The Pyrenees are here with the Col d’Aspin climbed from its harder side. This is no summit finish but cross the top of the pass with 30 seconds and the stage is yours.
Stage 6 Wrap: only two riders went in the early move, Jan Barta (Bora-Argon 18) and Yukiya Arashiro (Lampre-Merida). Arashiro used to live near the finish when he was an U23 chasing a pro contract so perhaps that was a motivation, otherwise it was just going to be a slog for them. BMC Racing did the minimum possible and the sprinters teams took over.
The inevitable sprint finish arrived and the twisting streets of Montauban were enough to unpick the sprint trains but thankfully not to cause any crashes. Mark Cavendish got Marcel Kittel’s wheel and then got the better of him. Until this week Cavendish had never beaten Kittel in a sprint, now he’s done it three times. Fortuneo-Vital Concept’s Daniel McClay was a surprise third thanks to good positioning and a surge off Cavendish’s wheel. He’s still just a second year pro on the lowest budget team in the race which is impressive and if you look at him you see room for improvement.
The Route: 162.5km heading south-west across the Gers region, home to Team Sky DS Nicolas Portal. It’s gentle countryside with rolling roads which begin to rise and fall. The first marked climb to Capvern is long for a 4th category climb at 7km and the first of the Pyrenean foothills as the race climbs to the Neste valley and the run in to the Col d’Aspin.
The Col d’Aspin is 12km at 6.5% and with a steep middle section, pretty much as the profile suggests which isn’t always the case with these climbs. The road is wide and regular with a few big sweeping hairpin bends.
The Finish: the descent is shorter and steeper, 8% on the way down which makes it fast and means it’s hard to chase, someone who takes 20 seconds over the top can keep it on the way down, at least until the point the descent ends. It’s here they arrive in Payolle – little more than a few houses, buildings and inns – and do a sharp U-turn to pass under the 1km to go banner. There’s a flat section around the turn and the banner and then it rises up to the line at 3-4%.
The Scenario: will the break stick?
- Yes: Any move going clear early will hope the main GC teams sit back for as long as possible before they pick up the pace. This gives the breakaway a good chance as long as it has some heavy hitters to tow it away across the plains of the Gers.
- No: To argue the opposite case it’s more likely that big breakaways go tomorrow and the day after as the climbers and stage hunters look to exploit the mountains and bag polka-dot points, consequently the move lacks the horsepower to stay away and the GC teams do their thing to try to take control of the race and guide their leaders into the Col d’Aspin and set an infernal pace on the climb that no breakaway can resist.
I think it’ll be a yes to the break with the big teams keen to save energy for the next two days but as ever the peloton’s mood is up to them.
The Contenders: Dan Martin climbs and sprints well from a small group, especially in an uphill finish. Julian Alaphilippe is another option but he was struggling in the Massif Central a touch so Martin looks the safer pick between the two.
Alejandro Valverde sprints well too and doesn’t need an uphill run to the line to beat a select group. If he can shepherd Nairo Quintana to Payolle then he can go for the stage win in the final kilometre. Joaquim Rodriguez has had a poor season, by some measures his worst ever so far, but he looked frisky two days ago.
Once again Adam Yates has a good sprint too from a small group and if Geraint Thomas is there he could pop up for the win.
Romain Bardet tried a late attack in Le Lioran and was quickly marked. His modus operandi of a late attack over the top of a climb and exploitation of the ensuing descent are becoming obvious and he’s not going to get much room as he sits tight on GC. I was thinking of tipping Tony Gallopin too but during last night’s The Cycling Podcast the Tour’s voice of radio course Seb Piquet he was on duty fetching water bottles for the team which suggests he wasn’t taking it easy for today’s big test. Less likely to win in Thibaut Pinot but watch to see how he fares, there are doubts over his form and there’s no hiding on the Aspin.
Will Chris Froome deliver a knockout blow? It’s possible that Team Sky set an asphyxiating pace into the steepest section of the Aspin at which point Froome attacks and maintains his lead on the descent. Unlikely though and we should see the main contenders mark each other. Richie Porte is the exception here, he has the zip in his legs to clip away and some may not chase him knowing if they do then Tejay van Garderen can counter.
As for the breakaway picks we’ve yet to discover who are the riders with the kind of form that allows them to go in the moves time after time so instead it’s by reputation and being far down on GC instead. So Stephen Cummings, Jarlinson Pantano and Rui Costa are three picks. More leftfield options are Nicolas Edet and Fabrice Jeandesboz as two unheralded climbers.
|Dan Martin, Alejandro Valverde|
|Rodriguez, Alaphilippe, Bardet, Yates, Thomas|
Weather: warm and sunny with a top temperature of 26°C and the chance of a rain shower in the mountains if the clouds swell up in the heat.
TV: the intermediate sprint is forecast for 4.40pm and the foot of the Aspin in Arreau ten minutes later. The finish is forecast for 5.20pm Euro time.