The Tour isn’t done with the Alps yet and today’s stage is packed with climbing. It should be a day for the breakaway hunters rather than the overall classification.
Stomping in the Savoie: a big fight to get in the breakaway but it took so long until a move could get clear that the quintet of Dan Martin, Lennard Kämna, Gorka Izaguirre, Richard Carapaz and Julian Alaphilippe could never build up much of a lead. Kämna paid for his successful efforts the previous day and was dropped on the Col de la Madeleine while Martin was distanced on the descent to leave a trio to start the Col de la Loze with just two minutes’ lead, of which Carapaz lasted the longest.
Bahrain-McLaren led the chase. Apart from Wout Poels’s combativity prize, awarded on the day nobody attacked, the team’s had a quiet Tour, Mikel Landa’s GC bid excepted, and they’ve been second last on the prize money standings which doubles as a proxy for activity and visibility. So it was good to see a collective effort on their part and the pace did eject some Jumbo-Visma riders. Only for Landa to crack on the spicy part of the Col de la Loze.
Landa was the first to go but it was popcorn time as the group burst into pieces, Rigoberto Uràn went pop next, than Adam Yates. Miguel Angel Lopez attacked, he was brought back by Sep Kuss but jumped again to go solo and on the final ramps Roglič got to within seven seconds but couldn’t close the gap to the Colombian. Lopez took the stage and probably the third step of the podium in Paris. Behind Pogačar seemed to be labouring a big gear, he looked fast on the gentler sections but as soon as the road reared up he seemed to lose ground.
Roglič extends his lead in the race, now 57 seconds clear of Pogačar. Race won? Probably but it’s still one of the top-10 smallest winning margins although Roglič ought to extend his lead in the time trial. Pogačar’s stuck, he could launch a furious attack today but where and to what effect, Jumbo-Visma would simply reel him in. Still, second overall and the polka dot jersey isn’t bad for someone still a few days short of their 22nd.
The other star of the day was the Col de la Loze. Nothing happened on the Madeleine but the Loze unpicked the race. The secret isn’t the 20% sections, it’s the variation in the slope with 5% here, 20% there, 10% and so on, it’s constantly changing and so very different from, say, the Zoncolan or other leg-press climbs, the Loze breaks up team trains and denies drafting. Something says the race will be back here several times in the coming decade, and with plans to expand the network of extreme cycle paths across to other valleys, ASO might be suggesting they’re built equally irregularly.
The Route: 175km to La Roche-sur-Foron, long home to Jérôme Coppel, the bronze medallist in the 2015 Richmond worlds time trial who made a sudden retirement in the middle of the 2016 season and is now a punchy pundit for sports radio channel RMC. It begins with a long neutralised downhill to Moûtiers, then that early little spike on the profile is an error, instead the race takes a tunnel rather than go over the mountain but all the same it’s an uphill start and with some awkward gradients to the start of the Cormet de Roselend. The gradient for this scenic pass is listed as 6.1% but it’s got some flat sections along the way meaning it’s meaner than the mean. The descent has a long flat section around the Roselend lake before a wider, engineered road down to the cheese capital of Beaufort only instead of entering the town the race takes a detour complete with an extra climb, but all on a regular road.
The Col des Saisies is a regular, even climb up past pastures and the fast toboggan descent is broken by a short uphill section one third of the way down. The Aravis has a steep opening section and then a descent and flat portion before kicking up for the last 6km. Then comes a fast descent through the ski resort of La Clusaz after which the slope eases. All together the Roselend, Saisies and Aravis are classic Alpine climbs of the Tour, scaled many times.
The climb to the Plateau de Glières is the hardest of the day and new to the Tour, only used once before in 2018. There are longer climbs, there are steeper climbs but few in France are as steep for as long and it’s all on a narrow and twisty road with steep hairpin bends.
The plateau is now familiar with its gravel surface but the key feature is the hard limestone bad beneath and the rocks that poke out through the gravel, it’s this that can cause a puncture. Once back on the tarmac it descends briefly and then kicks up before a fast and technical descent with some tight hairpins.
The Finish: the Col des Fleuries is an unmarked climb but a proper pass, it’s 5.5km at 5% average, a big ring kind of climb. Then comes a fast descent with some wide hairpins, it’s hard to make up ground here and then a quick passage across town before a finish on a featureless road outside town, it’s slightly uphill to the line.
The Contenders: Marc Hirschi (Team Sunweb) comes to mind but this is still the Swiss wunderkind‘s first grand tour and we don’t know how he’s doing this late into the third week, maybe team mate Tiesj Benoot is stronger and fresher. Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) looks suited for today, at ease on the climbs and a handy sprint out of a small group for the flat finish. EF Pro Cycling’s Daniel Martinez is another pick while Ineos’s Michał Kwiatkowski should like the finish if he can cope with all the climbs, Pavel Sivakov is probably better uphill but less known for his finishing skills.
Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quickstep) is suited to the course but we’ve arguably got the 2017 vintage, not the 2019 one and he’s been using up energy all over the place in doomed moves, but if he can get over the plateau des Glières with the lead group he’s a contender.
- A quick note on the mountains competition. Pogacar leads with 66 points but Pierre Rolland (36pts), Ricard Caparaz (32pts) or Marc Hirschi (31pts) could take the polka dot jersey but to keep the maths short they need to win or get close on every climb today, easier said than done, it would mean scoring as many points today as they’ve won all Tour so far
|Max Schachmann, Daniel Martinez|
|Pavel Sivakov, Michał Kwiatkowski, Tiesj Benoot|
|Alaphilippe, Hirschi, Peters, Lutsenko, Powless, Molard|
Weather: warm and sunny, 28°C
TV: live coverage from the start at midday CEST to the finish forecast around 5.30pm Euro time. The start of the climb to the Plateau des Glières is around 4.30pm.