One day in and a summit finish already. The Col du Béal is a long slog on a rough road and if it’s not Alpine, it’s still a tough climb. It won’t select the winner it will thin down the list of contenders and pretenders all while offering some scenic roads.
Stage 1 Wrap
The top-10 had a tight grouping of top shots with a mix of prologue specialists, early starters and GC big names. There were 22 riders within 10 seconds of Alberto Contador. Then Chris Froome came in eight seconds clear.
Stylistically the contest was varied. Froome was in an aero tuck for much of the climb while Contador was out of the saddle. On the approach to the line Contador was shuffling in the saddle like a dog trying to scratch its anus, every few seconds saw him wipe forward. It had seemed he’d worked on his position to stop his but the shuffle was back. It’s not worth eight seconds. Meanwhile Vincenzo Nibali wears the mountains jersey after clocking the fastest time to the top of the climb.
As for the others Trek’s talent Bob Jungels was in the hot seat for much of the day. An early starter he benefited from lighter winds and also had a slow rider to catch, always an extra incentive. Michał Kwiatkowski didn’t live up to expectations but there were no big GC disasters. But the descent was awkward and both Yoann Offredo and Sebastian Langeveld fell.
- Km 5.5 – Côte de Saint-Marcel-l’Éclairé, 5km, 6.1% – category 4
- Km 16.5 – Côte d’Albigny, 2.3km, 5.5% – category 4
- Km 90.5 – Côte de Bard, 6.3km, 5.3% – category 2
- Km 100.5 – Col de la Croix de l’Homme Mort, 5.6km, 5.6% – category 2
- Km 115.0 – Col des Pradeaux, 7.3km, 3.6% – category 3
- Km 156.0 – Col du Béal, 13.6km, 6.6% – category H
The Route: the start is in Tarare, a stage finish in last year’s race and an industrial town that’s lost most of its industry. It’s also the starting point for one side of the Col du Pin Bouchain, the first ever mountain pass used in the Tour de France. The Dauphiné takes another route out but it’s still uphill. A series of climbs await but they’re on reasonable roads rather than sideroads and often tackled in the big ring.
The Finish: we can categorise everything from deep sea bacteria to exoplanets but it seems ASO still finds some climbs are hors catégorie or beyond categorisation. It’s always an inflationary label but today it seems excessive given the Col du Béal is listed as 13.6km long at 6.6%. Hardly a killer.
It’s still a tough climb, especially because the soft early slopes mean above average gradients later on and the road rears up to 9-10% before the village of St Pierre for a good while and then again after the village. To make it that bit harder this is no ski station highway, instead it’s a rural road and if it’s been resurfaced recently – for the race? – it’s still a rasping road surface that’s as rough as a cat’s tongue. It snakes up via woodland most of the way but the final section is exposed and bleak, awkward if it’s windy.
History Lesson: one rider who knows the finish is Andrew Talansky. In fact several riders in the bunch rode it in the 2010 Tour de l’Avenir when it was a first category climb. Talansky was third, behind Yannick Eijssen and Darwin Atapuma. They won’t remember every bend but the results that day do give us some clues. Another clue is that John Degenkolb was 14th, one place ahead of Romain Bardet and the lesson is that a bigger rider can just about hang with the climbers if they’re in top form. Today we won’t see a sprinter follow the climbers but we could see the finish contested by a few extra names.
The Scenario: the opening climb lends itself to a breakaway. Even if the final climb is HC-rated with 20 points on offer to the first rider, the early combo of climbs today means a move that stays clear for a while will poach plenty of polka-dot points. Expect quite a few riders especially the French to try their luck.
The stage ends with a “summit” finish but will we see a full showdown? There’s a good chance Team Sky does control this, after all it’s good practice for a team in formation for July. Still, as much as it’s an HC climb and 13km, I’m not 100% sold on a full on summit showdown between the big names.
The Contenders: The time bonuses (10-6-4 seconds) mean no GC contender wants to let another half-wheel them, yet alone get up the road. Still Alberto Contador did a great time trial yesterday but was still second to Chris Froome, he might want to get the upper hand today.
Given how the slope eases for the second half of the climb we could see some alternative names in the mix. Think Dani Moreno (Katusha) and Leopold König (NetApp-Endura) who might get some room from others. Orica-Greenedge’s Adam Yates might be two years too early but he can climb and he can finish fast. The same for Damiano Cunego except it might be two years too late?
Romain Bardet is the regional de l’étape, the local, although the finish is in his home region but still some distance from home.
|Chris Froome, Vincenzo Nibali, Alberto Contador|
|Dani Moreno, Leopold König, Andrew Talansky|
|Romain Bardet, Wilco Kelderman|
|Špilak, Fuglsang, Yates, De Clerq, Taaramäe, Voeckler, Gerrans|
Weather: hot and sunny with temperatures reaching 34°C (93°F) which means the tarmac will be melting in places, especially as the road hits the remote rural roads in the centre of France.
TV: live on French TV and Eurosport which means there should be a stream to watch, see cyclingfans.com and steephill.tv for a feed. The racebook says it’s around the world including NBC in the US and SBS in Australia. Subscribe properly rather than use a pirate feed and you’ll be treated to HD images.
The finish is expected around 2.50pm Euro time and tune in from 2.00pm to catch the approach the final climb and the summit showdown.
Col de la Croix de l’Homme Mort: this is the “the pass of the dead man’s cross” today. A grim name to commemorate the murder of Thomas Richard, a paper manufacturer in 1795. Legend has it that he was due to marry his boss’s daughter but she had other plans and he was dispatched in this isolated place.
It’s not the only pass with this name, there are several others in France. In addition many rural road junctions and several passes in France are marked by crosses. For some the significance is religious faith but many are small shrines to murders, suicides and other tragedies. Their deaths meant the bodies could not be buried in the local cemetery so their inhumation took place far outside of town.