Tour de France Stage 8 Preview

The first mountain stage of the Tour de France, today’s stage offers a lively finish with some sharp climbs saved for late including the first summit finish of the Tour. The first of the Vosges trilogy over the long weekend in France, today is a mountain hors d’oeuvre but promises an exiting finish.

Stage 7 Wrap
A break of six and the second longest stage. The escapees never got much room with Cannondale on the front of the bunch all day. Normally a break would be given a bit of space but this year no move has been allowed too far up the road. It led to arguments in the break, accusations some were soft-pedalling. The move was doomed.

You feel for the work done by the Cannondale riders. All that effort to contain the race and Peter Sagan took off on the final climb with Greg Van Avermaet, going clear near the top where it was hard to pull out a lead. He could have sat tight but took the risk. The pair were caught and the Slovak still had the energy to sprint but Matteo Trentin surged. The pair needed a photo finish but Trentin tapped Sagan as if to say “well done” only to emerge as the winner. Once Sagan seemed to win races effortlessly now he’s trying so hard he’s losing them. We shouldn’t be too critical because if he’d sat tight in the bunch it’s equally Greg Van Avermaet would have ridden away, everyone would have feared working because they’d only take Sagan to the line.

OPQS get their stage and it’s a second Tour de France stage win for Matteo Trentin after his triumph in Lyon last year. The result was similar to his stage win in the Tour de Suisse earlier this year. Sagan went clear on the final climb, got caught and was beaten by Trentin in the sprint. Trentin’s an economics graduate and supplies wins just when his team demands them, he might get a few chances a year but his finishing is as sharp as his north Italian accent.

Tejay van Garderen fell after BMC Racing team mate Peter Stetina appeared to drift across his front wheel. An accident but a costly one, riders were dispatched to help him but not the whole team and he lost just over a minute. Another American loser was Andrew Talansky who lost skin, not time after a crash in the finishing straight. He was furious with Simon Gerrans but see for yourself how he drifts across the road while looking sideways.

The Route

  • Km 142.0 – Col de la Croix des Moinats (891 m)7.6 kilometre-long climb at 6% – category 2
  • Km 150.0 – Col de Grosse Pierre (901 m), 3 kilometre-long climb at 7.5% – category 2
  • Km 161.0 – Côte de La Mauselaine, 1.8 kilometre-long climb at 10.3% – category 3

130km across rolling roads to the mountains. After Epinal the race follows the Moselle river valley up to the intermediate sprint and then heads for the hills. The first climb is the Col de la Croix des Moinats.

It’s as regular as the profile shows, a gentle introduction to the mountains on a wide and regular road. The gradient does pick up but not for long. It’s selective in that it’ll line out the bunch and get rid of some of the heavier riders.

The Col de Grosse Pierre is next. Thierry Gouvenou, the Tour’s technical director, has been sneaky here because the race could have taken the main road over the pass but instead it deviates via small track and takes the direct route up the hill weaving past houses for a route that’s more ski piste than a road. It’s steep and narrow, the road is little wider than one car. The 16% label is reserved for the top of the road before it turns right on to the main road and only for those cutting the bend on the inside. It’s onwards towards the KoM point and another example of ASO appropriating the landscape because the road continues to climb after the mountains point, then descends, turns onto a different road and only later does it actually cross over the Col de Grosse Pierre. In short the KoM point isn’t the top.

It’s then onto a wider road with a fast descent, sweeping bends where a brave rider can sit on the top tube for the best aero position possible. There’s a drag up during the descent, always an akward point for a solo rider who could lose time here. The route flattens out into the town of Gerardmér before a sharp right turn for the final climb to the finish.

The Finish

A final climb of 1.8km at 10.3%, an exciting finish and the kind we’re more used to seeing in the Giro. La Mauselaine is the local ski area and like all winter sports venues the road is designed for easy access. It’s wide all the way up but steep in places. Again the route takes a direct way up rather than a more gentle road with hairpins. It’s steep from the start and rises all the way to the line.

The Scenario
First a word of caution. This is a mountain stage but an introduction, a prologue to the Vosges mountains. The Tour has three stages in the Vosges and this is the punchy one, tomorrow has the stage for breakaway tough guys before Monday’s stage which, if not the Queen Stage of the Tour is a royal day out, call it the Princess Stage.

Back to today’s stage and for once the early breakaway has a better chance. Astana should be willing to let the yellow jersey go, anyone who wants to ride up the road might get more space today. If the move is to stick it needs to be packed with heavy-hitters to power the break as opposed the usual wildcard warriors.

The final section is so important that we’re likely to see teams picking up the pace after the intermediate sprint as they seek to place their rider into position, the bunch will get more and more stressed.

The Contenders
A summit finish coming after two climbs late in the race mean a finish designed for the overall contenders or the kind of rider who can win an Ardennes classic. It’s a shame Philippe Gilbert isn’t here. For now picking riders is still an uncertain prospect, some of the names below have barely been seen all week so rather than worrying about who might win, the interest is in seeing how everyone might perform.

If there’s a breakaway then it’s a bit of a lottery to name riders. Think of those the punchy riders and climbers who have lost time, think Jan Bakelants, Leopold König, Matteo Montaguti, Simon Špilak, Daniel Navarro or… Joaquim Rodriguez. If not today then tomorrow or Monday.

Among the big names Alberto Contador is the first choice, he’ll be keen to test his legs and maybe grab a few seconds in the process. Vincenzo Nibali only needs to mark his rivals, not for him his usual risk taking and he could let one of his lieutenants jump away.

There are two riders I really want to see. First Alejandro Valverde who sits 9th overall and has hardly been seen all week. The finish is perfect for him – he won the Flèche Wallonne – and now we’ll see what he’s got. Next up Richie Porte who has the chance of a lifetime, he suddenly has team leadership in the Tour de France; word is he’s flying and we’ll discover the value of this talk. Of these two Valverde is the more likely stage winner. Not that the final climb is determinant, it’s a sharp climb were positioning matters a lot from the start.

On to some others. Michal Kwiatkowski is looking better every day. But has he got his climbing legs? Never say never for Peter Sagan although this finish looks too much for him. Tom Jelte-Slagter was dropped yesterday. On purpose? The Dutchman is perfectly suited to a stage finish like this and if he’s liberated from team duties will enjoy the finale. Rui Costa has everything for a finish like this but despite those rainbow bands he’s been discreet to the point of invisble so far. Simon Gerrans has come close to a win twice only to get tangled in a crash, perhaps today’s his lucky third chance? It could be too hilly but it might still suit him.

Joaquim Rodriguez would be a prime pick but is still riding himself into the race. Bauke Mollema is another watch, the Dutch climber’s won stages in the Tour de Suisse with a punchy finish.

In the past Thomas Voeckler would have got a tip for a long range raid but these days he seems less certain; the best French hope could be Romain Bardet who has had an excellent first week.

What about Peter Sagan? He’ll have to be climbing at his best but it’s probably too much, his time is likely to come in the following days.

Alejandro Valverde, Alberto Contador
Tom-Jelte Slagter, Vincenzo Nibali
Bauke Mollema, Rui Costa, Simon Gerrans
Joaquim Rodiguez, Richie Porte

Weather: sunshine and clouds with a top temperature of 22°C. A light breeze.

TV: the live feed starts soon after 2.00pm Euro time. Tune in by 4.30pm to watch the approach to the final climb with the race hitting the hills 15 minutes later. The finish is forecast for 5.30pm.