The Queen stage of the race with the royally difficult climb of Alpe d’Huez to start the day before a succession of climbs before the tough Col du Noyer and its ski station at Superdévoluy.
This stage can’t be seen in isolation as it both complements and contrasts with Sunday’s final mountain stage, a procession of steep and awkward climbs as compared to the final day which offers more regular ramps. In fact this stage is probably the last chance for a shake-up on the overall.
Stage 6 Wrap: a lot of the action happened before the TV started. When Froome was interviewed live after the stage they said “so it was a calm day for you” and he had to correct it. The race covered 50km in the first hour and the fierce pace continued over the tough Col de Barioz in part because Europcar were setting the pace, which seemed odd as they had no sprinter or lead to protect.
It was only when the TV images began that the race began to settle and a breakaway of riders started to thin over the tricky roads. By then the legs were tired and, as predicted, the roads across the plateau didn’t lend themselves to a chase. With 40km to go two minutes’ lead was enough.
As for the result: two Astana team mates in a breakaway of four and Thomas Voeckler wins? As said before the Frenchman is someone who, if he enters a revolving door behind you, comes out ahead of you. To be fair to Astana, neither Egor Silin or Kevin Seeldrayers can sprint and nor can Movistar’s José Herrada so what could they do against a rider nicknamed “Francis” by his team mates in a nod to his bar-brawling skills. By contrast back in 2004 a young Voeckler won the bunch sprint into Grenoble after Michael Rasmussen and Ivan Basso had riden away to finish over six minutes ahead.
The Route: 4,700m in just 187km make this a tough mountain stage. The start is in Pont de Claix, a suburb of Grenoble where tall chimneys of industrial chemical plants are shrunk by the giant Belledone and Chartreuse cliffs. A short section of flat road to Vizille and then up the Gorges de la Romanche, a pesky road that alternates between fast and steep ramps, there’s nowhere to hide from the start.
Alpe d’Huez shouldn’t need any introduction but it’s normally a “summit” finish only this time the race up to the Alpe… and then further up to cross the Col de Sarenne. Alpe d’Huez is so famous you probably know it has 21 hairpin bends and finishes in a big ski station. An an average of 8.6% for 12km it’s a tough climb and many could be dropped early.
The road climbs above the ski resort to tackle the little-known Col de Sarenne, albeit with some descending on the approach to the col and then 3.1km at 6.8%. Here the road is a total contrast, a road that’s part farm trail and far from the mechanical ski lifts, concrete hotels, in fact from from everything. The descent is immediate and rough, a narrow road cut into the cliff where schist-like rocks crumble onto the road. It’s steep and has some hairpins, there are fast sections but know where to tuck and where to brake matter. Riders have been visiting the road in advance of the Dauphiné and Tour and many have noticed the wild side of the Sarenne although the more you descent, the more regular it becomes.
The Col d’Ornon is next and suffers from its proximity to Alpe d’Huez, overshadowed by the reputation of the ski station access road. For this is a great climb, scenic and with plenty of variation as it twists up a narrow valley. 10.5km at 6.1% but it goes up in steps. The descent is much more gentle with wide hairpin bends. Then follows an awkward crossing of the Valbonnais, rolling terrain enclosed by mountains where a chase can be organised but at the cost of a lot of energy.
The Col du Noyer (“Walnut Tree Pass”) is hard with irregular gradients and a series of hairpin bends with stunning views of the valley below. The upper slopes are particularly steep. They’re followed a fast six kilometre descent.
The Finish: by now there will be many tired legs so even if this is a regular climb to the small ski-station of Superdévoluy it can do some damage.
The Scenario: time is running out for many to make an impression in the race. Lower down the pecking order, maybe it’s reductive but plenty of riders in the race are wondering about selection for the Tour de France so a move could convince their team and in turn boost their market value for a new contract. So we can expect fireworks on the first climb with many trying to go clear.
For more secure riders the penultimate climb of the Col du Noyer should be their launchpad. Wait too long and they’ll get run over by Team Sky’s mountain train and the steep slopes suit the pure climbers who can exploit this part to get away and perhaps gain a few places on the GC.
Richie Porte has no worries about job security and with Chris Froome already in yellow and a stage win to his name, what if Porte was “allowed” to ride away? If only it were so easy but Porte seems to have the form for this. If not then the finish could suit Dani Moreno of Katusha as well as thus far stealthy team mate Joaquim Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde. Another Spaniard is exiled Daniel Navarro of Cofidis who is climbing well. Of course there’s Alberto Contador who could play a 1-2 with in-form Michael Rogers although if the Australian is riding very well and has several stage race wins to his name, a victory salute is a rare thing.
Superstition: the French revolution was a mass movement but like this stage, Grenoble and Vizille were on the route. Grenoble saw rioting workers hurl tiles from the rooftops to royal troops and soon after Vizille saw local dignitaries gather to call for improved democracy. Perhaps it’s time for a French revolution in the Dauphiné after Thomas Voeckler ran riot yesterday?
Weather: turning cooler and cloudier with the chance of a shower at altitude. Top temperature of 19°C but closer to 12°C at altitude. cyclingfans.com and steephill.tv have the links to video streams if you can’t get it on TV.
TV: the same schedule as during the week, the stage finishes early at 2.45pm.
Top 20 Overall
1 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 19:33:43
2 Richie Porte (Aus) Sky Procycling 0:00:52
3 Rohan Dennis (Aus) Garmin-Sharp 0:00:54
4 Michael Rogers (Aus) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 0:01:37
5 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha 0:01:47
6 Daniel Navarro Garcia (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits 0:01:49
7 Rein Taaramae (Est) Cofidis, Solutions Credits 0:01:52
8 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-Quick Step 0:01:58
9 Leopold Konig (Cze) Team NetApp-Endura 0:02:16
10 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team 0:02:20
11 Stef Clement (Ned) Blanco Pro Cycling Team 0:02:32
12 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:02:47
13 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 0:02:49
14 Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Blanco Pro Cycling Team 0:03:12
15 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) RadioShack Leopard 0:03:24
16 Kevin Seeldraeyers (Bel) Astana Pro Team 0:03:30
17 Ben Hermans (Bel) RadioShack Leopard 0:03:37
18 Alexandre Geniez (Fra) FDJ 0:03:41
19 Matthew Busche (USA) RadioShack Leopard 0:03:46
20 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:04:01