After yesterday’s wild stage here’s an even harder stage, a collection of climbs with slopes that are regularly above 10%, selective for the front of the race and a battle for those at the back.
Stage 8 Review: a wild, unchained stage of constant attacking, they rode like there was no tomorrow only as we’ll soon see, there was and some will have a hangover. It took 90 minutes of relentless racing before the day’s breakaway formed, a giant group of 50 riders barged clear and then split again. Team Sky led the chase behind to contain things because the likes of Pierre Latour and Emmanuel Buchmann were up the road and could not be allowed much room. The scenario was constantly changing with groups forming and reforming and on the long climb to Viry Warren Barguil was instrumental in pulling a group clear that included Greg Van Avermaet, Robert Gesink, Serge Pauwels and Lilian Calmejane. For Calmejane the fear was that he’d show too early, a chicklet surrounded by old foxes. But once onto the Lacets de Septmoncel it was Barguil who was using up energy and only later did Calmejane make his move. At first he was holding a small gap over Nicolas Roche only for the Irishman to crack, then Gesink came within 10 seconds but could not get closer. Calmejane was doing just what he did in the Vuelta last year when he blew everyone away to take medium mountain stage win. This time cramp struck but he pushed on for the stage win only to collapse off his bike, legs riddled with cramp. It was a huge triumph for the small Direct Energie team. Calmejane’s win ended the day but this was a battle for many riders whose effects will be felt today.
The Route: 181km and 4,700m of vertical gain. Nantua will be humming to the sound of riders warming up. After a neutral roll out the KM0 point is on the slopes of the Col de Berentin, climbed via the village of Neyrolles and with plenty of 7% slopes. They then cross the plateau and drop down a fast climb with few bends to the river Rhone, crossing over the Génissiat dam and climbing to Franclens, 2.4km at 6% but with steeper sections and a gradual drop back to the Rhone again and the towns of Seyssel where they cross the Rhone again and climb to the start of the Col de la Biche.
Biche means a female deer but riders may think otherwise when they turn off the main road the climb begins with a 15% ramp before the climb eases back for 8km at 10-12% which is steep enough but the road is made harder by a rough surface with a gravelly feel and tiny ridges in the tarmac that make it feel slower still. The slope eases to the KoM point then there’s a brief descent before the road climbs again to the col proper and then a steep descent with few corners but the road is bumpy, take a hand off the bars to eat a gel and it’s risky. There’s then a small transitional section across to Virieu-le-Petit.
They climb the Grand Colombier. The mountain has been used in recent years but this time they go up the steepest side, the directissime approach. The roadbook says 22%, signs warn of 19% and this isn’t one of those take-the-wrong-line-inside-a-hairpin-bend measurements, it’s actually that steep. There’s a 4.4km stretch at 12% with long stretches at 14-16%, all on a sluggish road surface where the only help is shade from the forest canopy. After they emerge from the woodland the road joins the route used last year to the top and levels out for a moment and then climbs at a more steady 7-8% to the top. A fast descent awaits, you might remember the fearless riding of Jarlinson Pantano and Julian Alaphilippe from last year.
Then comes the valley section, they’re back beside the Rhone valley for 24km as they ride to the intermediate sprint, itself uphill. They cross over the Rhone again and tackle the 4km climb through Jongieux, mainly 4% slopes as the Mont du Chat looms large. There’s a brief descent in the shade and then a roundabout. From here the road starts climbing, the upcoming Mont du Chat is listed as 8.7km at 10.3% but to get there riders face 6km at 6% including some long 8% stretches.
The Mont du Chat should be familiar to many in the peloton and beyond after its inclusion in the Critérium du Dauphiné. After a gentle start the road pitches up and it’s 10-14% until the top, all on a slow road surface and this time the woodland isn’t dense enough to offer much shade. There is a brief flat segment with 4km to go that doesn’t show on the profile above but there’s hardly time to pick up speed and it just means that the slope has to rear up even more to meet the steep average.
