Tour de France Stage 8 Preview

A stage with beautiful roads, medium mountains and hidden climbs. There will be action and for those who don’t attack these roads will be tiring ahead of tomorrow’s crucial stage.

Stage 7 Review: five hours and three minutes of racing, a hard stage with the lumpy roads and stifling heat and probably a test of stamina for those who watched on TV too. The tailwind finish helped line out the bunch in the finishing straight and Quick Step had a train in place for the final metres. Edvald Boasson Hagen led to the line but Kittel once again surged in the final metres to win by a photo finish. The official distance was 6 millimetres or three ten thousandths of a second, such a narrow margin that it’s only the last few years that the technology exists – at a bike race at least – to separate the riders. The cameras love Kittel, he won a stage in Limoges last year in a photo finish. He now wears the green jersey after Arnaud Démare could only finish 11th, word is he had a bad night before, we’ll see if this degenerates into illness or not.

The Route: what a relief and in both senses of the word, the hilly terrain goes from Dole the town to the foot of the Dôle, a mountain, over 187.5km. After 28km they pass through Arbois, home to the winery behind the “Vin Fou Henri Maire” signs that decorate rural buildings all over France, no Tour recon ride seems complete with one. It’s part of a 50 year old marketing campaign but the signs live on. For the riders there’s the first unmarked climb, the Fer à Cheval (Horseshoe) and 5.7km at 4%. It leads to the day’s intermediate sprint as the riders cross the plateau of the Haut Jura and over the Col de la Joux, 6.1km at 4.7%. Then there’s a long and gradual drop to the Bienne valley.

The Côte de Viry is where the stage starts to get tougher, 7.6km at a gentle 5.2% although the first few hundred metres at 7-8%. It should be familiar to the bunch as they climbed the first half in 2014 on the way to Oyonnax when Tony Gallopin won. Then comes a brief descent and an unmarked climb to the village of Choux, a sneaky kilometre at 11% before picking up shaded descent which quickly leads to another uncategorised climb, this time 2km at 6-7% and on a narrow and rough road before they drop into Saint Claude on a wide road.

They start climbing out of the valley at 6-8% and on a wide road with a good surface for the first seven kilometres. Then they turn off the main road, at first on a secondary road then the final part of the climb is on a tertiary road, the kind with moss and grass growing in places, it’s not wild or technical, it just makes the 7-8% slope feel slower. They pick up a main road after the top and ride to the small ski town of Lamoura with a climb of 6-7% again and once in the town they head out the other side for the finish.

The Finish: a wide road that’s gently uphill to the line, the profile says 1.5% but measured alternatively it’s possible a bit more.

The Contenders: this is a great day for a breakaway. There are now many riders far down the overall classification who don’t threaten those in the top places and so they can have a pass for the day. But who to pick? It’s a lottery, a strong move can go only to get reeled in before another attack goes and so on. But there are some obvious choices, first we can deduct some names who might prefer to wait for tomorrow’s stage with its three hors catégorie climbs, for example Pierre Rolland, Bauke Mollema or Robert Gesink.

Stephen Cummings (Dimension Data) has proved adept at these kind of stages, both to sniff out the break and then to pick off the win, he climbs well and once solo is hard to catch while team mate Serge Pauwels is good for this kind of stage. Diego Ulissi (UAE Emirates) has a nose for a breakaway and fast finish after a hilly stage too and is in good form after second place at the Italian national championships. Gianluca Brambilla (Quick Step) hasn’t had many results of late but is good for a stage like this, maybe Philippe Gilbert could try too but the final climbs might be too much. Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) is dynamite on a day like this and can play off team mate Tiesj Benoot. Fabio Felline (Trek-Segafredo) is versatile and can finish fast but is not a prolific winner. The race finishes by the Swiss border so perhaps Michael Albasini (Orica-Scott) can lurk and pop up for a sprint win? Astana’s Alexey Lutsenko is very powerful but will he be on team duties? Cannondale-Drapac will try to flood the breakaway, but who? Simon Clarke, Alberto Bettiol and Paddy Bevin are suited. Greg Van Avermaet is another name to watch, he’s got his shot at stages despite BMC Racing’s other goals.

One rider to watch today is Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) because after third place yesterday he needs more points to get closer to the green jersey and infiltrating the breakaway will pay. But if he does this expect Quick Step and FDJ to chase to prevent him winning the intermediate sprint.

