Tour de France Stage 8 Preview

The first mountain stage of this year’s Tour but almost a route in reverse as the climbs get easier towards the finish. Expect a selection but don’t hope for a decisive verdict.

Tourmalet profile

The Route: a greatest hits stage of the Pyrenees with the obligatory Col du Tourmalet crossing, arguably climbed from its harder site. They have to get there first and the approach roads rise and fall more than the profile suggests once past Lourdes, Pyrenean capital of the sacred and the profane. It’s ideal terrain to snap the elastic as a break tries to stretch away from the peloton. The Tourmalet it won’t be decisive but it it will sap the legs ahead of what’s to come.

The Hourquette d’Ancizan is back for the third time, the hipster sister climb to yesterday’s Col d’Aspin to which it runs parallel, much more narrow and deserted and on a normal day you’re more likely to meet grazing livestock on the road than oncoming traffic.

Val Louron - Azet

The Col de Val Louron-Azet – the Col d’Azet to locals – is 10.7km at 6.8% which is regular on paper but it’s flattered by a gentle start, the mode gradient is more like 8% making it a hard climb and the road bucks up as they traverse the villages. The descent is one of the best in the Pyrenees if you like regular hairpin bends, you can almost get into a rhythm of lean-brake-hairpin-sprint-lean-brake-corner-hairpin on the way down during a series of 10 hairpins.

The Peyresourde is the final climb but look, it’s shorter and there’s nothing steep. The Tour cannot create the mountain roads but it’s picked a route where each climb gets easier in order to ensure the race is not blow apart. This isn’t a highway but it’s crossed quickly. The descent is almost one long straight line. Almost, this is an exaggeration, a caricature if you allow it but once past a couple of hairpin bends it’s a long, almost Roman-straight road. It means it’s not technical but instead a highway down to the finish line. As such it doesn’t suit a lone rider, a chase group can collaborate to take back time.

The Finish: a ride through the spa town of Bagnères-de-Luchon which is less grand than it sounds. There are two left hand turns in the final kilometre including one with 200m to go. The stage winner needs to go through this corner in first or second place.

The Scenario: break or GC contenders? The breakaway stuck yesterday and it could do so again today. This time a raft of riders know a raid today could bring them beaucoup mountains points so there’s a big incentive to go clear and scoop up points all day.

Don’t expect a big GC showdown. We’d all like to see it today but we’d all like to see the suspense last into the Alps too and the big names are likely to mark each other ahead of tomorrow with some outsiders perhaps trying moves to see if they can get some space. The roads here can be used for attacks but it’s more likely we see the list of contenders pruned rather than cut back to the roots.


The Contenders: Alejandro Valverde is a safe pick as he’s riding with the best at the moment and packs a good sprint. So far we’ve seen a light shone on the troublesome team politics at BMC Racing, Tinkoff and Astana but imagine if Valverde takes yellow, it’ll place a burden on Movistar that they may not yet want. But it also gives the Spanish team the yellow jersey as they head into Spain.

Dan Martin is the second pick for his speedy sprinting. He’s won a Tour stage in the Pyrenees before, in Bagnères… de Bigorre, another spa town not far away. He’s in good shape and would be a good yellow jersey for many in the race. If not Alaphilippe has the power for a sprint.

Will we see a Froome vs Quintana showdown? Both want to test each other but this is difficult terrain to deliver a knock-out blow. So just as Valverde is a pick above, Geraint Thomas led in the riders yesterday and could snipe a stage win again today for the other side.

If you watched yesterday’s stage you might have seen Domenico Pozzovivo take a flyer on the Col d’Aspin. It turns out it was a relay move to help Romain Bardet only Team Sky were too fast so Bardet could not jump clear. The Ag2r La Mondiale leader is riding well, so far the best of the French riders.

Among the GC riders Rui Costa is well down on GC so has room to try, as do several others. Take your pick from Ilnur Zakarin, Rafał Majka and Astana’s Diego Rosa, the latter climbs well and is heading for Team Sky so could play his own cards.

