The stage that caused many intakes of breath when it was unveiled last October will now cause even more. Just 65km and barely a metre of flat roads, there’s even a theatrical grid for the riders on the startline.
A la Julian: a relentless start to the race, it took 100km before the day’s breakaway went clear and wave after wave of attacks were reeled in. The race was briefly stopped by protesting farmers who were cleared off the road by force, including with pepper spray of which the remnants were inhaled by riders on the scene. Back to the racing and 47 riders went up the road, a third of the field and Alaphilippe was active from the start as he sprinted for every mountain point going. The move was packed with climbers as well as plenty who had little chance. Philippe Gilbert had a horror crash down the Portet d’Aspet, locking up his wheels and hitting the parapet by the road to plunge into the woodland below. He was ok and soon up and running, collected the day’s combativity prize but medical checks revealed a broken kneecap and he’s out of the race.
Robert Gesink was one of the heroes of the finish, attacking on the Col de Menté and then again on the Col de Portillon were he was joined by Domenico Pozzovivo, a clash in size and then Bauke Mollema rode over to form a trio that packed more power than elegance. Then Adam Yates, Gorka Izagirre and Marc Soler rode across the lead trio. Alaphilippe – him again – then jumped across and just as he made it Yates attacked. It was a good move and the Briton soon took 30 seconds with Alaphilippe – him again – going solo in pursuit and closing the gap over the climb to have Yates in sight on the descent. Then Yates fell on the descent, he was up quickly but it was too late, Alaphilippe was in the lead and won his second stage. You have to feel for the twins and the races they’ve lost this year. Behind the main GC riders marked each other save for a small move from Fuglsang and Zakarin that was quickly extinguished and Mikel Landa tested his legs. Two points to note:
- Movistar led the peloton’s chase into the final climb, presumably for the team prize
- Ag2r La Mondiale sent all their riders into the breakaway except for Romain Bardet and Oliver Naesen, they’re using resources to help Latour’s white jersey bid and left Bardet somewhat exposed.
The Route: starting in Luchon, the race tackles the Col de Peyresourde and then adds on the climb to the ski resort of Peyragudes, almost 15km in length at an average of 6.7%. The road is very wide which will help riders move up places after the motorsport-style starting grid, more theatrical than practical. Early into the climb there’s even a brief descent. Then it’s 7-8% until the village of Saint Aventin where the road levels out, then resumes at 7-8% again. One characteristic of this climb is the wide road, it feels less like a mountain pass at times and more like a boulevard, or at least that’s the relative impression. It’s also got big visibility, riders can see groups ahead. The descent is fast and furious down into Estarvielle and Louvenvielle and then a few flat roads which twist and turn to the day’s intermediate sprint point and then it’s onto Genos and the next climb.
The Col d’Azet is a steep climb with a very steep start. It’s defined by the series short ramps between the tight hairpin bends, perfect terrain to line out a group of riders. The descent down to Azet is the most technical part of the day and arguably the most difficult descent of this year’s race. It’s steep and there are a few irregular bends at the top and then a bumpy road surface. But it’s through the village of Azet that the road resembles a luge piste, only without the cambers.
The Finish: the Col du Portet starts out with a familiar climb, the first 6.5km out of Saint Lary is the same road to the habitual summit finish at Pla d’Adet, a wide but steep road which averages 10% and made harder by the rock wall lining the side of the road that absorbs the sunshine and radiates back heat. There’s a brief flat section at Espiaube and the junction to the “new” road. From here on the road is exposed on the mountain-side and steep for the most part but irregular, the slope changes every few hundred metres. The 6.7% section on the profile above is more about a near-flat section just before the 3km to go point and then it rises all the way to the line.
The Contenders: what chance for the breakaway? It’s possible the GC contenders have a truce at the start of the stage but even if a move tries to pull away early there’s every chance it’s pulled back on the slopes of the Col du Portet, this stage is a decisive day for the GC contenders.
Chris Froome or Geraint Thomas? Or neither? Today’s the day and we’ll see how they fare on the final climb. Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) will follow and by virtue of this could well win the stage, just as he pipped Froome at La Rosière.
Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) looks down but not out. He was climbing well on Alpe d’Huez and trying to take time on GC. Does he go for a bold move or sit tight and hope for the stage win? Maybe the latter.
Primož Roglič (Lotto-Jumbo) got the jump on everyone on the climb above Mende, but as much as today is an explosive stage the final climb is a 50 minute effort, longer than Alpe d’Huez. Maybe Steven Kruijswijk is the better pick?
Movistar hold a key to this stage but so far their Trident has all the incision of plastic cutlery accompanying a meal during an economy flight. Nairo Quintana looks more stale than a baguette that’s been left on the back shelf of a car for three days and Alejandro Valverde’s lost his lustre too. Which leaves Mikel Landa as the point man, he’s been sore after crashing hard on the stage to Roubaix so we’ll see if he can turn things around.
Dan Martin (UAE Emirates) is on the margins of the GC which gives him room to operate, he’s got the jump to attack when he wants and the likes of Thomas, Froome and Dumoulin won’t pay him too much mind.
Among the non-GC contenders Mikel Nieve (Mitchelton-Scott) stands out, he should be fresh and has been climbing well.
|Tom Dumoulin, Chris Froome, Dan Martin|
|Geraint Thomas, Mikel Landa|
|Bardet, Roglič, Nieve, Kruijswijk, Quintana|
Weather: warm and sunny with a top temperature of 26°C and the chance of a storm at any time during the stage.
TV: live from the start at 3.15pm CEST with the finish forecast for 5.30pm CEST.
- Col du Portet: it’s the highest point in the race this year and the Henri Desgrange prize is awarded to the first rider to the top. The road has existed ever since the ski station was built, a dirt track to ferry the construction materials for the lifts and more. It was partly tarmacked in the early 1980s in a bid to host a stage of the Tour de France but this never happened leaving the road to crumble and it’s been resurfaced this summer in time for the Tour de France. As well as a new high summit finish in the Pyrenees for the Tour de France, the aim is to offer cyclists Saint Lary Soulan a giant climb
- Time cut: it’s set at 25% for today