Tour de France Stage 17 Preview

The Tour de France’s only high altitude stage, today sees the race climb Col de la Loze for the very first time. It’s the strangest of climbs, a cycle path that feels like a roller coaster ride.

Kämna: 13 years ago a 10 year old boy got a racing bike as gift so he could join his father and older brother in their hobby and the family went on holiday to France that year where little Lennard managed to climb Alpe d’Huez. Now he’s winning Tour stages. It might sound sudden but before the Tour win came a junior worlds title, a Euro U23 TT title and more, perhaps too much as he took a break from the sport two years ago. He’s just turned 24 and we’re going to hear a lot more from him in the coming years.

The day’s first breakaway was full of star names but got pulled back. Another move formed and this time it managed to stay away, indeed Jumbo-Visma were in no hurry to chase. Pierre Rolland started collecting mountains points, launching from far out because he feared having to sprint. On the long climb to Saint-Nizier Ineos got to work, first a move from Andrew Amador and then Richard Carapaz who was joined by Sébastian Reichenbach, Julian Alaphilippe and Lennard Kämna. Carapaz kept up the attacks and had the other three grimacing but it left the Ecuadorian tired. Kämna attacked over the top of the climb, got a gap and the former world junior TT and European U23 TT champion got to work and took the stage win Bora-Hansgrohe have been hunting for.

Behind it was status quo among the GC contenders. Pogačar launched a late attack but Jumbo-Visma had him marked. Miguel Angel Lopez tried a counter punch and if he got some daylight it wasn’t enough to get even one second back on his rivals. Egan Bernal was dropped, his loss on the Grand Colombier was neither a jours sans to use the French term, nor what Italians call a “sugar crisis”, instead his back is problematic and he was pedalling like Thibaut Pinot, standing on the pedals and trying to rotate his pelvis as if to help loosen things up.

The Route: more déjà vu with the stage start in Grenoble quickly picking up the route of Stage 3 of the Critérium du Dauphiné and copying it up and over the Col de Madeleine. After 25km there’s the unmarked climb up the side of the valley, 6km at 4% but steeper at the start. A chance for Sagan to pressure Bennett again? Sure but even if Sagan wins the intermediate sprint – he’s yet to win one all tour – he’s still got a big deficit to close. Then it’s a big dash around the valley floor to the foot of the Col de Madeleine.

Again this is the same road as used in the Dauphiné, it’s not the main road but via Montgellafrey and has a steeper start but the defining characteristic is the length, 17km. The descent is similar, it’s long and with more bends on the way down than up. Then comes 15km along the valley, short for a rider sat tight in the bunch towed by Jumbo-Visma, longer for a lone rider up the road.

The Finish: a 21km climb (full details here) and in two parts, the first 14km to the ski resort of Méribel is hard going with plenty of 7-% sections from the start but all on a classic ski station road, it’s wide and engineered. Once above of Méribel everything changes as the race switches onto a cycle path that was created in 2019 and is unlike anything else. The TV cameras never capture the slope but you’ll see it’s narrow. Above all it’s irregular, at first it’s manageable but there’s a bend that turns into the woods and things get feral with a slope keeps changing, 20% for 50m, then flat, 12%, then a 6% breather and so on and it keeps doing this, the average gradient per kilometre tells us little. The path emerges out of the woods with a series of tight hairpins and the road becomes less erratic. The profile above misses the brief descent within the final 2km and then then it kicks up again with an 18% wall before the line. Today’s summit finish has both the usual 10-6-4 time bonuses but also double points for the mountains competition

The Contenders: Jumbo-Visma will be only too happy for a breakaway to go away, the Dutch team don’t want to risk a repeat of the Grand Colombier where Tadej Pogačar took a 10 second time bonus with his stage win. Half the bunch will know this and the question is whether a move can form early enough with the right composition of riders in order to start building a lead because they’ll need several minutes lead for the last climb. Today’s course is for the climbers, think Marc Soler (Movistar), Dani Martinez and Hugh Carthy (EF Pro Cycling), Mikel Nieve and Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott) and Dan Martin (Israel). All of these are riders suited to the finish but the first names bring guarantees about the form, the latter ones less so.

Pierre Rolland (B&B Hotels-Vital Concept) is going well but the stage win is a big ask, if he can get in the break today the Madeleine is ideal for him to take points for the mountains competition.

Otherwise it’s difficult to look past Tadej Pogačar (UAE Emirates) and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) but how to pick between them? Pogačar won on the Grand Colombier, Roglič was superior on the Pas de Peyrol. The irregular sections of the Col de la Loze make life tough for Jumbo-Visma to control things but harder, not impossible.

