The Tour heads into the mountains with the first of three consecutive Alpine stages. There’s no gentle start, this is a hard stage with some steep climbs throughout.
The Route: 158km and after skirting around the opal shores of Lake Annecy the race heads into the mountains via Bluffy and a short climb. Soon comes the Col de la Croix Fry, 11km at 7% but with a flat middle section meaning the before, and especially, after parts are steeper, but all on a wide road and followed by a descent on an even wider road.
The big road stops with a sudden flick across the valley onto a minor road and the climb to the Plateau des Glières starts, 6km at 11% and as steep as you’ll find in France (there are longer climbs, there are steeper climbs but nothing is as steep for as long) and it’s all on a narrow road and the gradient is irregular too. The good news is that the it’s been resurfaced which makes for a contrast because once at the top of the climb there’s a 1.8km gravel section to contend with. It’s a rolling bit of road, scenic on TV but nothing perilous. For all the novelty and intrigue of an Alpine gravel road in the Tour, it’s worth remembering this is primarily a war memorial – as opposed to a technical sector to worry about tire pressure – so look for the large concrete statue of a V for victory with one of the branches broken off, symbolising the cost of peace.
The ensuing descent is more risky as it pitches riders down 12% slopes into tight hairpins. Then comes a gentle valley section and then the big ring climb of the Col des Fleuries, a proper mountain pass but not even counted en route and a descent to the Arve valley and then a section of flat road, 30km in total.
The Col de Romme is 8.8km at 8.9% and featured in the 2009 Tour de France where several GC contenders were quickly in difficulty on the steep slopes. The profile says it’s 9.8% for the first kilometre but between the start of the climb and the first hairpin after 1km there’s a long ramp of 11.5%, in other words it’s steeper than it looks at the start and it’s a tough, selective climb.
A quick and tricky descent through the woodland and the route joins the Col de la Colombière halfway up. From here it’s a wide road and largely a steady a steady climb, first via big hairpins and then a long straight section to the pass.
The Finish: a 12km descent, it’s on a big road but not easy to chase, someone with a lead of 20-30 seconds over the top can hope to win the stage. Things flatten out in the arrival town of Le Grand Bornand, there’s 2.5km on flatter roads with a false flat leading back to the finish line.
The Contenders: Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) won the opening mountain stage of the Vuelta last year, taking the others in the front group by surprise. Does he try and snipe the sprint or will he try in the mountains? I think he and others are more likely to try and mark so he’s got a good chance to preserve his energy on the final climbs, exploit the descent to pressure rivals and take the sprint.
Otherwise it’s hard to gauge form so Alejandro Valverde is a default pick because he can win the sprint if he’s in contention at the finish. Whether he can get over the climbs in the front group is another matter but the relative brevity of the climbs suits him and he can hang back while Movistar team mates Mikel Landa and especially Nairo Quintana try longer range moves. Another aspect in favour of Valverde today is the conservatism of the first mountain stage where riders will often try to get the measure of each other, especially because the descent means landing a knock-out blow is harder.
Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) stands to gain the yellow jersey and he can win the stage too and will want the time bonus. Like Valverde he’s got a quick finish and like Valverde we’ll see how he fares over the multiple, steep climbs.
Dan Martin (UAE-Emirates) is quick in a group too but Valverde and Thomas should be quicker so perhaps the Irishman takes a flyer and stays away, he’s got the jump to do this on the Colombière. Adam Yates is another rider who is quick out of a group. Mitchelton-Scott have ferried him around Northern France like a fragile parcel and now he’ll find less support and the onus on him.
Julian Alaphilippe (Quick Step) could hang on, he managed a stage win in the Dauphiné but was on the limit on the Col du Mont Noir before getting it together for the finish. A good descender he could lose time on the final climbs and just come back but it’s not obvious. It’s a good test for Bob Jungels, can he stay with the others on the final two climbs?
Warren Barguil was floating over the pavé. Has he found the form of last summer again? His problem is that he’s not far enough down on GC to try any attacks.
What chance of a breakaway? Slim and it would need some big engines to tow it across the first part before some climbers who are no threat to GC try to stay away on the final climbs. So Dani Navarro (Cofidis), Darwin Atapuma (UAE-Emirates) and of course Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) come to mind. However they breakaways may all have their eyes on Thursday’s stage to Alpe d’Huez, especially de Gendt who’s not just a breakaway specialist but a big trophy hunter with wins on Mont Ventoux and the Stelvio and tactically Stage 12 suits a break a bit more.
|Alejandro Valverde, Vincenzo Nibali|
|Dan Martin, Geraint Thomas|
Weather: sunshine, clouds and the chance of a shower in the mountains. A top temperature of 28°C in the valley but cooler at altitude, especially if there’s a downpour.
TV: a double header with the 115km La Course women’s race live on TV from 10.30am CEST to 1.00pm CEST (you can read a good preview over at mytwospokesworth.com). Then Stage 10 is live from the start at 1.15pm CEST with the start of the Col de Romme due at 5.00pm CEST and the finish forecast for 5.55pm CEST.