Alejandro Valverde, Dan Martin
Thomas, Bardet, Zakarin, Majka, Alaphilippe

Weather: warm, sunny and a top temperature of 28°C in the valleys. The weather could break and bring a shower or even a thunderstorm.

TV: coverage starts at 2.00pm and the finish is forecast for 5.20pm Euro time so tune in for as long as you wish to watch the mountains. Tomorrow’s stage is live from start to finish.

19 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 8 Preview”

  1. Will they let GVA in break today then let his efforts catch up with him tomorrow?

    In terms of GC I think this is the calm stage before fireworks tomorrow, but wondering if Froome or Quitanna will want the jersey before the rest day?

    • Maybe they’d want yellow, but if I was DS (which I’m not of course) at Sky or Movistar, I’d leave it to other teams for now. Let Van Avermaet or Alaphilippe (French!) do all the interviews, anti-doping, defending and stressing for now. Yellow will “automatically” come towards the top contenders in the Alps.

      Only exception might be Valverde. It might be desirable for him to wear yellow for a few days, as compensation for sacrificing his own changes towards Paris.

  2. Would have preferred that the took the turn right at the bottom of Peyresourde and hit Superbagnéres as a summit finish. But I suspect the riders will be waiting for the grinding and somewhat boring climb up to Arcalìs tomorrow. Good design, but the wrong order I think.

    • ASO didn’t put summit finishes in the early stages on purpose. They wanted to prevent a repetition of last year’s snooze-fest 😉

    • No comment on today’s route options as I don’t know them.

      But, overall, whilst the race has not produced the early fireworks of recent editions, the course and points re-design has kept everything very open, even Sagan’s usually routine Green.
      For all the drama of the 2014 and 2015 editions, it could be argued that the Yellow Jersey contests had already seen decisive moves by the end of the first weeks.

      This year is a slow(er) burner, to be sure, but the suspense is building slowly and there are some great sideshows to be enjoyed along the way.
      I’m enjoying the race more with each passing day.
      Well done to ASO.

  3. Still can’t see any reason for Nibali to be here: bad for the team (one less domestique) and bad for him (could be saving himself for the Vuelta, training for the Olympics in private, not being embarrassed by being out-climbed by Impey who, with all due respect, is not one of the world’s top 5 GC contenders).
    What now? He can’t pull out.
    Maybe a proper clash for the polka dots: him, Pinot, Rolland (hasn’t lost the time yet, but surely will) and a few others.
    Probably not, though. Despite achieving next to nothing, I’m sure all those riders will ignore the mountains classification.

    • Isn’t there a possibility that Nibali’s here for a reason that you aren’t privy to yet? He’s already won his GT for the year; he has stated that he’s here to support Aru and we know he has the Olympics in his sights. I’m pretty sure he could have stayed with Impey, or he just had an off day. If he’s here for Aru, he’s not going to expend energy for nothing, but Aru won’t need him until the Alps. So, he’s just exercising; he’s a little bored, he’s testing his legs, he’s getting some press for the team and he’s waiting for when his skill and (high) condition are needed; whether that’s to help Aru or to win some stages if something happens to Aru.

      I could be wrong, but it looks like he’s testing himself and then sitting up so he doesn’t waste energy.

      • If he had any kind of form he would surely have managed to beat Cummings, who although a great rider is not a climber of Nibali’s stature.

    • nibali is a big star (especially in italy) and reigning giro-champion. he brings lots of drama and talk as we see now. the “pr departement” of astana surely was for his inclusion.

  4. Rosa to Sky? Nice to see them hoovering up yet more superbly promising riders to stick in their train. I don’t blame them: I blame the riders for going for the money (and the career death that often goes with it) and, most of all, the lack of a salary cap.

    • There are same rumours about Barguil too. I hope he has some brain left not to end as a domestique for stem-looking boredom trains.

    • this is the finally the chance to get rid of those horrible flying plastic bags, its not the first time this happend (normally it just doesnt fall on the head of someone) and a little less ugliness cant be bad

  5. Would love to see Sky use their incredible lineup of climbers to play some interesting tactics. They’ve got options to bluff and double bluff, but I fear it will be mountain trains all the way.

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