Some stage races end with a victory parade. Today’s got a hilly fast stage of just 134km featuring the Côte de Peille that cracked Michał Kwiatkowski last year and then the Col d’Eze. Geraint Thomas leads the race but faces a stressful day in ambush country with 10 riders within a minute of his yellow jersey. Don’t miss the early finish this afternoon.
Stage 6 Wrap: the day’s breakaway contained the likes of Thomas de Gendt who was less than a minute down overall so they were never given much room but it allowed de Gendt and Direct Energie’s Antoine Duchesne to mop up mountain points and the Canadian collected the jersey.
Tinkoff worked hard on the front of the bunch but it meant by the time they got to the final climb that they’d used up all their helpers and were down to Rafał Majka and Alberto Contador as Sky set the pace. Majka might sat higher on GC but set to work for his team leader with a sharp attack and started the first of several accelerations. Outside of Utelle Contador attacked and Sergio Henao towed Geraint Thomas across and soon Richie Porte bridged across then Ilnur Zakarin hauled himself across in his crouched agonised style to make five. Romain Bardet was metres away when Contador danced on the pedals again and could not bridge the final metres. Another Contador attack was closed down in the final metres. It turned out that Contador had mechanical problems and could not shift onto the big ring.
Zakarin’s win was a triumph of efficiency, he rode across to Porte, Henao, Contador and Thomas and then sat tight. While Porte and Contador trade attacks and Thomas tried a late surge, Zakarin was seeking shelter all along. This paid a climb that was not so steep and there wind was up too so Zakarin saved even more energy, just enough to pip Thomas for the stage win. Thomas wanted the win but settling for second still brought him a bonus six seconds. He takes a slender lead in to the final stage with 10 riders with a minute. Michael Matthews finished 63rd at 20 minutes, he loses yellow but just needs to finish to win the green jersey points competition. Finally Sergio Henao came away without much but surely did more work that anyone else on the upper part of the climb.
The Route: a route that’s almost as classic as the Col d’Eze time trial. Today’s course is the standard Nice-Nice clockwise loop that has often featured as the penultimate or last stage in recent years. There’s a series of gentle climbs for the first half of the stage where the main feature is the twisting road, it’s ideal for a break to go clear.
The climb to Peille, better known as the Col de St Pancrace, is the hardest climb of the day. It’s 6.5km at 6.9%, worthy of a small Alpine pass and it’s got a series of hairpin bends as it winds its way up. It’s a difficult climb for the way it rises like a staircase with flat sections and then steeper moments. Over the top is a twisting descent to La Turbie and Eze and then the village of Eze where the race takes the corniche road down to Nice before climbing the Col d’Eze. It’s 10km long at 4.7% average but with some consistent 7-8% ramps for the first quarter of the climb and it almost levels off completely for the last quarter.
The Finish: a downhill run in to Nice. After all the twisty inland roads the descent off the Col d’Eze is wide and regular. It’s not easy for a chasing group to pull back time. That bump on the profile with 1km to go isn’t anything to worry about, it’s a gentle up and down around the sea front.
The Contenders: it’s a bit of a lottery pick today with a good chance of a breakaway going away because it’s hard to control a race on these winding roads, if a move can get away without any GC threats then none of the squads with a GC interest to defend will take up the reins and chase. Think Direct Energie’s veterans Sylvain Chavanel and Thomas Voeckler who can mop up mountain points to protect Duchesne’s jersey or someone like Trek-Segafredo’s Fabio Felline. Otherwise it’s a cagey battle among the GC hopefuls.
If attack is the best form of defence that a late charge by Geraint Thomas will be ideal. He’s got a 15 second buffer on Alberto Contador so can sit tight on his wheel while watching the others and then snipe the stage win in Nice. Sky DS Nico Portal has said they won’t and can’t chase every move and they’ll be helped by others who have interests to defend. For example Katusha have Zakarin in third place with Richie Porte only one second behind so they’ll try to keep a lid on things.
Simon Yates was climbing well very and packs a good sprint if he comes in with the leaders. Maybe Michael Matthews can surprise again although judging by yesterday it looks like the week has got to him.
Romain Bardet can try a late attack, he was angry with the way he rode yesterday, surging too many times but not able to latch on to the lead five. His descending skills and risk-taking are known and he’s climbing well enough to go clear too but it’s tricky with so many riders close on GC. He’s a minute down on GC but with the time bonus he only needs to take 30 seconds on the finish line to take Zakarin’s third place on the podium so he and others won’t be allowed much room.
Tony Gallopin packs a good sprint so he doesn’t have to go on the attack. Last year though he went solo on the road to Peille and took the stage win and yellow jersey but this time nobody is going to let him do this.
L-L Sanchez was caught out by a mechanical yesterday which explains his time loss. If he’s got the legs he can salvage a stage win and has often proved adept at attacking over the top of a climb and using the descent to take the win.
|Geraint Thomas, L-L Sanchez, Tony Gallopin|
|Yates, Bardet, Chavanel, Slagter, Porte, Rui Costa, Feline|
Weather: sunshine and clouds with a top temperature of 16°C.
TV: there’s an earlier than usual finish at 2.45pm Euro time. It’s should be on the same channel you watch the Tour de France and/or Eurosport. If not then cyclingfans.com, cyclinghub.tv and steephill.tv all offer alternative feeds.