The first summit finish of the race, a 184km stage with almost 5,000m of vertical gain. It’s all live on TV from start to finish.
The Route: Vielha will be humming to the sound of riders warming up given the start is straight uphill with 13km at 6.1%. It’s a big main road, two trucks could pass each other without problem. The descent is the same, wide and fast and with some steeper moments at 9% to keep the speed high.
The Port del Cantò is 19km at 5.4% but there are some 9% ramps on the early slopes and some flat “landing” points on the way up after that. They drop into Andorra, the mountain microstate.
They pass through Andorra-la-Vielle, part capital and administrative hub, part high altitude duty-free retail park. They climb out of town on the snaking rode to La Comella, 4.2km at 8% and packed with hairpin bends.
Then comes the Col de Beixalis which might be better known to loyal readers as the Collada de Beixalis from its use in the Vuelta last year when it was the first climb on Stage 11 last year. Listed as 6.4km at 8.5% these stats don’t it justice, nor do the 10.9% and 11.6% references on the graphic above. It has several moments between 14-17% a muro, a wall.
The Finish: the final climb to the Arcalis ski area is 10km at 7.2% and starts at 1,500m above sea level. The road is steepest at the start with 8% and more around the hairpins of El Serrat. This is a textbook ski station access road being wide and with a regular gradient, engineered to allow bus loads of skiers to be ferried into place. With 1km to go they pass a large statue by Mauro Staccioli which resembles a deep section rim. Here the gradient eases a touch but it’s uphill all the way to the line at 5-6%.
The Scenario: there will be a fight to get in the early breakaway but good luck to them because it’s a gruelling day, all the effort to go clear early on is likely to find Team Sky and Movistar riding fast into Andorra and the final climb to Arcalis is a hard place for a lone rider or breakaway because a move up the road can be seen from a long way away on the open slopes of the mountains.
For TV viewers the Comella and Beixalis climbs are vicious but expect things to look slow on the final climb to Arcalis, an early attack on the final climb risks what the French call a “boomerang attack”, you can fly up the road only to come straight back and pay the price.
The Contenders: Chris Froome again? A win in the yellow jersey on a summit finish would turn a sneaky downhill stage win into a vice-grip on the race. Yesterday Sky mixed things up but perhaps today they’ll revert to type with the set piece summit finish. In one way Sky don’t need to move, Froome is in control of the race and can look forward to the upcoming time trial stages but it’s too good a moment to waste. The risk of an attack though is being countered by Nairo Quintana. Sergio Henao was strong yesterday and might take his chances.
Everyone’s asking what Nairo Quintana can do and today we’ll get some answers. He’s not just inscrutable, he’s almost invisible as he’s been sitting tight for so long. The finish today is at altitude and he’ll be keen to try some attacks. Remember he often attacks several times, the first one or two goes can look bad as if he’s not got it only for a third committed attack. Team mate Alejandro Valverde is another option, especially if a group comes in and he’s been able to avoid too much work.
Dan Martin‘s been threatening a stage win for some time. Can he do it in a summit finish? There are questions about his climbing but if he can hang on then he’s got the jump. He’ll know everywhere meter of the road as he now lives in Andorra.
Another local is Joaquim Rodriguez who is looking better than expected this race after a disappointing start to the season. Still his problem this year has been the loss of his finishing kick so it’s advantage Martin but perhaps Rodriguez has the edge for consistent climbing.
BMC Racing’s two leaders sat back yesterday rather than chase Froome. Will they move today? It’s not as far fetched as it seems. Tejay van Garderen won the last high altitude finish he contested and we know Richie Porte can match Froome on a good day. If the two have been in the shadows but there’s no hiding on the final climb.
Several other climbers made the front group yesterday without showing too much. They’re all outsiders for the win but they’re not going to get much room. Neither Team Sky nor Movistar will sit still if Fabio Aru or Romain Bardet tries a late attack. Aru seems to be back in contention but hanging with the lead group yesterday was one thing, repeating it today quite another.
Among the breakaway candidates Vincenzo Nibali stands out for his pedigree. L-L Sanchez and Thomas De Gendt seem contenders too. Simon Gerrans is another “local” in Andorra but this is probably too mountainous.
|Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana
|Dan Martin, Alejandro Valverde
|Henao, Aru, Porte, TvG, Bardet
Weather: warm, sunny and a top temperature of 26°C but with the chance of a downpour as the clouds build in the mountains.
TV: live on TV from start to finish, from 11.55am and the finish is forecast for 5.20pm Euro time.