Dauphiné Stage 4 Preview

The race heads to the Alps with a classic stage finish in Gap with the Col de Manse followed by a steep descent to the finish. It’s a tricky stage with the action packed in the finish. There’s also a new leap in the evolution of TV today.

Stage 4 Wrap
Three riders went for the breakaway. Their chances were so low that the bunch almost had to gift them a lead and the race quickly fell behind schedule, delayed by generosity and torpor. Try as they might to avoid it, the bunch caught the trio with 20km to go, too early as it invited attacks. Jens Voigt profited from the lack of sprint teams and perhaps told to go for it after fellow Trekker Giacomo Nizzolo had crashed out half an hour before. Voigt was joined by others and this break did have some good ingredients but they were reeled in.

A sprint finish but not the one we expected. FDJ’s sprint train was derailed by the tricky run-in: perhaps they didn’t scout the finish, certainly they were swamped and instead of a démarrage we got an enraged Démare. Nikias Arndt of Giant-Shimano was late into the final bend but cut a tight line and kept the power going to win. Their plan was to launch Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg but in the chaos Arndt was in the right place and went for it with that rarity, a seated sprint. Was he inspired by Chris Froome?

The Route:

  • Km 80.5 – Côte de Rosans, 1.5 kilometre-long climb at 3.6% – category 4
  • Km 155.0 – Col de Manse, 9.6 kilometre-long climb at 5.2% – category 2

A classic route to the Alps, the race heads to the olive bastide of Nyons and then takes the Eygues valley on the road to Gap. This is a long wide road with many turns and false flats. The Tour, Dauphiné, Paris-Nice have all used the same road. After 140km the race reaches Gap but does not cross the finish line. Instead it starts climbing the Col de Manse.

It doesn’t look like much but when it was used in the Tour de France Rui Costa soloed away. Behind, by the time the race got to the top, we had a select group of Chris Froome, Richie Porte, Alberto Contador, Roman Kreuziger, Nairo Quintana, Joaquim Rodriguez and Bauke Mollema. One reason why it’s so selective is because the descent is so feared, riders want to speed up the climb because they know a gap can be preserved on the descent. Today’s descent is not the same as last summer but it’s still a tricky road that’s narrow and winding with uneven gravelly tarmac.

The Finish: the final kilometres are fast with the slope easing with five kilometres to go. After the Alpine diversion the race gradually assumes an urban feel with roundabouts on the way to the line. The final kilometre is flat.

The Scenario: at the risk of being obvious, there are three scenarios:

  • a long range breakaway survives
  • a few riders go clear on the Col de Manse
  • we get another GC rider showdown

Which of the three? We’ll see who goes up the road. In the Tour last summer everyone knew this was the day for a breakaway and consequently when a giant move went it was reeled in by those who’d missed it. This morning will see a lot of team managers ordering someone, anyone to get in the day’s break and those that fail will be tasked with the duty of chasing the move.

The Contenders: if a breakaway goes think of a rider like Thomas Voeckler or Simon Gerrans. Other picks would be FDJ’s Artur Vichot or Giovanni Visconti but we’re going on reputation, the form is uncertain.

A safer pick might be Tony Gallopin. 15th on the Col du Béal he’s got a fast sprint and if he can get to Gap with a small group he’d be hard to beat. Vincenzo Nibali could go full shark on the descent but it’s not the longest drop, you can take seconds but maybe not enough to go solo and then hold off the chase during the flatter run through town.

Tony Gallopin, Thomas Voeckler, Simon Gerrans
Daryl Impey, Giovanni Visconti
Bakelants, Kwiatkowski, Kelderman, Jungels

Weather: hot and sunny but a touch cooler than yesterday temperatures reaching 32°C (89°F). The tarmac will be melting, especially on the final descent.

TV: L’Equipe reports France Télévisions have an extra motorbike on the race today armed with La Superloupe, an HD camera that films images at 500 frames a second. The idea is to find new images and details, whether a wide angle shot that can still pick up tiny details like facial expressions or to zoom in on things the camera never sees like a frame flexing in the sprint. Like all broadcast tools the secret is in the production but this is promising.

The finish is forecast for 2.40pm Euro time.

It’s live on French TV and Eurosport which means there should be a stream to watch, see cyclingfans.com and steephill.tv for a feed. The racebook says it’s  around the world including NBC in the US and SBS in Australia. Subscribe properly rather than use a pirate feed and you’ll be treated to HD images.

Do: leave a comment below if you can explain why French roads melt in the summer. The obvious answer is because the authorities seem to lay roads with tar that has a low melting point: the question is why they opt for this defective solution. It’s common in June and July in France but other countries don’t have the same problem. It’s bad for a bike race but must be lethal for others, especially motorcyclists.

Don’t: think today’s finish is the same road as as last summer’s Tour route, nor the 2011 Tour route when Andy Schleck resembled a puppy trying to descend a staircase, nor where Joseba Beloki crashed prompting Lance Armstrong to plough a field. Instead the road comes off the Col de Manse to turn right earlier, taking the road to Romette and not Rochette.

22 thoughts on “Dauphiné Stage 4 Preview”

  1. As for the roads, they do it in a lot of places all over Europe (Belgium and the UK certainly do it). The reason was explained to me as being for ease of maintenance. Surface is degrading, whack another layer of gravel over it. It’s also far more resistant to frost cracking which, again, makes it easier to maintain.

    I remember the type of road quite “fondly” as a child; dropping off a pavement on my skateboard only to have my wheels sink and stop me dead or going home with shoes covered with tar.

