In the Tour de France the cliché goes that “you can see Paris” from the top of the last mountain. Riders might not be able to see Nice but they can smell the sea among the perfumed roads around Mougins. A hilly day awaits but beware the flat looking section on the profile as it’s a heavy circuit that could prove selective.
Stage 6 Wrap: Sylvain Chavanel went on the rampage for the first half of the stage. It wasn’t on TV but it will be imprinted on the legs of other riders. As someone in the peloton said the other day when Chavanel goes up the road those riders tasked with leading the bunch chase know they’re in for some hard work.
As for the result, with hindsight a predictable result but it was good to see how it was done. Carlos Betancur’s the nonchalant sort – an arepa, why not? A descent, chill at the back. A win, no big deal – and makes it look easy as he won on the Mur de Fayence. But he did it by coming round Rui Costa in the final 100 metres, no mean feat. When was the last time you saw an Ag2r rider smoke the world champion in a take-no-prisoners finish?
Thanks to time bonuses he takes the overall lead, the first Colombian to lead the race. Geraint Thomas was a creditable fourth but with only one team mate left during the finish. Betancur will be hard to shake, especially as today’s finish suits him but it could still come down to Sunday’s final sprint on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice and the 10 second bonus.
Still it could all be different, Tom-Jelte Slagter attacked hard in the final moments of the climb but ahead Ag2r’s Alexis Vuillermoz toppled and Slagter stalled and seemed to have a problem with his gears. With this he lost all time and hope.
The Route: the start and finish are only 20km apart but the road heads inland and for the foothills of the Alps – there are small ski stations like Gréolières. It’s classic Paris-Nice terrain for the penultimate stage. There’s plenty of climbing but the descending is as spectacular and risky too.
The Finish: is harder than it looks. The three laps of the Sophia Antipolis technology park – France’s attempt at Silicon Valley – are hard work and the run to the finish is a steady drag uphill. Any rider who jumps too early just tows someone to the line.
The Scenario: with each day the probability of a breakaway sticking increases and today could be the day. But the finishing circuit is suitable for chasing and there’s still all to play for, for example Garmin-Sharp might fancy setting up Slagter for a consolation stage win so a noble sprint amongst the best riders is most plausible.
The Contenders: “never two without three” is a French saying but does it work in Colombia. On paper everything says Carlos Betancur is the prime pick. He’s climbing well and packs a powerful punch in the final hundred metres. T-J Slagter might want to make amends but so far he’s looked smooth in the inner ring, can he master this tactical finish? Zdeněk Štybar impressed yesterday with his third place, a Paris-Roubaix contender who left several climbers behind on an uphill finish. If Sylvain Chavanel can restrain himself then then a late attack could pay dividends. There are more names to conjure with but what of J-J Rojas, a consistent presence this week who should enjoy the finish?
Weather: another sunny day but cooler at altitude. A top temperature of 18°C (68°F) and a light breeze.
TV: do not adjust your set but do check the time. The schedule is different with live coverage from 3.25 – 4.45pm Euro time. See steephill.tv and cyclingfans.com for broadcast schedules and pirate feeds alike.
Déjà vu? If today’s finish looks familiar it’s because it’s the same as they used in 2011. Rémy Di Gregorio won the stage, helped by the rain which forced the bunch into a damp resignation but he went and fought for the win. At the time Di Gregorio was riding for Astana… which was enough for the police to start investigating him. Fast forward 15 months and Di Gregorio had moved to Cofidis and was in their Tour de France team when the police swooped in a raid that dominated the day’s news, not just the race but it was the lead item on TV and radio bulletins. Scandal, dopage and more. Di Gregorio was sacked by Cofidis and the team itself went through the mill because of the negative publicity. Only it all came to nothing. Yes there was a quack doctor linked to “ozone therapy” but nothing firm against Di Gregorio; yes he shouldn’t have visited the doctor in the first place. Still, named in public, sacked and given the full “perp” treatment, it was a classic case of headlines trumping reality. After the national scandal, the subsequent “rider cleared” headlines were literally small print and nobody’s really asked why the police chose to swoop on the rest day. Today Di Gregorio is back in the bunch with Continental team La Pomme Marseille and he’s just won the Tour of Taiwan.