From the top there’s 26km to go which sounds far but the 13km reciprocal descent takes minutes. Viewed on a map it looks like a series of straight lines between hairpins but instead each section between the hairpins is full of kinks and blind bends and it’s very steep meaning the speed is high and braking times long.
After the descent there’s a sharp climb that’s not on the profile, one kilometre at 7% which is not much but a good place for an attack before a 12km run to Chambéry with an unflattering approach into town via an industrial zone and retail park.
The Finish: flat but with plenty of twists and turns leading to a 550m long finishing straight that rises gently to the line.
The Contenders: the breakaway has a chance today too. After yesterday’s mania those who managed to save some energy could go clear on the first climb and find a peloton behind only too happy to let them go. Also, as hard as this stage is, the big team leaders will want their helpers beside them for as much of the stage as possible. But the closer they get to the Mont du Chat the fiercer the pace from those helpers who are left and then the big names can have a showdown on the final climb. Remember they only need attack in the final kilometres of this climb to take a minute on rivals.
Fabio Aru looked irresistible on the way to the Planche des Belles Filles and you’ll remember he was first to the top of the Mont du Chat in the Dauphiné last month too. If he can get over the top with 20 seconds then he could be hard to pull back and he has to try a move like this, he needs to take time on the mountain stages because the Marseille time trial will cost him. But as good as he is on the climbs he like other contenders is far from a certainty in the flat finish today.
Romain Bardet is almost the local. He’s not from the finish but spent time as an amateur with Ag2r La Mondiale’s excellent feeder squad, as did Pierre Latour but this doesn’t make them any faster or motivated given the enormity of the stage ahead. Bardet packs a decent sprint too.
Faster in the sprint is Dan Martin. The Quick Stepper is in great shape and showed on the road to La Planche des Belles Filles he can climb with the best. That was a short climb but Martin should also be at ease on these steep climbs.
Simon Yates (Orica-Scott) had a great performance at La Planche des Belles Filles to make up for the lost time at Longwy. We’ll soon know more about his form and he’s a very quick finisher amid a group of climbers.
Chris Froome (Team Sky) turned himself into a potent descender. It’s not something that often happens mid-career but he’s turned it into a weapon. However it’s not elegant to watch as he shifts weight and position like a slalom skier rather than flowing down the mountain and this intense style looks scary. Still if the forecast rain appears he can put Richie Porte under huge pressure here. We’ll see what Geraint Thomas does, he’s still second on GC and can sprint fast but the mountains are likely to be too much.
Richie Porte was close to the stage win in the Dauphiné over the Mont du Chat, he should be close again but sprinting isn’t his strong point nor is descending and if the forecast rain appears he could be nervous on the descents.
Nairo Quintana (Movistar) had a relatively bad climb to the Planche des Belles Filles but if he’s in contention today’s route suits him more with the succession of steep climbs. Meanwhile if Alberto Contador is going to stir things up today’s route offers plenty but he can’t wait until the Mont du Chat, will he dare to go before?
Outside picks are Jarlinson Pantano (Trek-Segafredo) who won a stage last year on some of these roads but he could be on duty for Alberto Contador. Stephen Cummings (Dimension Data) sat out yesterday’s action, was he saving himself for today? Pierre Rolland (Cannonale-Drapac) could take a big lead in the mountains competition with three HC climbs along the way but easier said than done with the Giro in his legs, ditto Thibaut Pinot (FDJ). Fresher candidates are Lotto-Jumbo’s George Bennett and UAE Emirates’ Darwin Atapuma. Rafał Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Rigoberto Urán (Cannonale-Drapac) both suffer from being close on GC so they’ll have little room to attack but if they can go clear maybe the others hesitate.
|Fabio Aru, Chris Froome|
|Romain Bardet, Dan Martin, Simon Yates|
|Pantano, Cummings, Quintana, Porte, Pinot, Atapuma, Latour, Rolland|
Weather: overnight rain will clear but thunderstorms are forecast for the afternoon in the region. It will be a humid 26°C.
TV: live from the start at 11.55am CET with the finish forecast for 5.00pm CET.