The first of the trinity of Alpine road stages sees the race climb Alpe d’Huez twice with the feared descent of the Col de Sarenne in between.
Shown live from start to finish this is a crucial day in the race and after weeks of sunshine, storms and fog are forecast for the finish.
Stage 17 Review
A narrow win for Chris Froome . We knew he was the best climber and the best TT rider but combine the two and Alberto Contador was within nine seconds. We saw Joaquim Rodriguez, Roman Kreuziger and Alejandro Valverde all within 30 seconds. Froome swapped bikes to take a TT machine for the descent, complete with a bigger chainring. Did this give him the advantage to beat Contador?
The Belkin boys are in trouble. Bauke Mollema’s second place is now a fond memory. Can he hang on to his position? Overall the results show a cluster of riders with similar times which bodes well for the days to come for neutrals wanting to see a contest all the way to the Semnoz on Stage 20.
Jean-Christophe Péraud broke his collarbone and then broke the hearts of many in France. He fell riding in the morning and got a hairline fracture to his collarbone. With strapping and padding he started the stage and was doing a decent ride until he crashed on a bend with two kilometres to go, slipping on some paint and landing hard on his collarbone. He abandoned on the spot, surrendering his top-10 position. If this wasn’t bad enough, his family were standing on the very same corner and his wife could only climb the barriers to console him.
Stage 18 Preview
- Km 13.0 – Col de Manse 6.6km at 6.2% – category 2
- Km 45.0 – Rampe du Motty 2.4km at 8% – category 3
- Km 95.0 – Col d’Ornon (1 371 m) 5.1km at 6.7% – category 2
- Km 122.5 – Alpe d’Huez 1 12.3km at 8.4% – category H
- Km 131.5 – Col de Sarenne 3km at 7.8% – category 2
- Km 172.5 – Alpe d’Huez 2 13.8km at 8.1% – category H
Some are calling this the Queen Stage but tomorrow is harder, although it doesn’t have a summit finish. The day is reasonable short, it promises fast action. We start with a climb and then the race crosses the Valbonnais, the heart of the French Alps. The first 75km are steady compared to what is to come, a chance for an early breakaway to ride away and establish a lead.
The Col d’Ornon is an easy climb on a wide road with some big hairpin bends, enough to eat up some energy but it won’t trouble the riders on the way up. But the descent is different, it has a wilder feel with some steep sections; nothing scary just one of those cols that’s different on each side.
A short flat section and the race climbs Alpe d’Huez for the first time. The legendary climb is steep at over 8% but has smooth roads and wide hairpin bends engineered for buses to ferry tourists to the ski resort. It’s a hard, selective climb where the crowd could be a factor, with huge cheers willing on the riders. The race doesn’t cross the finish line at the top of the Alpe but passes through the town, by the small airport and then up to the Col de Sarenne, 3km at 7.8%.
The descent has been making headlines but analytically it’s nothing outrageously risky and an accident can happen anywhere. The top part is the hardest but it finishes with some steep bends which can catch out tired riders. The race heads towards the valley but when it joins the main road of the Lautaret it still has a couple of rises to sap the legs before the valley road that’s four kilometres long, enough for a team to chase down anyone who’s taken 20 seconds on the descent.
The Alp again. Some say this is a tough ask but in reality tomorrow has more vertical metres and climbing the same route twice allows an extra touch of familiarity. This is a ski station finish, it’s hard but still a regular climb. The gradient levels towards the finish line meaning if a group arrives then pick the best sprinter.
Many riders will be warming-up before the stage start as the Col de Manse offers a brutal start to the day, a launchpad for a breakaway. Don’t be surprised to see familiar names in the move. Rui Costa might be on team duty but look for Pierre Rolland, Arnold Jeannesson, Romain Bardet and other French riders to try their luck. With foul weather there’s a good chance the move sticks as the bunch huddles in the rain, wrapped in billowing rain jackets.
Has Chris Froome won enough? I think if he comes to the finish with other riders he’ll be happy to let someone else win a stage but maybe he still fears being done over so he could ride away once again. But Alberto Contador, Nairo Quintana and Joaquim Rodriguez are obvious choices and if several arrive, Alejandro Valverde has the finishing speed. The weather will be an intruder. Froome says he’s learned lessons since losing Tirreno-Adriatico in glacial conditions last March.
I think tomorrow is the better chance to ambush the race, the succession of irregular climbs offers a repeat of the Pyrenean mania seen on Stage 9 to Bagnères de Bigorre. But three hard climbs and two delicate descents are not to be wasted given Saxo-Tinkoff and Movistar appear to have numerical superiority and this Tour is being raced very aggressively.
Weather: the stage will start in sunny and warm conditions but quickly deteriorate. Stormy conditions return as the race crosses the high mountains. The forecast promises heavy showers, hail, wind and cloud in the mountains.
TV: the stage will be broadcast live from start to finish, 12.20pm to around 5.30pm Euro time. The riders are expected to start the first climb of Alpe d’Huez around 3.30pm.
Don’t worry too much about the weather. It might be grim for the riders but ASO and France Télévisions deploy considerable means to bring you the show. Whilst the Giro had problems with bad weather grounding the TV helicopters, the Tour also uses winged aircraft that fly in circles high above the race to act as relays for the TV signals, taking the feed from motorbikes and helicopters and relaying it to satellite and the broadcast trucks. These planes can fly at above the clouds and any bad weather.
Mythbusters: Alpe d’Huez is famous for its 21 hairpin bends but watch the stage carefully and you’ll actually count 23 hairpins between the valley floor and the finish line. It’s because there are 21 bends on the climb before you get to the ski resort of Alpe d’Huez but the race continues to finish on the outside of town on the traditional Avenue du Rif Nel.
Also this isn’t the first time the race climbs Alpe d’Huez twice. It was done in 1979… but via a split stage with one ascension in the morning and one in the afternoon.