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.