The first of three mountain stages in the Pyrenees, this one should be for the breakaway meaning a ferocious start to the stage just to hitch a ride on the wagon for the day and then three sharp climbs to help pick the winner later. The GC riders will probably aim to conserve energy ahead of tomorrow’s stage but that’s a tall order on this long day.
The Route: 218km south into the Pyrenees and the best part of 150km across the plains and foothills before the climbing starts. It’s not easy going, the road rises and falls with two marked climbs and several more as well as the charming cave road of Le Mas d’Azil, a natural cave that has had a road put through it.
The Col de Portet d’Aspet is a short climb but steep with slopes over 10% in the final kilometres. It’s steeper still on the descent and the danger marked by the two memorials of Fabio Casartelli. Then comes five kilometres of scenic valley road and then the Col de Menté begins. It’s a got a middle section at 11-12% that’s not on the profile above and climbs up via a series of hairpin bends. The descent is fast and and also has its memorial to tragedy too before the valley and a drag uphill for the best part of 20km and into Spain (why into Spain? It does allow for a climb and descent into Luchon but also the Tour’s owners ASO own the Vuelta a Espana and tonight much of the peloton will be staying in Spanish hotels in a bid… expect the Vuelta to return in 2019 and it’s like the same edition of the Spanish race has a stage to Pau).
The Portillon’s Spanish side is a wide road with several large hairpins and the profile above represents it well, it’s a big steady ascent.
The Finish: downhill off the Col de Portillon, this is a fast 8km descent with several hairpins interspersed by sets of hairpin bends. With 2km to go the slope eases and the final kilometre is flat with a sweeping left hand corner with just 200m to go.
The Contenders: only eight teams have a stage win so far and plenty of team managers will be keen to send riders up the road to try and win today. Throwing riders up the road won’t be easy given the likely battle to get in the day’s move but once the move goes it’ll have to contain proven climbers who can profit from the finish. The climbs here are steep but not too long so Julian Alaphilippe (Quick Step) has a good chance here to repeat his win a week ago in Le Grand Bornand, he can harvest points along the way and either use his punch on the final climb to go solo or save himself for the sprint. Mikel Nieve (Mitchelton-Scott) is in good climbing form and team mate Adam Yates can try too. Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) was in the break the other day and could try, the same for Rafał Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe). But it’s not easy to pick, as likely as these names sound they have to get in the move to start with. Warren Barguil (Fortuneo-Samsic) could go in the move for points but his team really want a stage win more than the jersey. By contrast Omar Fraile (Astana) is a pick again, he’s a good stage hunter.
Can the GC contenders make a difference today? Yes but the day’s breakaway is likely to contest the stage win given the distance and the relatively small climbs later. Plus the big names will be worried about tomorrow where one mistake could see them pay in cash. You might watch for Romain Bardet who could jump late but if much is made of his descending skills but he’s exploited this in the past precisely because he’s struggled for opportunities on the climbs, in other words he’s attacked downhill because he couldn’t uphill. Now he can as we saw on Alpe d’Huez and he’s likely to save energy for tomorrow. Instead Primož Roglič could be the one to try, he’s got an explosive jump as we saw in Mende.
|Julian Alaphilippe, Omar Fraile|
|Majka, Nieve, Barguil, Yates, Mollema|
Weather: hot and sunny in the plains, 30°C but the chance of rain in the mountains later.
TV: live from the start at 11.30am CEST with the finish forecast for 5.20pm CEST. Tune in early if you can because it’s going to be a fight to get in the breakaway. The Portet d’Aspet should start around 3.15pm and the Portillon at 4.45pm.