A hilly day along the chain of volcanoes in the Auvergne region before a sharp summit finish.
Merci Raymond: the tribute stage to Raymond Poulidor, the route was unveiled before he died and became a big tribute to the popular rider. Cycling can draw on its rich history past while serving up modern stories. The start of the stage saw six riders go clear, this wasn’t the battle we’d been expecting but it meant the action was being saved for later. The format was more like a spring classic with teams saving their moves for the final climbs. It was on the Col de Lestards that the break was reeled in and Sunweb got to work, Movistar’s Marc Soler jumped and Tiesj Benoot and Søren Kragh Andersen gave chase; then Hirschi got across to form a group of six with Quentin Pacher and Max Schachmann. Hirschi attacked on the steepest part of the Suc au May to go solo with 28km to go. A long way but he had team mates behind to mark chase moves. Just like the Col de Soudet at the weekend it as a pleasure to watch “Choco”, he seemed to ski down the descent and his high cadence on the flat showed little signs of fatigue. He’s now got one stage, there could be more although it’s common for pros in their first grand tour to retire after two weeks but Hirschi seems on the fast-track, after all he joined Sunweb’s development squad and quickly outgrew their plans so they had to give him a pro contract.
The Route: 191km south across the chain of the Auvergne volcanoes with over 4,000m of vertical gain. Yesterday’s stage had some marked climbs but also plenty of small rises and dips, today’s rout is different with longer, more sustained climbs. It starts with a detour around the edges of the industrial city of Clermont-Ferrand. The Col de Ceyssat is generously awarded a first category climb but it’s 10km at 6% and in two parts with some 6-7% early on and 8% before the top but all on a wide road as it skirts around the south of the legendary Puy-de-Dôme. It’s an obvious launchpad for the day’s breakaway and maybe another chance for Bora-Hansgrohe to make Sam Bennett sweat. The descent is gentle, it’s then across to the next climb which is 5% out of Orcival and then eases off, a big ring climb.
The Montée de la Stèle, aka the Col de Vendeix is a long steady climb out of the spa town of La Bourboule and all on a smaller road and then a long descent through the intermediate sprint.
The Finish: part summit finish, part wall. First is the Col de Néronne out of Falgoux, a steady climb listed as 4km but there’s a long 13km drag up just to get to the official start of this climb. Over the Néronne there’s the 8-5-2 time bonus and then there’s a flat section and a brief descent to lead into the Pas de Peyrol climb, last tackled mid-stage during the 2016 Tour and a regular on the route but this time used as a summit finish. The slope pitches up gently at first and crosses a bridge and then it’s up and away, and once out of the tree cover the slope is 11-12% for the last two kilometres. There’s a tight bend with 800m to go before the last ramp up to the line.
The Contenders: a similar mix baroudeurs breakaway specialists to yesterday’s picks, minus the names who’d struggle with today’s summit finish. Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) is the regular pick but at one point he tried to get in the breakaway and then sat up, was it the legs not working or his nose for a breakaway telling him the move didn’t smell right? Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quickstep) got his eye on this stage but tried hard yesterday and even when it looked like the stage was a lost cause he kept on trying so he might be lower on energy today plus he’s not got three chainring form of last year; team mate Rémi Cavagna is one of two locals today but the final slope is not for him.
We can add a cast of characters for today, think David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ), Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe), Daniel Martinez and Neilson Powless (EF Pro Cycling), Alexey Lutsenko (Astana), Tiesj Benoot and Nicolas Roche (Sunweb), Dan Martin (Israel) and maybe Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic) as he’s playing a support role for Nairo Quintana but could get a day for himself here.
A GC day? There seems to be a lot talk of the GC riders battling today and this is prime “ambush country” but who is going to make a surprise early attack? It is up and down today but often with long sections of straight road, it suits a chasing team. It’d have to be a team with some GC outsiders looking to gain time, those who are down but not out, like Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), Richard Carapaz (Ineos) or Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma), all two to three minutes down overall. Even a late attack is going to be difficult, launch on the Col de Néronne and Jumbo-Visma look likely to reel everyone in. We’re more likely to see the big names save as much energy as possible for the final climb. Still the early breakaway can’t form or doesn’t work well together then Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) is the obvious pick with Tadej Pogačar (UAE Emirates) close and the other local today is Romain Bardet (A2gr La Mondiale).
|Julian Alaphilippe, Alexey Lutsenko, Thomas De Gendt|
|Benoot, Kämna, Martinez, Gaudu, Martin, Barguil, Roche|
Weather: mainly sunny, slightly cooler at 21-23°C for much of the stage as its at altitude
TV: live coverage from the start at 11.50 CEST to the finish forecast around 5.00pm Euro time.