The local rider is Alexis Vuillermoz of Ag2r La Mondiale but does he get pass for the day when he’s a valuable support for Romain Bardet tomorrow, so maybe Jan Bakelants instead. Having mentioned Tony Gallopin won in this region before it’s not so easy for him, his crash in the opening stage meant a swollen foot and we’ll see if he’s recovered. Finally Movistar’s Jesus Herrada, Jay McCarthy of Bora-Hansgrohe and Lilian Calmejane are dark horse picks, especially if the latter can channel his energy.

Can the GC riders declare war? Yes, if a move struggles to get clear because a team or two misses it then things could get nervous later on but the climbs are hard to exploit for the big names, attack on a 5-6% gradient and a train can pull you back and then you’ve only got sore legs for tomorrow’s Jurassic savagery.

Stephen Cummings, Diego Ulissi
Wellens, Albasini, GVA, Bettiol, Brambilla

Weather: hot and sunny with a top temperature of 34°C but the weather could break in the afternoon with the possibility of downpour or even a hailstorm.

TV: live from the start at 12.10pm CET with the finish forecast for 5.15pm CET.

58 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 8 Preview”

    • I think that he will be.
      In which case, I’d fancy Demare out of the group.
      The points competition is really getting interesting now.

      • I should have read Inner Ring’s piece more closely; looks like Demare may be suffering with ill-health. He’s way off the pace.

  1. Serious question. What’s the difficulties in riding with a skin suit on a rainy day with possible hail?

    Are we to expect and hope for a rainy rolling Giro type day?

    • If that’s the case Wellens is the man of the day. I wouldn’t expect Brambilla though, he’s been brought to the tour explicitly as Dan Martin’s bodyguard.

  2. Zap this comment eventually.
    “The cameras love him, he won a stage in Limoges last year in a photo finish.”
    I would have preferred having “him” sustituted for “Kittel”. As the sentence stands I had to use my head to find out who you meant.

    Thanks again for magnificent blogging.

    • With tomorrow’s stage ahead I don’t think Chris Froome will want to wear his team down to catch Wellens, even if it means loosing the jersey for a day. Well at least I would not. We’ll see how it goes.

      • Likewise here. We’ll see, there’s a long list of candidates but worth noting that so far this year, just like the whole race last year, every stage winner is a big name, there’s no breakthrough ride or plucky win.

  3. 6 mm ! Absolutely incredible ! I have some doubts though as every measurement contains some sort of error. Does anyone know if 6 mm is more than the margin of error ?
    Over 200 km of racing and it comes down to this !

    • The 6mm probably has a large margin of error. However, I’d expect who’s ahead of who less so.

      Gutted for EBH to lose it for such small margin. When was the last time he won a stage? 2012?

    • It is not distance that is the relevant thing. Easy to look up the technical details but basically the finish line camera takes 10,000 frames a second. So the margin for error is basically 0.0001 seconds rather than any distance.

      However completely agree that this should have been declared a dead heat, perhaps say anything within 1/100th of a second is a dead heat?

  4. Would it be too much to ask for a Steve Cummings victory, Lions to sneak past the All Blacks, England to cheaply bowl out the South Africans and then not put on several pounds in weight today too? 🙂

  5. Got to feel for EBH yesterday. Must be terrible to be on the wrong side of a decision that close after 5 hours. Yes, the technology exists (subject to margin of error) – and as other commenters have said, I think it was 3/10,000ths – but should there be a threshold below which it’s just declared a dead heat?

  6. Really is a lottery trying to pick who might get into the break let alone who might win. It seems unlikely the GC teams will put serious effort into chasing down a break, unless BMC’s DSes want to continue their internal arguments. Steve Cummings is as good a pick as any. Wanty might be a team to watch, they have been very active so far and kept out of the break yesterday to keep their powder dry for today and tomorrow (I suspect today is a better bet for a break).

    My weather oracle suggests not so much of a chance of a storm this afternoon, though the hilly location might mean more of a chance of thundery showers than the forecast suggest. However tomorrow is not looking so good.

  7. Watching yesterday every shot of arriere du peloton had both Steve Cummings and Thomas Voeckler soft pedalling – preparation for today?

  8. I am just wondering … The Lynx photo finish cameras used at TdF must have limitations…. have anyone found the documentation for the margin of error or limit of detection for those Lynx cameras? 10000 fps or 0,0001 sec., or 5-6 mm at 75 km/h speed… UCI must have rules for when a road race have one or two winners?

    • The cameras can detect up to this rate but it seems to depend on the settings, software etc.

      As for the rules, it’s simply up to the officials to try and separate the riders to the best of their ability using the technology available, in the case of international UCI races they must use a photo finish camera but if they can’t tell them apart then they can both share the win, just the same as if two riders, say, cross the line and they can’t tell who is 76th and 77th so both are =76th.

