The big stage with the high summit finish. When the race route was launched the summit finish on the Col de la Couillole was the novelty for its altitude. It’s the length and gradient that matter today.
Stage 6 Wrap: a stage win for Simon Yates. Earlier on Alberto Contador was in the attacks and his move helped shrink down what was left of the peloton and so by the time Yates attacked there were few riders left with team mates to chase Yates, allowing the Briton to start the final climb with a comfortable margin of 45 seconds. Sergio Henao was second at 17 seconds with Julian Alaphilippe cracking in the final moments. Alaphilippe only lost 12 seconds to Henao (plus the time bonus), a small loss but a big significance: Alaphilippe’s rivals have seen he’s not invincible now and he’ll be under attack today more than ever.
The Route: familiar roads for the large contingent of pros who live or sometimes train in the Nice/Monaco region. After heading up the Var valley the Col de Vence should be the launchpad for the day’s breakaway, 9.7km at 6.6% with the steeper parts in the upper parts. There are then 70km of rolling valley roads to the feed zone in Utelle. After this the valley road rises with long sections of 4-5% before the Col St. Martin proper starts with 7.5km at 7.2%. It’s followed by a fast and long descent of 20km, chance for dropped riders to get back on although they’ll likely be ejected on the climb ahead.
The Finish: a long and steady climb. Altitude is physiological component but 1678m isn’t that much. Instead the duration of the effort today is the real test, this is the kind of long climb you’d get in the Giro or Tour yet it’s only early March now. There’s nothing particularly technical to describe, the early parts have a wide road but its got very little traffic. This is a scenic and rewarding climb to try for yourself with a road that narrows and hugs the mountain further on.
The Contenders: Richie Porte has talked about having “a pair of swingers” and what better on the Couillole? He and Alberto Contador are the two obvious picks for a long finish like this, they’re both down on GC so have some room to manoeuvre, they can attack and hope there won’t be an instant response, especially if they leave their moves relatively late although Contador may prefer to see if he can parlay his 7th place overall and 90 second deficit into an all or nothing move just as we saw him try a long range move yesterday.
Sergio Henao was the best on the Mur de Fayence but that short climb was ideal for his explosive power. Now we’ll see what he can do on such a long climb and having just returned from the Colombian summer (and altitude) we can expect plenty. Team Sky will use their riders, especially Mikel Nieve, to try and put Julian Alaphilippe on the rack.
Ilnur Zakarin‘s a good pick too, he won the main stage in this race a year ago after sitting tight on his rivals’ wheels all the way up the final climb and he need only do the same again to take a win and make a success of the week.
Among the others it’s getting harder to pick a winner. Jacob Fuglsang is riding steady but remains an infrequent winner, Diego Ulissi will surely find the climbing and competition too much. Ion Izagirre is riding well but a win today seems too much. Simon Yates could double up but surely there’s a price to pay for his efforts yesterday? Team Sky are likely to put Alaphilippe under as much pressure as possible with their classic mountain train which probably reduces the chances of a breakaway staying away and some of the obvious fugitives like Thomas de Gendt or Jarlinson Pantano are probably on team duty anyway.
|Sergio Henao, Richie Porte
|Ilnur Zakarin, Alberton Contador
|Yates, Fuglsang, Ion Izagirre
Weather: sunny and a pleasant 19°C in the valleys and mild at altitude.
TV: Live from 4.15pm CET with the finish forecast for 5.30pm CET. You should find it on the same channel as you watch the Tour de France. It’s on Eurosport and you can rely on Cyclingfans and steephill.tv for links to feeds and streams. Note Tirreno-Adriatico’s big summit finish is also today but fear not as the finish in Italy is forecast for around 4.15pm CET allowing you to watch the finish of this race first before hopping to Paris-Nice.