Dani Martinez, Marc Soler
Tadej Pogačar, Primož Roglič, Marc Hirschi, Esteban Chaves
Carthy, Nieve, D Martin, Sivakov, Bilbao, Lutsenko

Weather: warm and sunny, 26°C but with the outside chance of a thunderstorm, a downpour.

TV: live coverage from the start at 12.15pm CEST to the finish forecast around 5.20pm Euro time. The Madeleine starts around 2.40pm and the final climb around 4.20pm.

66 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 17 Preview”

  1. Is Hirschi really that much of a climber? Seems more like Alaphilippe.

    Thanks for the excellent write up on the Col de la Loze. Any chance the teams have missed this irregularity? No other commentators I follow have mentioned anything beyond the new cycle path and that it’s average 10% grade.

    • Out of interest, are there any / strict controls on development in the Alps?
      I’m thinking of the national parks in the U.K. with their own planning authorities and how tough it can be to get development agreed.
      I can’t imagine a tarmac cycle path atop a peak in the Lake District for instance but it seems much less regulated in the Alps?

      • Really interesting question ecky. I’m also keen to know more about this, living in a place where fighting development appears to be a national pastime!

      • Re development. Remember that this isn’t on top of a peak. Even though tour climbs refer to summits they are usually climbing to the pass, the lowest point between the peaks.

        It appears that this new path is leading up from Meribel – a ski station that houses many thousands of people during the winter. In terms of the national park analogy it’s more like building a cycle path outside keswick than tarmaccing the top of Scafell.

      • There are lots of arguments about developments in ski resorts. The comparison to the UK is not really valid though. The alps cover a vastly bigger area than the upland areas in England and Wales, so any development have far less effect. There are national park areas such as the Vanoise near today’s stage (the Col d’Iseran road goes through it) where developments are heavily restricted. In terms of this “road” it is a track to a minor peak which is a ski piste in winter which has been tarmaced to provide a bike route in summer. There is already a ski lift in place (a lot of them in the area) , the local council will be closely involved with the ski resort so no big deal to get this all approved.

        • The route runs past “La Folie Douce” mountain restaurant – think Ibiza on snow, champagne, live music, beautiful people dancing on tables in ski boots etc. You could not get further from a wet afternoon plodding up Skiddaw!

      • I guess the road is not in a national park (?) at least it would be strange since a ski station like meribel is ecologically much much worse than a single road. I dont know this part of the alps that well. But usually people living there have also some economic interest in using the mountain area like for example husbandry/ cheesemaking, forestation but above all tourism and maybe thats what this road was built for?

      • Yes there are regulations. The path here hasn’t appeared out of nowhere, part of it is a ski run that has been tarmacked where the track had been engineered before and lined with snow cannons, other parts were a service road for the ski lifts on the slopes, there’s a lot of infrastructure on the slopes already and the top of road has several ski lifts converging, a restaurant etc.

      • The British national parks are just pretty sheep farms, they’re far from natural and have roads throughout. I love walking in the Brecons, Peak &
        Lake districts etc, but they’re nothing like protected nature reserves, they’re just hilly bits of UK kept as they were a few hundred years ago.

    • Have teams missed the irregularities? I am pretty sure that this blog is regularly read by both pro riders and their directors. Even Lance has referred glowingly to Inring for his expert knowledge and insights. And I imagine that teams have directly scouted this novel finish given it’s newness and unusualness.

      I agree with you that this seems a big ask of Hirschi, but with his performances so far who’s to say? I would love to see Estaban Chavez and Dan Martin have big days today, and perhaps Nairoman, too. Given the way things have gone, though, I have a feeling that it’ll be more of the Rog and Pog show.

      • Many readers, pro and amateur, found out about the climb from the “roads to ride” piece here last year but since many and most pros have gone to visit this climb to see it for themselves. Hard for Quintana today, he’s still battered and sore from his crash injuries.

        • I didn’t realize Quintana had some injuries at the root of his losing time. It’s a shame, I was really looking forward to seeing what he could do on today’s stage.

    • I too wondered if that could be Sagan’s best chance but the first major climb isn’t until nearly 90km in, and there are no valley roads after it to ship time to the peloton – would be very surprised for any problem to occur.

      • Its anyway great that both are still in the race. because of paris or are the bad old days gone where sprinters abandoned before the mountains just for not having to ride them?

