The mountains are here and no less than the Mont du Chat, once rated by Le Cycle magazine as “one of the hardest” climbs in France. There’s no escaping the double-digit gradients, nor the sluggish road surface and this makes a novel challenge, the kind of climb rarely seen in French stage races. It’s a selective climb followed by a perilous descent to the finish.
Stage 5 Wrap: a win for Phil Bauhaus of Team Sunweb. He tried in the Giro and regularly made the top-10, he tried this week and made the top-10 too but didn’t seem to be a threat for the win at any time. Now he is. The 22 year old German surfed the wheels before striking out for the finish with perfect timing. This marks the end of the chances of the sprinters. Katusha announced Alexander Kristoff is leaving because he is ill, altitude sickness perhaps?
The Route: just 147km which promises a fast stage, the mountains loom but most of the stage is across wide flat roads. They speed across Les Dombes, a flat area with France’s highest concentration of lakes in the direction of the the climb to Corlier, 6.4km at 5.4% as they ride up to the Retord plateau to pass through Hauteville-Lompnes, the birthplace of Roger Pingeon and then off the plateau via a gradual descent to ride around the Grand Colombier which will feature in the Tour de France but not today. With 56km to go they pick up the route of Stage 9 in the upcoming Tour de France route and then it’s a big open road alongside the mighty Rhone river before a quick climb away from the river and then a descent back to it. The Cote de Jongieux sees them climb through vineyards, a gentle 5% for 3.3km with the Mont du Chat looming high above, a humpbacked arch of rock with spiky protrusions resembling the spine of a Stegosaurus.
There are sustained 8% sections just to get to the official start of the Mont du Chat with 25km to go. Once the climb begins it feels gentle for a moment but this only lulls riders into a false sense of security because the 9% slopes appear, then 10% and soon 12% and more, eight kilometres of double-digit gradients. This is steep by any measure and to make it harder the road surface is what we could call vintage, not dilapidated but just that old gravelly feel that rolls slow. It’ll be everyone for themselves here, the slope is such that drafting doesn’t matter much. The profile doesn’t show it but there is a flat section two thirds of the way up, a welcome relief but it only means the slope is going to rise even more to compensate.
Then comes the descent. Glance at the map and it looks straightforward with only a few hairpin bends but of course nobody is racing on a map. The reality is a wooded descent where the shade reduces visibility and a road with plenty of blind bends. Most can be taken at full speed but the lack of visibility makes it harder and will reward a confident descender. The surface is sketchy for two thirds of the way down until a newer more even surface appears.
The Finish: once the descent ends there are just two flat kilometres to the finish. There’s a roundabout in the final kilometre and the road bends to the left on a wide road.
The Contenders: this is a stage for the climbers, the Mont du Chat is selective and anyone going over the top alone with 30 seconds has a good chance for the stage win. However there’s just one climb and if a breakaway can reach the foot with, say, four minutes they’re in luck. It’s hard to pick a winner from the breakaway, a lottery.
There’s a strong chance the GC contenders dispute the stage, especially if their teams rush towards the Mont du Chat on the flat roads before. But while we’re used to Team Sky doing this they’ve lost Ian Stannard and Chris Froome may not feel up to it. Alejandro Valverde is a good pick because he can cope with an abrupt climb and is good for a sprint finish from a small group. Richie Porte is in great shape but if he’s won plenty, it’s almost never from a sprint so can he solo away over the Mont du Chat? Yes but he might prefer to manage his efforts because the yellow jersey awaits. Chris Froome needs a result but first of all some reassurance from hanging with the front group would help.
Fabio Aru had a good time trial by his standards and if this means he’s back then his aggressive climbing style could have its rewards. Could as in conditional because we’re still waiting to see where he is at.
Romain Bardet looks like the prototype rider for this stage, he can climb well and the descent is made for him, plus Ag2r La Mondiale’s service course is very near the finish line but his disastrous time trial suggest the form is short, it’ll be reassuring if he can just hang with the front group. If he can he’s got a decent sprint while team mate Pierre Latour is an outsider, he’s a powerful rider who may struggle with gravity on the steepest gradients.
Among the others Simon Yates and Dan Martin can both sprint well among climbers if they reach the finish in a small group. Sam Oomen and David Gaudu are worth watching too for their promise more than a chance of results.
|Fabio Aru, Dan Martin|
|Porte, Yates, Bardet, Latour|
Weather: sunshine and some clouds, a top temperature of 27°C. A 10km/h breeze meaning a tailwind for the final part of the stage.
TV: the finish is forecast for 4.20pm CET and the final hour will be on TV, enough to get the race from around the Côte de Jongieux. It’ll be on the same channel you watch the Tour de France and/or Eurosport.