      • Chris Boardman was asked about this last night and he seemed to suggest that on a road race how square on the construction guys set up the equipment makes all the difference in the world. With a 6mm margin of victory I’d imagine that even the tiniest misalignment could be the difference between 1st and 2nd.

  9. I read lots of talk about Sky being “happy to lose the jersey” recently and about them “keeping their powder dry for the third week”. But what of the others? If we agree that the main players here overall are Aru, Martin, Froome and Porte then won’t one or more of these want to take time where they can? We saw in 2016 (although it wasn’t ultimately decisive) that stealing time here and there has a psychological effect on opponents if nothing else. This stage looks good for Aru to me but the only problem I can see with that is that 1) its not hard enough and 2) do Astana really have the team to push things? The only one of the four I named with a team to do that are Porte’s BMC but will they want to push it with a sawtooth profile tomorrow? I see GC stalemate and a new yellow jersey tonight. This is really only a relative easy mid-mountain stage and shouldn’t put any genuine GC contender with team support in difficulty.

        • Bored by an until now very boring and often technically poor TdF (decent stage today, anyway).

          If at least they had spiced up just a little one or two sprinter stages, just that little little little bit to drop a sprint’s chance to 80-85% from that sad 100%, which also means less strategical options, less race events and so on. “So on” which also includes less fatigue for later weeks, except in *pure* climbers’ case (and even for them it’s a “maybe just maybe”).

          I don’t mean “different sprints” like in Sagan’s stage, I mean different ways to get to a possible sprint of any kind (Sagan’s was a sprint, albeit for diverse riders).

          I hadn’t much to add to what inrng or many commenters here already said about the couple of little “polemiche” we had. The skinsuits one looked especially dull, frankly, probably intended to avoid to focus on something else.

          Not much more to say. Good Aru, yeah, but… a 15′ climb, come on. However that made sense as a first week stage, it’s the rest which leaves me without words (imagine that).

          I won’t be here at all for the third week, riding a bike far from electronic devices of any kind, hence, knowing that, I’m probably less hyped by the race in general. I hope this might change between now and next Friday.

          I’m not the only one, I guess. In Italy, despite or because of a traditional broadcast (no full broadcast, normally), the Tour’s first week has lost some 30% (no typo!) spectators comparing with previous years. In Spain the results are steadier, but slightly disappointing, too.

          • @STS
            Around the Picos de Europa.
            Some nods to classic Vuelta stages, but nothing of the new extreme gradient stuff, I’m going to be more focussed on landscape and old-style – or evergreen – climbs. I included a couple of homages to two relatively recent tactical masterpieces which won their respective Vuelta editions. Just to keep in mind how good can cycling be (even pro cycling, I mean).
            Gastronomy will feature significantly, too 😉

          • Cheers, g. We know you’ll choose your calories wisely (and of course, it goes without saying, an eye on the big picture;)

  10. Why on earth is Nico Roche at the front of the race, GVA I can see but surely Nico should be with Richie Porte?? I can see the point of “being up the road” but slogging it out in the breakaway?

    • D. Caruso is saying on TV that Roche was on team duties, a plan thought to “force Sky to work hard from today”. I wouldn’t dare to say if it makes sense.

      • Greetings!
        Perhaps it’s a reflection of Porte’s confidence.
        The GC race tomorrow is likely to break up on the final climb on Mont du Chat, and it’s too steep for drafting.
        Every contender for himself, and Porte fancies it?

  11. Porte is the standout rider this year… yet BMC seem too distracted by acting like they’re involved in a game of chess with Sky. They should ride for Porte not against Sky.

    Anyway, someone big’ll crash tomorrow. Who is anyone’s guess.

  12. Sunday won’t make any difference. After the summit there’s still 25km to go (descent and then…flat). Such stages doesn’t make sense especially in era of such strong SKY domination. Everyone will be caught on the last 25k. Only if Froome is isolated from his servants, he can be put in trouble by his opponents. But BMC would need silent cooperation with Astana + some other team to crack SKY. But it won’t happen. Another draw-stage.

  13. The strongest rider and team almost always wins a 3wk gt. If you want unlikely winners and surprises watch the classics, or bet on a single stage. Over 3 wks the cream will rise and the strongest team will leave their leader the least isolated at his worst moment. Isolating froome will be hard.

  14. “Finally Movistar’s Jesus Herrada, Jay McCarthy of Bora-Hansgrohe and Lilian Calmejane are dark horse picks, especially if the latter can channel his energy.”

    Was I the only one to pick up the “Direct Energy” reference in the last phrase?


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