    • I did a bit of a calculation about how the stage might go. I worked on:

      Start to 1st sprint 45 km @ 50km/h (formation of brake and battle to drop the sprinters on lumpy stage start)
      1st sprint to foot of Madeleine 43km @ 45km/h
      Madeleine 19km @ 20km/h
      Madeleine descent 25km @ 60km/h
      Valley road to foot of last climb 16km @ 40km/h
      Its climb to Col de la Loze 17km @ 22km/h
      Col de la loze 7km @ 15km/h

      Crunching the numbers gives an average speed of 35.4km/h, elapsed time 4h 51′

      On the coefficient, that gives a 13% limit, which puts the cut off at 37 minutes.

      Provided Bennett (or other sprinters) are still in contact with the peloton at the foot of the Madeleine, he should be OK – he can essentially lose a minute per kilometre of climbing. Might be dicy for anyone dropped early. One issue might be if a group goes that gains significant time before the Madeleine; for sprinters still in the bunch at the foot of the climb they would then be starting already having lost several minutes of the ~ 37 minutes limit.

  2. The only certainty i can think of. Baring injury Rolland will try and get in the break.
    That finish mountain is super hard on paper. Without a strong team to get rid of team JV domestique line up I don’t expect anybody within 2 minutes to try anything before the final few k’s at best. If you try and fail anybody will loose a lot of time. If a GC rider has just one really good helper they could try and shell the JV train. But i can’t think of any.
    That said i expect there will be groups of one and 2 at the finish line. Probably at least one will crack and lose a minute in the last 2 – 3 km. Its just matter of who. Very suprised if 7 or 8 come to the 500m mark still together.

  3. Do we expect Bernal to start? He seemed very much in two minds, and complained of being in a lot of pain.
    I was a little confused about this statement too, since he had previously said he was OK on stage 15, but that he felt as if he had no energy. Perhaps it was a case of bluffing. Anyway if he does have a bad back he needs to quit and do rehab.

  4. Didnt Bernal loose the time on purpose yesterday? The Norwegians commentators said he would on yesterday stage Long before he acctually did.. The reason to loose time ofc to try get a stage win today. Whether its This or back pain i dont know. But anyway it Will be hard to win This stage if he is not in good enogh form.. He would probably have to try with a late break.. Because still with 12 minute behind or what he is… He Wold probably not be alowed to go in a very early break.. And to go in a late break.. You need to be in utterly good form.

  5. Yellow wise we’re relying on some sort of superhuman performance from Pogacar so that he can drop all of the JV train and Roglic himself and get a bit of time. I suppose to make the race really interesting for the TT he ‘only’ needs to get 30 seconds and if there’s a climb to do it on it looks like this final one, the steep ramps might suit his jack in a box style. I suppose that’s the risk of riding as conservatively as JV/Roglic have in a race with no TT (yet), they haven’t really put any serious time in to anyone that would give them some insurance. Outside of the top two the rest are only interested in 3rd. We’re on to stage 17 and still the only person to see Uran is his room mate. The most likely to attack would seem to be Landa and Yates. 3rd – 8th, Uran to Mas, is only covered by 1.40 which is nothing really so that battle could be really good today. They all probably need to put time into Dumoulin before the TT as he’s lurking just behind and is likely to gobble them up.

    • Replying to myself.. do we think there’s much risk of the whole of the JV train getting uncoupled on this last mad climb and Pogacar potentially being able to take advantage of an isolated Roglic by following an attack by someone like Landa?

      • Richard S – I would think in that those last few kms that team mates won’t matter that much due to the lack of drafting and irregular gradients so I think it will become mano a mano, so to speak. At that altitude, after a long climb, meaningful gaps could appear given the last 5km averages 10% and will probably take something like 16-17 minutes

        What I’ve been wondering if is UAE have the resources/willpower to stop the break getting too much time, bringing the time bonuses back in to play.

    • I wouldn’t discount the others yet.
      Any rider can fall away at the end of a tour. There have been plenty of examples over the years. If porte had not lost time on a flat stage he would be more of a threat.
      The others must rely on fantastic tactics or the top 2 falling away. But it can happen. But since there is a mountain stage and a TT to come i am not expecting tactics today.

    • Well positions 4-7 want the podium so I guess only those with weak TT will try to gain time before Saturday. A shame. The wheel sucking is often due to being unable to attack.

      I find Uran in particular a very safe rider – just follows as he did in 2017.

      • I’m hoping that at least one of the riders from 4th to 8th decides on a death or glory attitude and really goes for it somehow. Sadly, it won’t happen. But if you’re Lopez sitting 1.45 off yellow, surely the thought has at least crossed your mind. Maybe, not the same for Porte – he wants a decent finish to his GC career, not another blow out.

