The first mountain stage and a hard summit finish made even tougher today thanks to an extension to the habitual finishing straight, this time there’s an extra 900 metres on top culminating in a final ramp of 22% to the line.
Stage 5 Review: a lively start to the stage with wave after wave of attacks until four riders, Simon Clarke (EF Education First), Toms Skujiņš (Trek-Segafredo), Mads Würtz (Katusha-Alpecin) and Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) had a gap. It was the ideal move for the peloton, as the quartet might be, the peloton could control a small move. Sunweb and Bora-Hansgrohe did most of the work to filter the moves and then kept the breakaway on a tight leash leaving spectators to enjoy the stunning scenery of Alsace in the height of summer. In the finale Bora looked to have run out of riders but Sagan resembled a bowling ball alongside skittles and got the job done with ease and was able to sit up and celebrate before the line. He looked less at ease on the podium, anxiously adjusting the goggles placed on him, it looks contrived but Sagan pulls off stunts that others can’t.
The Route: 160.5km and a mountain stage. It’s not the Alps but there’s 4,000m of vertical gain. After 20km across the plains it’s uphill to the intermediate sprint and then directly onto the Markstein, 10km at 5.4% which sounds gentle but there steep sections nudging 10% on the way up, a flat section and then it kicks up again to the mountains point… and then keeps rising again to the Grand Ballon. The descent afterwards is long and down a main road before turning right to tackle the Col de Hundsruck, 5km at 7%.
The Ballon d’Alsace is listed as 11km at 5.8% but this depends where you draw the start point, in total it’s 13km at 5% but there’s 7km at 7% in the middle making it hard work and the first big mountain tackled by the Tour de France, in 1905 but not the first mountain pass, neither the first climb over 1,000m. There’s a regular descent and then a breather across to the small Col des Croix, a regular road with some good 7% ramps towards the top and followed by a more gentle, longer descent.
The Col de Chevrères was last used in the 2014 Tour and there’s a small valley approach road with not much room to move up and teams, presumably Ineos, will be driving the pace here. The actual climb is savage going from 14% to 19% and with some tight bends – it’s so narrow and steep some of the race caravan is forbidden – and with the 8-5-2 second time bonus at the top. There’s a descent in two parts, first a small road – Geraint Thomas crashed on a hairpin here in 2014 – then it opens up to the town of Plancher Les Mines.
The Finish: A sharp right turn and the road soars. The climb is only 7km long and averages 8.7% which is steep enough. The reality is that it’s frequently much steeper, the opening ramp is 14% and that first red part of the climb on the profile? It includes a brief descent. After a long steep ramp to the first hairpin, things then ease with a variety of steep inclines and flatter sections. The finish sees the road get progressively steeper. In the past the final straight was 300 metres between 14 and 20% but now they’ve paved an upper section and “Superplanche” is 900m longer and involves a gravel track – heavily worked on, it’s smooth and regular – around the side of the mountain and then the final section is tarmac which is no relief as the road reaches 22% for the last 150m to the line.
The Contenders: Egan Bernal (Team Ineos) seems the safe choice, he’s climbing well and has a strong team to pace him into position and in any case we’ll see how he and Geraint Thomas are doing, this is a selective climb to the point that the last time they rode the Chevrères-Planche combo in 2014, three of the top-4 that day finished on the podium although this year’s long duration, high altitude finale might tilt things. Still Ineos/Sky’s modus operandi has been to hit the first summit finish hard… or was that Froome’s method?
Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) is the local pick – his father is mayor of a town 15km away, and the local undertaker too – but living a brief warm-up away from the foot of the climb doesn’t make you faster, it might just help you pace yourself up but the climb will feel totally different today going from a deserted forest road to a noisy sports arena. Knowing a descent fully helps much more. But he seems in great form too, only sharp climbs like this aren’t his best climb, he’s better on longer ascents.
Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) used to be a local too when he was an U23 racing in France (the same outfit as Warren Barguil, Guillaume Martin and others) and this is a big test for him, he’s a prototype rider for a climb like this.
Today’s finish has a touch of Vuelta craziness to it and so maybe Mikel Landa will enjoy it but he’s never fared well here, his form is unknown and the fight for position might be hard. The climb is probably to intense for Quintana to win on even at his best form but Alejandro Valverde could do it.
Jacob Fuglsang (Astana) gets to test his form and his knee and given his form this season he should be close, he looked good on the sharp climbs to Epernay. Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) and Rigoberto Urán (EF Education First) should be close but the win looks unlikely.
Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) won the steep finish on the Peyragudes runway in 2017 but so far the form isn’t obvious. Specialist picks for such a steep climb include Michael Woods (EF Education First) who excels in steep climbs and Dan Martin (UAE Emirates) who does too and was second here the last time in 2017. Outsiders like David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) and Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) could feature but the stage win looks elusive.
Can Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quickstep) stay in yellow? His cousin Frank thinks yes and if you think his family would say that, Frank is is coach too who should know what he’s talking about and apparently he is lighter than last year. It seems difficult, his limit is handling multiple Alpine-style climbs and it’ll depend on Steven Kruijswijk’s climbing, Egan Bernal taking time bonuses and more and his style isn’t to turn the final climb into a private time trial, he’ll want to follow the wheels and fight.
The breakaway has a chance today and some might go up the road without thinking of winning the stage because if Tim Wellens has 17 points in the mountains competition, first place across the first five climbs today brings 10+5+2+10+2 = 29 points. But who could win all these climbs who is down on GC and not on team duties today? Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) himself and if not team mate Thomas de Gendt.
|Thibaut Pinot, Adam Yates, Michael Woods|
|Valverde, D Martin, Landa|
Yellow story: the yellow jersey is a genius sports marketing idea. Teams in pro cycling operate on the basis of sponsors coming in to get their name on the team jersey only the biggest prize in the sport is shedding this branding for the yellow jersey of the race. It’s got its own sponsor in LCL, a bank, and a manufacturer in Le Coq Sportif and yes, a panel for the team sponsor branding.
Weather: cloudy, a top temperature of 24°C.
TV: the stage starts at 1.05pm CEST and finish is forecast for 5.40pm CEST / Euro time. It’s a big stage but the GC action is likely to happen late. The Col de Chevrères approach begins around 4.55pm.