen was an outside for the podium this time last year but fell back after losing over a minute to Wiggins and he’s not been the threat we’d thought he might be but he’s still sixth overall. Chavanel is in great form and did well on the Montagne de Lure, don’t be surprised if he’s amongst the fastest on the second half of the course but the early 8% gradient could be too much, plus his efforts yesterday won him the stage but also the points jersey thanks to an escape move to win the intermediate sprint. Jean-Christophe Péraud is having a good race and perpetuating Ag2r’s points-winning strategy of poaching UCI points without ever being too visible in front of the team cameras. He was third on this stage last year.
Mountains and Points: a note that Chavanel is guaranteed to stand on the podium as he’s got the points jersey competition sewed up.
The same for Johann Tschopp of IAM Cycling with the mountains jersey, giving the new Swiss team their first World Tour podium… and marginally boosting their chances of a wildcard invite for the Tour de France. Tschopp (say “chop”) is an often unknown character in the peloton but he’s a keen environmentalist, taking care to eat locally sourced foods and living as ethically as he can. He won the big stage of the Tour of Utah last year and in 2010, won the biggest mountain stage of the Giro that year, taking the prestigious Cima Coppi prize.
Weather: sunshine and showers with temperatures at no more than 14°C (57°F). Crucially the wind will pick up in the afternoon with a breeze of 20km/h coming in from the sea in the afternoon, enough to make a noticeable tailwind, headwind and crosswind at different points on the course.
History: the Col d’Eze was used as a final time trial for the first time in 1969 and Eddy Merckx won. It was a clever idea to use the uphill TT right at the end but prior to this the race had often been designed by another uphill time trial along the way, for example Mont Dore above Manosque, yesterday’s start town, in 1956.
Since 1969 it has been a regular feature of the race. But the starting and finish points have often changed meaning there is no definitive course record nor an easy way to compare today’s riders with Merckx. Not that the comparison is valid, riders will be using special bikes today with all the aerodynamic advantage possible. Merckx just rode on the drops.
The route now 9.6km and last year Bradley Wiggins clocked a time of 19.12.
Standings after Stage 6