Mont Ventoux dominates the profile and the imagination but it’s very unlikely to pick the winner today. Instead the route gradually levels out and the ensuing climbs are more decisive, including one with a hidden 20% section before the flat and windy run to the finish.
Stage 4 Wrap: four riders never got more than four minutes so keen were the teams to keep their riders in check. Once the early break was reeled in the action ignited. Etixx-Quickstep were working again but Marcel Kittel was dropped later on while Arnaud Démare quit with talk of a sore knee. This left Katusha chasing the breakaways only they had to bring Sylvain Chavanel and Sep Vanmarcke back in the final kilometres, Chavanel is notoriously hard to catch: you can do it but it’ll cost you plenty in watts. The Russian team did the job only to get overtaken by Cofidis. Nacer Bouhanni made the perfect sprint to take what looked like an easy win and he was even smiling with Michael Matthews after the stage despite the best efforts of the media to get him to say the word “revenge”.
The Route: the start in St Paul Trois Chateaux sounds idyllic, a Provence town near the foot of Mont Ventoux. Until you visit and see the giant cooling towers of the nuclear power station (coincidentally today’s Tirreno-Adriatico stage finishes in the charming village of Monalto di Castro only it’s dominated by the nearby power plant, Italy’s largest). The riders speed away towards Mont Ventoux via Maulaucène and Col de la Madeleine, a foothill not to be confused with the higher Alpine homonym. Then it’s into Bédoin and the classic ascent of Mont Ventoux, at last as far as Chalet Reynard. If they don’t go to the summit they still have the tough pine forest section, nine kilometres at over 10% before they turn off to Sault.
The Col du Pointu, “Pointy Pass” is listed as 5.9km at an unpointy 4.1% but it’s really a 10km uphill ride and if the average gradient is low it’s got some 7-8% bits on the way up and a reciprocal descent.
The Côte de la Roque-d’Anthon is one of ASO’s inventions, it’s known as St. Anne to the locals. While the climb is listed as 4.2km at 5.5% it packs a surprise with a nasty “wall” finish over the top complete with 20% gradients and tight bends. To make it harder it’s a narrow road with a rough surface. As tough as this is there’s 36km to go and given Ventoux is on the menu everyone should have climbing gears on. It’s straight down into Lambesc and then back up the same mountain via the Col de Séze, this time a more regular climb. There’s now 28.5km down to the finish.
From here’s it’s flat but the crucial part is the direction because after heading south for a lot of the day the race heads west. This means the tailwind becomes a crosswind. The forecast is uncertain but if the Mistral wind picks up then there’s a late chance of a crosswind fiesta.
The Finish: a flat run through the town of Salon-de-Provence. The final kilometre has a criterium touch with two 90° left bends in the finish but they’re regular corners. Then there’s a 400 finishing straight that dips slightly before rising to the line.
The Contenders: a sprint or breakaway? Mont Ventoux features but it’s early and there’s time for the race to regroup. Two sprinters who can cope with a climb or two are Michael Matthews and Nacer Bouhanni so they’re the default picks but as we saw yesterday the race is becoming harder to control and there’s a good chance a move sticks so nobody gets three chainrings.
Alexander Kristoff is still in with a chance and the team can back him in full given Simon Špilak is 135th overall. Trek-Segafredo’s Niccolò Bonifazio is fast on a hilly day too and Team Sky’s Ben Swift has been running close too.
Otherwise we can look to a few names for a breakaway but it’s not obvious who is languishing on GC because they’re out of form and who has decided to retreat in order to better advance. Alexis Gougeard is looking active as usual, ditto Thomas de Gendt, BMC’s Ben Hermans is a strong rider, Andrew Talansky‘s chances for overall glory are gone, Cofidis’s Julien Simon is a Plan-B on a hilly day, Lotto-Jumbo’s George Bennett climbs well and Jose Herrada is a strong, versatile rider but these names are random picks among those well down on GC who might have their chances.
|Nacer Bouhanni, Michael Matthews|
|Kristoff, Bonifazio, Swift, de Gendt, Herrada, Bevin, Felline|
Weather: sunshine and a top temperature of 15°C. The Mistral wind could get with a 20km/h NW wind in the final which could gust to 40km/h. That’s mild for this area but enough to split up the race. Mont Ventoux will be cold and there’s snow around Chalet Reynard but it’ll be sunny and the roads are dry.
Local rider: the piece on Roger Walkowiak earlier this week proved a popular read so let’s go back in time and cite another surprise grand tour winner: Eric Caritoux. He had few victories during his career but managed to land a big one. Caritoux won the 1984 Vuelta a España by chance. Back then the race started in late April and Caritoux rode for the Skil team with Sean Kelly. But at the last minute Kelly didn’t want to ride the Vuelta and so the team were going to pull out. However the Vuelta organisers threatened to lodge a claim for compensation with the team for this last minute withdrawal. So the team manager De Gribaldy decided to send a team for the sake of it and Caritoux got a late call to fill Kelly’s slot and hurriedly packed his bags.
The race started with Franceso Moser taking the prologue win and holding the lead until a young Pedro Delgado took over. Come the Lagos de Covadonga summit finish and Caritoux took over the race lead. In a time trial Caritoux lost time and went into the final week with a six second margin. He and his team were attacked and even had offers to sell the race. Skil refused the payoff and then the offers started going privately to Caritoux’s team mates to see if they could be quietly bought off one by one. They stayed together and Caritoux won by six seconds, to this day the smallest winning margin for any grand Tour. He won the French national road race title twice but little else and was often a valuable mountain domestique and lieutenant.
“There’s a lot of similarities between the work of a wine grower and a racing cyclist. In 15 minutes you can lose everything. Like Froome on a cobbled stage when months of preparation are ruined by a crash. A hailstorm can ravage months of work. In the vines, like when you’re training on the bike, you’re alone. You work alone. You’re outside, facing the the varied weather.”
– Eric Caritoux, Le Figaro 2014
After retiring he took up winemaking and produces rosé wine and grapes for eating in Flassan, on the slopes of Mont Ventoux.
TV: coverage starts at 3.00pm Euro time and the finish is forecast for 4.30pm. It’s on the same channel you watch the Tour de France and/or Eurosport. If not then cyclingfans.com, cyclinghub.tv and steephill.tv all offer alternative feeds. Tirreno-Adriatico’s finish, a likely sprint finish, is planned for 4.15pm so be prepared to channel hop to catch the action.