    • It’s a problem to find a balance for the asphalt binder used to make the road surface. I suspect in hot countries additives can reduce melting but temperatures are relatively constant – in Northern climes the temperature rage is also narrower and although melting happens it is rare.

      In the last three years, where I live in the Alps, we’ve had a minimum temperature of -22°C and a maximum of 46°C and along with the heavy use of snowploughs in winter and expansion and contraction of the road surfaces I guess it would be impossible to find an asphalt composition that would cover all eventualities and remain cohesive.

      Basically roads built to melt less in Summer will crack more in winter and vice-versa so the French authorities chose a middle-way solution simply to keep repairs to a minimum.

  2. Whenever I see that pic makes me wonder how on earth did LA not get a flat…

    Many roads in Greece have the same problem (especially the old ones) it has to do with high percentage of tar issued in the mixture. New roads or newly surfaced roads do not have such problems…

  3. I remember those roads well. I’ve seen the same technique used in Italy a time or two. Seems a low-cost way to “pave” roads – the hot tar truck spreads the gooey mess, then the gravel (chip) guys come along and spread that stuff around. As the tar cools off the gravel is sort of glued to the surface. Not the most enjoyable pavement for cycling, but what can ya do? The real problems come when the gravel (chips) are eventually pulled up or pushed away by traffic, meaning the entire process needs to be done again. But when it isn’t, the now exposed tar gets pretty soft in the summer heat. I remember rides in July in the Pyrenees back-in-the-days we chased the Tour when we’d finish with a tar crust on the sides of our bike tires if there were no sharp curves to lean over far enough to wear it away before the ride ended. A colleague of mine told of one time he was out there with a tour group and they came across a freshly “repaved” section like this – so much gravel and tar stuck to the bike tires and even the chains they had clients stranded with bikes that could no longer roll or had rear mechs snapped off!

      • And what happens with a couple of clients at our Piedmont Cycling Resort today? They come back from a ride with bikes (ours) covered in tar. They found some place where they were repaving the roads I guess…so now I get to clean up the mess.
        While I’m happy roads are getting maintained..that’ll teach me to write about it on Inner Ring! 🙂

    • In Spain there are not many of those grippy-sticky surfaces, and it gets usually more than a bit hotter. You find them in places (natural parks and the like) where it is intended to deter speedy driving, especially in mountains where you could also find ice in the winter. They’re a pain to ride on, but that’s why I think they’re good (uphill) for pro racing. It can get very taxing mentally on a bad day. The Peña de Francia in western Spain is a good example.
      Besides, a truism: the French Midi mountains wouldn’t be the French Midi mountains without its French Midi mountain roads.

  4. ….Australians obviously just build better roads than their European counterparts? No troubles in much more excessive and sustained heat over here, but then again – we all whimper at the idea of frost.

    • Australia can (in general) use the harder grade bitumen, because they don’t have to worry that much about it becoming brittle in lower temperatures.

      If you used a similar composition to that used in Australia on a French mountain road leading to an alpine resort, it would be great the first summer, but then come the spring you may well find it had cracked up over the winter under the weight of coachloads of skiers.

      There are polymer modified binders that – at more expense – give a road that can take the wider range of temperatures. These are relatively new, so even roads that it would make sense to have them may well not.

      • Australia uses exactly the same technique, Tar and Chip. I hit a freshly laid section of this going up Mt Hotham one day, so much tar and rock stuck to my tire it bridged up to the brake callipers and stopped me dead – I would have gone over the handlebars if I wasn’t going uphill. I think it is used for cold temperature areas, where heat is only an issue for a few days a year (it was not that hot the day I hit the soft tar, only about 25C.

  5. Question of money. The French often do not use the tar gravel method, but seem to spend loads of money on repaving the smallest roads, of which there are many. In fact, I am pretty sure that it is a consensus that the raod surfacesin France are incredibly good, especially for cycling. Australia has few roads, so they can spend more money on what they have. I think roads melt in many places, just that many places do not have bike races on their roads.

  6. Yesterday was interesting. On one hand, it seemed to underline the humiliating insignificance of going on a break away without any reasonable expectation of victory. I think fewer and fewer riders will accept to perform this inglorious role in the future. On the other hand, it still puzzles me why some teams work to reel escapees in without any serious chance of winning. It’s equally inglorious. What were Katusha working for? Did they get paid or something? Were they trading favours with FDJ and OPQS (who by the way didn’t win or even get close)? That Voigt break had looked quite promising…

  7. The correct term for the sprayed on tar and stone chippings method is ‘surface dressing’. The two principal purposes of this are to restore skid resistance/grip and to protect the road structure by sealing the surface against water ingress.

    If the road structure has failed then it will do nothing to remedy it. It is however cheaper than full resurfacing and is thus popular with highway authorities/councils…but not with cyclists (me included).

    • IIRC, the French use a much finer gravel than in the UK, where it literally is stone chippings – far too coarse for rider comfort. 30 years of government/council cuts are fast catching up in the UK, where some roads have been deteriorating fast over recent harder/wetter winters. More and more potholes; surface dressing over potholes without filling them in; the “surface” of surface dressing coming off – it gets to the state where it’s pointless to point out hazards in a group as there are too many to point at.

      • Come to Sheffield. We have a combination of billard table smooth, french style roads (is there some big race coming?) and then some of the most horedous patched up, pot holed, suface dressed roads in the whole country.

        It’s a delight!

  8. I’m sure there is a perferct inrng answer to this. Why is this race called ‘Criterium’ and what link does that have with ‘criteriums’ played out every weekends in cities around the world?

  9. This post paved little in the way of cycling related comments but I can now wow the ladies with my newly tarred path to knowledge. Kudos for demarrage-Démare pun and thank you for another insightful post.

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