The stage we’ve all been waiting for. The race heads for the mountains and the Col d’Allos before the Pra Loup summit finish, a copy of Stage 17 of next month’s Tour de France. A hard day but an introduction to the mountains as Saturday stage is harder.
Stage 4 Wrap: some days there’s a race on and some days there’s a ride. Lotto-Soudal’s Tosh van der Sande and Lotto-Jumbo’s Martijn Keizer went clear early on and led a procession for the best part of 200 kilometres across the landscape. But the pair kept their minds and with this, kept some energy so they could accelerate in late in the stage just when the bunch thought it had the better of them. This caused panic in the peloton and the chase picked up. It made for a lively final 20km as a series of attacks provided suspense. Tim Wellens had the longest move but Tony Martin, Wilco Kelderman, Romain Bardet and Vincenzo Nibali were all on manoeuvres. But the flat run-in and work by MTN-Qhubeka meant a bunch sprint and Nacer Bouhanni won.
Two stage wins in three days, is Bouhanni set for the Tour de France? He’s the fastest in the race but there’s not much opposition, Jonas van Genechten is a very infrequent winner and Luka Mezgec has the Giro in his legs. Mark Cavendish, Alexander Kristoff, Marcel Kittel and many more, including Arnaud Démare, are a bigger threat. But Bouhanni says he’s only resumed racing in the Tour of Bavaria and is riding the Dauphiné to get used to the mountains so if he’s winning now he’s got plans to be better by July.
The Route: 161km, a saw-tooth profile with the 2,250m Col d’Allos before a ski-station summit finish. Sure it’s a mountain stage but the early climbs are steady and there’s “only” 3,700 vertical metres, it’s not the 5,000m you can get on a savage day. But the route is stunning as it crosses the southern Alps
- Km 40.0 – Col des Lèques, 6 kilometre-long climb at 5.3% – category 3
- Km 67.0 – Col de Toutes Aures, 6.1 kilometre-long climb at 3.1% – category 3
- Km 96.0 – Col de la Colle-Saint-Michel, 11 kilometre-long climb at 5.2% – category 2
- Km 139.0 – Col d’Allos, 14 kilometre-long climb at 5.5% – category 1
- Km 161.0 – Pra Loup, 6.2 kilometre-long climb at 6.5% – category 2
The Col d’Allos is a long climb, 14km at 5.5% doesn’t sound like much but the last 5km are 7-8% and 10% in places at over 1,800m above sea level. The descent is very difficult. Much is made of the Allos-Pra Loup combo because in 1975 it was here that Bernard Thévenet cracked Eddy Merckx. But on the descent of the Allos the Bianchi team car flew off the road into a ravine. It’s 15km downhill and if it’s not steep there are plenty of bends.
The Finish: 6.2km at 6.5%. The road kicks up from the start so riders had better spin their legs on the descent. It’s not a hard finish at all, a wide regular road with even slopes for the most part and wide hairpin bends, a classic ski station access road. That said the graphic above from ASO misses out a sustained 10% ramp on the way up.
The Contenders: Alejandro Valverde is the prime pick for three reasons. First, he was driving his team in the time trial stage which suggests he’s in form. Second, he’s a wily rider with a handy sprint which is why he wins so often. Third, he’s also got a strong team riding in his service. Many are looking to see what Chris Froome will do. He too was visibly raring to go in the team time trial and he’s obviously known for his climbing. This is a good chance to go for the win with a late attack.
What can Vincenzo Nibali do? He’s famous for his descending skills and the Col d’Allos is the perfect place for an attack because there’s no valley road to ruin a solo rider’s chances before the final climb. Astana are serious about this race with a big team and they’ve even got Nibali’s coach Paolo Slongo riding shotgun in the team car this week.
Joaquim Rodriguez too has a fast finish or rather he used to. He’s not finding the wins so easy these days. Instead if there’s a sprint from a small group Simon and Adam Yates both pack a fast finish. Today will be a big test so it’ll be interesting to see what they can do. Romain Bardet too is a contender and if he was climbing with the best in the recent Tour de Romandie, he’s since done a mountain training camp, his problem is the tendency to attack too soon when he possesses a good sprint.
There’s a whole host of riders next who might not win the stage but it’ll be interesting to see their form. Bauke Mollema of Trek Factory Racing has been invisible so far while former team mate Wilco Kelderman has been a lot more obvious: today is when it counts. Andrew Talansky can climb very well but we don’t know much about his form. Compatriot Tejay van Garderen should ride well but he’s going to be very heavily marked given his position on GC; team mate Rohan Dennis will surely lose the jersey but it’ll be interesting to see if it’s by placing count-back, seconds… or minutes. Rui Costa should like the steady climb to the finish.
For three outsiders see Pierre Rolland, Mathias Frank and Louis Meintjes. Rolland and Europcar bombed as expected in the team time trial but their climber has room to attack now although I think he really wants Stage 7. IAM Cycling’s Frank is a good climber and reportedly one of the strongest in the time trial. Meintjes climbs well and will be given some space.
Otherwise it’s a hard day for a breakaway to stay away. The Col d’Allos is such a strategic point that teams will be setting the pace to this climb and most of the way up it. But perhaps yesterday’s collective refusal to attack with only two riders going clear meant more were thinking about today?
|Chris Froome, Romain Bardet, Andrew Talansky, Yates x 2|
|Rui Costa, Nibali, Rodriguez, Frank, Mollema, Kelderman, Rolland, Vuillermoz, Scarponi|
Weather: sunshine and clouds with a top temperature of 30°C in the valleys and cooler at altitude.
TV: we’re back to the early configuration with the Col d’Allos starting around 1.45 Euro time and the finish forecast for 2.45pm.
It’s an ASO race so you should find it on the same channel as you watch the Tour de France. It’s on Eurosport too and if all else fails you can rely on Cyclingfans and steephill.tv for links to feeds and streams.