The Bastille Day stage with a hard start and a tricky climb at the finish, this should be a day for the breakaway.
Stage 8 Review: a start so fast only three riders got away: Niki Terpstra, Thomas De Gendt and Ben King. Mads Würtz got within ten metres of the trio but they were moving so fast he just couldn’t close the gap, cracked and fell back to the bunch. Alessandro De Marchi was more patient, trying a little later and did bridge the gap once things calmed down but maybe his time spent “potato hunting” cost him later. It was surprising that there was no more of a fight from others given how many teams crave a stage win… but that’s their loss. The gap never got much above five minutes and was brought down to three with 100km to go and soon after Astana and EF Education First picked up the pace. De Gendt and De Marchi had shed King and Terpstra to form a noble breakaway duo and the tension began to ratchet up. On the approach to the final categorised climb with its bonus sprint Geraint Thomas was brought down by a crash but with hindsight this was hardly a negative given the luxuriant way he closed the gap, a big effort which he made look easy despite the 10% slopes. As soon as they started the final climb De Gendt took off leaving De Marchi looking immobile and the Belgian rider had a slender lead over the top of the climb. Here Julian Alaphilippe sprung like a jack-in-the-box and Thibaut Pinot followed, Alaphilippe banked the five second time bonus but this meant he was still one second behind Ciccone and had to ride on. The French duo worked well together, sharing the tasks and Pinot testing his nerves on the descent. Ahead De Gendt was resilient and only lost about 15 seconds in the final 10km to take a memorable stage win, surely the match of his Giro Stelvio win: what the finish lacked in grandeur, it made up for in the way he rode it. Pinot won the sprint for second and six second time bonus for second place with Alaphilippe reclaiming the yellow jersey and the main contenders came in 20 seconds later.
The Route: 170km west to Brioude, the town where Romain Bardet grew up (he’s since moved away). The race drops down to the Loire valley and then climbs up a long drag, six kilometres at 4% and then it’s across the big difficulty of the day, the Mur d’Aurec. Listed as 3.2km at 11% it’d be steep enough but there are warning signs for the 20% gradient and the slope keeps changing between 7% and 18-19%. It’s too early in the race to shape things too much but should help filter the day’s breakaway, only punchy riders and climbers will make it.
Then it’s across the Forez, a wooded plateau of the Auvergne region and past Craponne and Arlanc which featured on the Dauphiné route last month with the intermediate sprint in Arlan. There’s a long drag up to a KoM point and from here on the roads are steady, there’s an unmarked climb to come but it’s a regular road with no traps.
The race reaches the edge of Brioude and then heads out for a loop via the climb of Saint Just, 3.5km at 7.5% and all on a narrow, rural road followed by fast descent that’s got long straight sections.
The Finish: it’s downhill into town, there’s a right-hand bend with 400m to go and there’s a slight downhill run to the line.
The Contenders: a day for the breakaway? Probably but the finish today is something the likes of Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) can aim for as the final climb is plenty enough to shake out their rival sprinters. For Matthews his problem is that if there’s a sprint then someone is faster; but when he wins the bunch sprint there’s always a groupo up the road.
Otherwise today’s course is less mountainous than yesterday and so accessible to more riders, they need to cope with the Mur d’Aurec where the breakaway might form and with the Saint-Just climb in the finale but there’s less in between. Breakaway picks include Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), Greg Van Avermaet (CCC) and Rui Costa (UAE Emirates). Longer range shots are Benoît Cosnefroy (Ag2r La Mondiale), Pello Bilbao (Astana) and Jesús Herrada (Cofidis) if he’s avoided the bug going around the Cofidis team.
Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) is the local rider and the town’s been decorated in tribute with flags and even a roundabout dedicated to him but his form’s not exactly scintillating and Alaphilippe’s robbed the title of best Auvergnat. His problem today is that he’s not far down enough to GC to get any room.
|Peter Sagan, Michael Matthews|
|GVA, Stuyven, Rui Costa, Colbrelli, Garcia Cortina|
Yellow story: this blog has a hypothesis that the more often the yellow jersey changes shoulders during the Tour, the better the race. The 1924 Tour saw Ottavio Bottecchia take the race lead on Stage 1 and keep it for the rest of the race, a feat repeated in 1928 by Nicolas Frantz but arguably greater since the race moved from 15 to 22 stages, the same for 1935 by Romain Maes, impressive but must have been dull to folloe. The Merckx era looks glorious with the sideburns and lapels but when he wore the jersey for 20 stages in 1970 the contest must be been a bit flat. By contrast the 1958 Tour saw the jersey change shoulders 10 times among eight riders and the 1987 Tour saw nine changes among eight riders, these were great races. In 1989 it was six times among four riders which sinks the hypothesis a touch and in 1998 the jersey changed shoulders seven times among seven riders which ought to signal a vintage edition but it was perhaps more memorable for the Festina affair, rider strikes and worse.
Weather: sunny and a top temperature of 26°C
TV: the stage starts at 1.05pm CEST and finish is forecast for 5.30pm CEST / Euro time.