Yesterday was supposed to give some insight into climbing form but the stage brought such conclusive results that it’s tempting to see the next two weeks as a victory lap of France for Chris Froome. He’s in the ideal position after one mounain stage but there’s a long way to go and others have been calculating their race on the final week. So be careful not to extrapolate too much from one day, a point that’s valid for results, tactics and performance.
Today’s stage is another in the Pyrenees but quite different to yesterday’s summit suspense. A series of climbs make for a tough day that could be hard to control and finally time for a breakaway to stick.
Stage 8 Review
An early break went but with four riders it was doomed, impossible for four riders to hold off the chasing bunch and they were reeled in on the Port de Pailhères. An attack from Gesink looked wild but with hindsight it showed a Belkin team plan. A Voeckler move showed no plan, just an impulsion. Then Nairo Quintana took off, taking a minute by the top of the climb, his style insouciant.
The group when over the top but Pinot got left behind on the descent. It’s one thing to let gaps open up and waste energy sprinting to close them again but the French hope was distanced on the descent, his mind blocked.
The climb from Ax began with Quintana’s lead halved. Behind Sky’s mountain train was working although with fewer wagons than predicted. Peter Kennaugh was once tipped as Britain’s Tour winner in 2010 when Team Sky was launched and was thinning the group as big name riders were dropping. Alberto Contador was one visibly in trouble, perched forward on the saddle and confirming the laboured impression he’s given most of the year.
Froome reportedly set the third fastest time ever up the climb, beating rides done by the likes of Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich in a kind of Strava contest only there are no bragging rights, it just invites questions. The answers? This makes the point about needing power data stronger because time is not equal to effort. Now Froome could have ridden into a headwind meaning his effort was record-breaking; or in the other direction he could have been paced more or perhaps the road had been repaired yesterday meaning a faster ride? Personally I’d suggest gathering more data over more climbs to make for richer analysis but this could be a theme that will run on.
Still the reaction Twitter was instant. Debating whether a rider is clean is part of cycling today. For all Sky’s boasts of leading sports science and resources, their PR effort often leaves me wondering. Witness the mess last year when they were forced to react with a ghost-written piece into the British media proclaiming why Bradley Wiggins could not dope. They’ll get more questions and it’ll be interesting to see how they deal with this… and whether other teams are held to the same standards too.
Belkin with Bauke Mollema and Laurens Ten Dam who had a great day. BMC didn’t, with Cadel “Cuddles” Evans needing a hug after losing four minutes but Tejay van Garderen lost over 12 minutes. Finally a question: if Quintana had not attacked early then what could he have done on the final climb? Maybe we’ll get the answer on Mont Ventoux?
Stage 9 Preview
- Km 28.5 – Col de Portet d’Aspet (1 069 m) 5.4km at 6.9% – category 2
- Km 44.0 – Col de Menté (1 349 m) 7km at 7.7% – category 1
- Km 90.0 – Col de Peyresourde (1 569 m) 13.2km at 7% – category 1
- Km 110.5 – Col de Val Louron-Azet (1 580 m) 7.4km at 8.3% – category 1
- Km 138.0 – La Hourquette d’Ancizan (1 564 m) 9.9km at 7.5% – category 1
A big day in the Pyrenees. Yes there’s no summit finish but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Cross the final climb with 30km to go and times by very quickly. The route had been threatened by recent floods but everything is open.
Each climb has its particularities. The Menté is climbed on the easier side with a steep and technical descent. The Peyresourde is wide and regular but long. The Col d’Azet is ascended via the best side where a series of hairpin bends allow the road to rise up quickly.
The Hourquette d’Ancizan is narrow and scenic, a steep start and a road used by farmers or cycle-tourists in search of an alternative to the Col d’Aspin.
A fast run into town as the race comes off the La Hourquette d’Ancizan, a long and steady descent. The closer the race gets to the finish the more the gradient drops and the wider the Adour valley gets. Once in town there’s a sharp bend with 700m to go and then a left-hander 140m from the finish, but it’s an open bend and not one where the winner has to be first into the junction.
With Chris Froome looking untouchable the others contenders are left struggling and maybe hoping for that third step of the podium. It might not be long until we see some defending seventh place because of the UCI points they can earn and the salary this commands.
Watch to see if Cannondale treat the intermediate sprint as a virtual finish line, driving the pace early to shed the sprinters to the advantage of Peter Sagan.
Alberto Contador could be looking for revenge. But he’s “only” in seventh place and doesn’t have much space. If he tries something others will track him. Thibaut Pinot would be another revenge pick. Last year he wasn’t happy with the stage to the Planche des Belles Filles and, angry, set off the next day to win the stage to Porrentruy in Switzerland. Only this time his descending problems are fundamental, he could take off on the first climb but he’ll have to tackle some very difficult descents too.
Instead it could be a day for a break to stick. Think Simon Gerrans, Pierrick Fédrigo or Mikel Astarloza but take your pick from many others.
Keep an eye on the back of the race too. With repeated climbing it means riders dropped early will struggle to meet the time cut, especially as the stage is so short.
Weather: sunny and warm but not as hot as the previous day. The roads had been melting – why do they use tar that melts in summer? – with the temperatures and sunshine but today could be a little cooler with some light cloud at altitude. A light headwind awaits on the run to the finish, forecast at 10km/h but if it gets up it could ruin a solo rider’s chances.
TV: live and direct from 11.20am Euro time. Note the early finish because the riders have to catch a flight north ahead of the rest day, the stage is expected to end between 4.20-5.00pm.