Another day, another summit finish and this time with the giant Col de la Madeleine in the way.
Grenoble fallout: we’re supposed to be looking beyond Jumbo-Visma and Ineos but on the Col de Porte yesterday Ineos had all of their seven riders on the front and behind them sat three from Jumbo-Visma. The two squads are shaping the race and we got a match between two teams. At first it seemed advantage Ineos, they had strength in numbers with Jonathan Castroviejo and Michał Kwiatkowski setting an asphyxiating pace which left Roglič with only Sep Kuss and Steven Kruijswijk; Tom Dumoulin was dangling further back (a bike change and the chase back cost him energy) and Robert Gesink long gone as he’d been working in the valley. But Ineos’s strength in numbers didn’t pay. Behind “Kwiato”, Froome was the next booster rocket on the Ineos spaceship but he blew before he could take a pull on the front and both Thomas and Sivakov took short turns, Thomas reassured a touch after his ride in the Tour de l’Ain. It left Bernal alone, while Roglič had Kuss. The Colombian didn’t seem discouraged, he tried an attack but Kuss got him back. Then Roglič barely attacked, it was a seated acceleration which had Emanuel Buchmann and Egan Bernal looking at each other for a second by which time the Slovenian was gone. Guillaume Martin launched in pursuit but was overhauled on the line by Thibaut Pinot and Emanuel Buchmann. Lower down the mountain Romain Bardet, Tadej Pogačar, Alejandro Valverde and Adam Yates lost time, going from GC Contenders to outsiders now.
Away from the procedural recital, the Col de Porte’s meaning is that neither Ineos nor Jumbo-Visma can control the race, both mountain trains ran out of puff. They spent their riders while rivals grimaced at their limits but coped. Roglič is the strongest here but he’s going to have a hard time controlling the race while the likes of Buchmann, Pinot, Quintana and Porte will be looking for an opening and Miguel Angel Lopez too, now front group material after being outside the top-10 on Mont Ventoux and in Occitanie before that.
The Route: a start outside Grenoble and a ride up the Grésivaudan valley – one of those race valleys not named after its river – and past the Teisseire factory where they make sirop, an additif in many a French bidon although the company is British-owned today. It’s celebrating its 300th anniversary now and there’s a cycling connection as the story goes that the company used to sell its syrup in glass bottles like all its rivals but in 1957 the Tour de France rode past and a company manager noticed the riders had aluminium bidons on their bikes and it got him thinking. This was lighter and cheaper than glass and gave the company a competitive advantage and a different design and to this day alu bidons sit on supermarket shelves in France and beyond.
Then it’s onwards to the foot of the Col de la Madeleine. This is a famous, familiar climb but for a change the race takes a side road to the top that runs parallel to the main route, it’s a scenic version for cyclists who can avoid traffic on the main road and for the race a tackle unfamiliar roads. Either way it’s long, 17km at 8% and with three kilometres over 10% at the start and there’s only one respite at the 10km point where the road briefly levels out and drops before resuming the ascent to the pass.
Then it’s back to the familiar descent into Moûtiers and to the finish which uses the same roads as last July’s Stage 20, the truncated final mountain stage won by Vincenzo Nibali. Only that went all the way up to Val Thorens, this stops mid-way on the ascent.
The Finish: The 14km final climb is better broken down into two segments. The first 10km are on a small backroad with regular sections of 8% or more and this is the steepest part of the climb. Then with 4km to go the route joins the main road, a classic ski station access route that’s wide and gentle, the riders can use the big chainring again but will need to change down for the final as they go through the village of Saint-Martin. The finishing straight is a wide road with an even 6% slope to the line.
The Contenders: Primož Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) once again, he’s got a fast finish and the race is still very close, he can’t afford to share the spoils with Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) or Emmanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) yet, all of whom look lively. Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) can sprint fast if he sits tight right to the end rather than covering moves.
Plenty of riders are down on GC now but this is a tough stage for the breakaway, the climbers need to go in the breakaway but they don’t have the power to build up a big lead and Jumbo-Visma and Ineos haven’t finished testing each other either, tomorrow might work out better but still Pierre Latour (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) come to mind.
|Thibaut Pinot, Egan Bernal, Guillaume Martin
|Lopez, Porte, De Gendt
Weather: sunny and 29°C in the valleys but the chance of rain in the high mountains.
TV: the stage starts at midday and TV coverage should just pick up the race on the Madeleine. The finish is forecast for 4.30pm Euro time. It should be available on the same channel you watch the Tour de France and/or Eurosport.