The race heads for the mountains and a hard ski station summit finish. Vaujany isn’t famous in cycling now a swank ski resort but it is a hard, selective climb and all this on an intense 140km stage.
Stage 4 Wrap: the headwind made for a slow ride and the TV images were spiced up by some live on-board camera footage from Cofidis’s Kenneth Van Bilsen, novel but it didn’t add much, what’s probably needed is 50 or 100 cams so that something interesting can be filmed. As predicted Maxime Bouet was part of the day’s breakaway and he tried but it came down to a sprint and the uphill dash suited Edvald Boasson Hagen the most with a mixed top-10 of sprinters and puncheurs. The slope split the peloton and Alberto Contador and Richie Porte lost a few seconds with Chris Froome now just four seconds behind Contador.
The Route: some roads to ride today, a scenic trip across the Alps but there won’t be any time to look around for the riders. The short 140km course means things should be active from the start and the mixed terrain makes it very hard to control.
Things get serious with the Col du Barioz, a road that leads the race up to a scenic balcony road along the Belledone mountain range and getting up there is hard work, 7.8km at 6.5% but with some steeper sections along the way and all on a small secondary road. A similar story with the Col des Ayes, 3.8km at 8.1% and more hard work. Then comes the rewarding ride along the balcony and then the drop to Vizille.
The ride up the valley from Vizille is hard work, a steady gradient but often with a headwind in the afternoons but it’s familiar to many as the road leads to Alpe d’Huez. This time the take the turning to the Col du Glandon and just at the start of the Glandon is the turn off to Vaujany.
The Finish: the ski station summit finish of 6.4km at 6.5% sounds reasonable but it’s got a steady gradient of 8-10% for most of the way and then a flatter section as they approach the village of Vaujany. The early steep part is hard work, it twists with a few hairpins and if the road is wide it’s irregular with a constantly changing gradient, this might be a ski station road but it feels like an old path rather than a route engineered to take buses and trucks up to the top. The road flattens out as they enter the village but then there’s a hairpin bend and it rises at 7% for the final 300 metres.
The Contenders: Chris Froome has been sprinting in the finishes to avoid losing time, a sign that every second counts rather than someone sitting back and waiting to do a few controlled hill efforts. Now he’s just four seconds off the race lead and if he takes the 10 second time bonus and Contador gets the six seconds for second place Froome still takes the yellow jersey because his prologue time was 380 milliseconds shorter. Sky could try and do their mountain train routine and Froome launches late on the climb. Alternatively they can fire riders up the road and who better than Mikel Landa and Sergio Henao?
Alberto Contador knows all of the above so he only need sit tight and hold on and try to respond to anything Froome can do. His team are weaker but all the more reason to ride on Sky’s coat tails and respond when required rather than waste energy trying to shape the race, especially given he’s already won a stage and enjoyed a spell in yellow.
What about Richie Porte? Amid the duel he’s still a contender here, better than Froome in the prologue in part because his build suited the punchy course. So here again is a finish to suit and he can finish quickly.
Etixx-Quickstep’s combo of Julian Alaphilippe and Dan Martin are an interesting prospect. How high Alaphilippe can climb is the question everyone wants to know and this spiky finish is a real test, his trainer Franck Alaphilippe (his uncle) says he’s the high mountains are unknown in racing, even in training which seems a small exaggeration given he won a mountain stage of the Tour de l’Avenir and rode the 2014 Dauphiné and other mountainous stage races. Dan Martin brings less bluff and a fast finish.
Romain Bardet has a little more room for manoeuvre and a point to prove after his crash two days ago which cancelled out his excellent prologue. No more motivation is needed but the stage starts from Chambéry, the HQ of the Ag2r La Mondiale team. Next comes a list of decent riders who might be given the chance to slip way in the final moments as the big names mark each other. Adam Yates sprints well, Daniel Moreno is riding well and Diego Rosa is having a strong season. Can Thibaut Pinot win? He’s a little short on form and better suited to the next two stages.
A random trio for the breakaway: IAM’s Clement Chèvrier is a climber who lives near the start, Dimenson Data’s Omar Fraile is a good bet for the mountains and Lotto-Jumbo’s George Bennett is a great climber who can take his own chances.
|Alberto Contador, Chris Froome
|Richie Porte, Romain Bardet, Dan Martin, Julian Alaphilippe
|Yates, Moreno, Landa, Henao, Mollema, Rosa
Weather: warn and sunny with a top temperature of 27°C and a 10-15km/h tailwind for the first 100km to make things even more frantic.
TV: the finish is forecast for 5.10pm Euro time and they start the final climb around 4.50pm. It should be available on the same channel you watch the Tour de France and/or Eurosport. If not then cyclingfans, cyclinghub and steephill.tv have schedules and streams.