The racing resumes as the Tour de France and a summit finish awaits. This time there’s no bad weather to cut the stage short and the barriers are in place.
The Route: a lesson in the Tour’s ability to appropriate the geography, like some invading army it changes the names on the maps. Take the “Côte de Saanenmöser”, it sounds a mere hill but in reality a proper mountain pass, with a significant delineation for the way it marks the border between German and French speaking parts of Switzerland. Still it’s 6.6km at 4.8% and steady, a railway runs alongside to give a clue to the soft gradient.
Next comes the Col des Mosses which is listed at 6.6km at 4.4% in roadbook and on the race website which makes it sound easier than the previous climb to Saanenmöser. Only it’s 13.7km long. The start of the pass out of Château d’Oex is steepest part and then the rest is 4% average. It’s a scenic “postcard” climb with lush pastures and wooden chalets and halfway up is L’Etivaz, a village which gives its name to a cheese only riders will be stocking up on gels and bars here as it’s the feedzone. It’s followed by a long descent, almost 19km to the Rhone valley.
Then comes a flat section past the Aigle and the headquarters of cycling’s governing body the UCI. It’s fleeting chance to see this is not so much the throne of power as the plastic seat of sports administration given its semi-rural location with the “World Cycling Centre” situated in-between farmland and a small retail park. The road isn’t pan flat but it’s big and wide. Like many big Alpine valleys this section of the road often sees the wind get up in the afternoon and there should be a tailwind here. After 25km along the valley they reach the town of Martigny and then begin the Col de la Forclaz, 13km at 7.9%.
The Forclaz is a long and steady climb and perfectly surfaced and well-known to the peloton for its appearances in the Tour de Romandie and the Critérium du Dauphiné. It was built in the 1950s as a replacement to the older road and consequently this is a well-engineered road with steady gradients and generous hairpin bends. So far so good but the start is a heat trap. It rises among the vineyards which is cute but the reason they planted the vines there is for the sunshine and the road and stone walls cut into the mountain will radiate heat back at the riders on what promises to be a scorching day. It’s also a climb with an optical illusion as it climbs at 8% or more only it gives the impression that there’s always an easier part coming with say, 4-5% just 100 metres ahead only it like a mirage in the desert this never arrives. It’s a slog and will do damage. It’s followed by a fast descent into the Trient valley, 7km and only two hairpins along the way.
The Finish: the final climb isn’t really “Finhaut Emosson”, this sounds like one of those labels used by European low-cost airline Ryanair, for example “Paris Beauvais airport”. The start is in Finhaut and the top 10km later is in Emosson: the real name for the climb is the Col de la Gueulaz. Nevermind, what matters is that this is a savage climb with 10.4km at 8.4% and it’s in two parts. The first, shorter, climbs around the village of Finhaut on a regular road that’s gentle, inviting and cooled by several waterfalls. The second part happens once they quit the village and the road narrows. From here it’s 7km at 11% and savage. The road surface is fine but it’s little more than the width of a team bus and relentless as it scales the mountainside. The finish line is drawn on a 12% section.
The Descent: a brief note on a novelty as the race finishes next to the Emosson hydroelectric dam where they’ve built a small new road in time for the race so that team buses can climb from the finish area to reach a tunnel and subterranean service road worthy of a James Bond villain lair.
The Scenario: the flatter start and the two gentler climbs invite a breakaway go clear while the GC contenders and their teams take it steady. The long Rhone valley section, even if there’s a tailwind, makes early fireworks unlikely. But can the break survive? The two climbs in the finish are effectively one giant ascension and any fugitives will need a lot of time to hold off the chase.
The Contenders: Chris Froome is the safe pick, he’s in yellow but will want the defining stage win in the maillot jaune and what better way for him to approach the following days in the Alps having thrashed his rivals in this summit finish?
Richie Porte is next, if Froome is climbing well then Porte briefly looked better on Mont Ventoux before he collided with the motorbike. He should enjoy this steep climb but beware of the heat, his stocky build is a touch less suited to it.
It’s D-Day for Nairo Quintana, discovery day. While you suspect even Vladimir and Estragon are getting tired of waiting for Nairo to attack this is a big test for his promised third week assault. Don’t hold your breath with talk of him being ill but if he’s recovered from his savaging by the Mistral wind he could and should still be a factor. If not then Alejandro Valverde is waiting but it looks like too much for him to win the stage.
Fabio Aru and Romain Bardet are the outside picks, Chris Froome and Team Sky could afford to let them go but it’s not in their style to gift wins or give away time and if either of these try to take time others in the top-10 are likely to react.
Among the breakaway picks Rafał Majka and Ilnur Zakarin were the best climbers on the Grand Colombier and if they can infiltrate the day’s breakaway they’ll find the finish suits them well.
Finally two local riders in Steve Morabito and Sébastien Reichenbach, both of FDJ and both handy climbers. Reichenbach is in excellent form and 14th overall meaning teams with a rider in the top-10 will be reluctant give him time if he goes in the early move.
|Chris Froome, Richie Porte|
|Rafał Majka, Ilnur Zakarin|
|Aru, Bardet, Quintana, Reichenbach, Yates, Martin|
Weather: hot and sunny with a top temperature of 34°C.
TV: the finish is forecast for 5.20pm Euro time. No other race attracts as much TV coverage but if you can’t find it on TV at home cyclinghub serves up a pirate feed.