    • Pog is to close to need to and I expect that those at 3 – 15 on GC would be very happy to get a podium/top 5/top 10, so won’t risk it for an all out attack so early.* Thats the benefit of having ex winners – Nibali, Froome etc at the Tour, anything off 1st spot isnt worth their while, so they animate the race when theyre not leading.

      *Potential exception being Nairo, but he’s not really known to be an aggressive rider

      • I think this characterisation of Quintana is quite unfair – he often attacks! It’s just that 5 minutes later, the Peloton catches him and 10 minutes later he’s out of the back.

  6. Among the ‘Contenders of the day’ you don’t even mention Lopez, Landa and Porte. Do you have information not known to us mortal, that indicates these ‘climbers’ are nowhere near to be a contender today? I’m surprised……

  7. Maybe it is just me but I am finding very difficult to get excited about this race. The green jersey contest is good but the GC seems dull. Primoz Roglic has been content to sit until the last 500m no statement ride (so far). Even in the Sky years there were days like Chris Froome on Ventoux (both times) or G winning in yellow on Alpe d’Huez or last year a fascinating & enthralling contest until the disappointment of the Tignes stage. Dissecting the somewhat predictable failures of Ineos hardly replaces watching interesting racing. The scenery of La France profonde is as grand as ever but this race isnt matching up

    • Thank God for this analysis of the GC. I thought it was just me who was finding it extremely dull. The stylish cameos by Hirschi and WvA aside, this seems very much like a transitional Tour, as a new generation gets ready to take over. Looking at T-A, I think the Giro will be a lot livelier.

    • In the Sky days Froome would take minutes and that was that, probably with a time trial in his back pocket to ensure he could put more time into Quintana, Bardet etc just in case they managed to get close and everyone would complain it was boring. The current duel is a bit flat but we’ve still got the possibility of the race result being uncertain.

    • I think this has been a cracking tour, particularly the second week. Not quite as dramatic as 2019 but definitely teh second best since I started watching TdF in 2011
      – We had a very tight top 10 with riders from different teams across small time gaps up until stage 12
      – GC is not decided yet, unlike every year from 2012 to 2018.
      – Proper green jersey contest with Bora lightening up a couple of stages
      – Very balanced sprint contest with different winners on different terrains
      – Drama with first Pinot and then Bernal
      – Lots of new faces and first-time winners
      – The Hirschi story – that was an absolutely gripping chase when he came in third and then the sheer joy when he won a couple of days later
      – Unusual route and a great Grand Depart

    • I’ve been watching the TDF for over 30 years, and reckon this is a pretty good edition. The Slovenians certainly look very strong, but the gaps are still quite small. And there’s been plenty going on outside the GC battle.

  8. maybe bora would be content with yesterday’s result and refocus their efforts on stage wins. the changes of regaining the green jersey seem slim. this may change the dynamics of the race slightly. the kom jersey will see a new winner,would expect that some more riders will finish outside the time limit. stage 17 is likely to be won by the youngest rider in the final breakaway.

  9. The steeper it gets the slower it gets, and the slower it gets the less the power saving in following a wheel or a train. If another rider – Pogacar, Porte… – wants to negate the power of JV and thier train then today is surely the day the day, at least in the final kms when at 20% worthwhile gaps could appear.

    • I agree. Your analysis is why I think today’s stage may well be equal to or more exciting than tomorrow’s. There’s a distinct possibility of breaking the JV stranglehold thanks to that crazy finishing climb (and anyone with a strong mt bike background might/could outmaneuver their competitors on that narrow/steep track).

  10. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Wout van Aert win a sprint finish today 🙂 The guy is a phenomenon.

    BTW, I see a few thunderstorms knocking around SE France at the moment, any chance of rain today?

  11. I hope not and it is not fair that the world’s largest Baggage Carrier, Uran Uran, should drive to the podium. His contribution to the Tour has been and is nothing… nothing what so ever. Being no.3 in the race, you have to question the level of quality of this years TdF. Sorry to say……

  12. I think the TdF needs a daily “man of the match” award. Today it should go to Sep Kuss. He sometimes reminds me of Froome when Wiggins won in 2012. When he rode away from Roglic–I realize Roglic told him to go, or so he said–it reminded me of when Froome rode away from and gestured back at Wiggins in 2012, though this today seemed hardly any demonstration of frustration. Is Kuss future grand tour leader material?

    I was confused by Bahrain McLaren’s tactics today. It seemed odd to lead the pack all the way up the first climb…

    Roglic et al definitely earned their evening slug of slivovitz today.

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