The first summit finish of the Tour de France and in a ski resort with its place in sporting history thanks to the stage in 1971 where Luis Ocaña got the better of Eddy Merckx for once, and by eight minutes. Only that day Ocaña did the damage long before he reached the final climb and today’s stage is likely to be a more controlled race. We’ll get some answers about form and injuries.
Distant Cousin: Jérôme Cousin and Anthony Perez jumped as soon as the stage started. Tied on points for the mountains competition with Perez, Benoît Cosnefroy promplty followed and for a moment had his team mate Oliver Naesen as a chaperone but the Belgian sat up. Perez won the two mountain sprints to secure the jersey and, mission accomplished, sat up leaving Cousin to plough on alone. However instead of collecting the mountains jersey hours later, Perez crashed out of the race.
Caleb Ewan won the stage. The peloton faced a stiff headwind and with 500m to go his leadout man Jasper De Buyst kept looking back to see where his sprinter was, but the Australian had decided to hang back. He launched from far back, he slalomed the slipstreams, he brushed the barriers and he beat Bennett in the final metres.
The Route: 160km into the Dévoluy alps. The intermediate sprint in Veynes after 51km is a finish line of sorts for all the sprinters today, some teams might try to lock down the race until then. The second half sees the race ride the Drac valley like a snowboarder in a half-pipe, climbing up one side of the valley to descend and then climb up the other. It’s all on regular roads. The climb out of Saint-Bonnet reaches the Tour’s KoM point via a long straight road but keeps climbing up for several kilometres after.
The Finish: a ski station summit finish, there’s a long drag up the valley before the turning for the climb and then 7.1km at 6.7%. The Tour de France is a palimpsest, each edition is built on the last and Orcières-Merlette has a legendary name but today is likely to be more prosaic than poetic. Why? Simply because it’s a short and steady climb on a wide road. This isn’t the place for fireworks, instead team’s will deploy their mountain trains and everyone will try to sit tight in the slipstream before late attacks. Boring? It’s only the first Tuesday, there’s no point having the “big reveal” today but we’ll still get some answers about form and injury. The race’s profile makes it look like it’s harder at the start but the final two kilometres have some of the hardest ramps and with 350m to go it flicks left with a final ramp up to the line.
The Contenders: two thirds of the field are now already four or more minutes down on GC and half are over ten minutes down so there’s now space for a breakaway to stick as long as it doesn’t contain any names who’ll threaten Alaphilippe’s yellow jersey. Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) and Tiesj Benoot (Sunweb) are obvious picks for the breakaway but both are suffering with back pain and hoping for things to clear up in the coming days. One breakaway specialist who is in form is Alessandro de Marchi (CCC) so he’s a safer pick. Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic) is at four minutes down, he might not get much room and might prefer the upcoming Pyrenean stages. Outsider picks are Nans Peters (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Ben Hermans (Israel).
Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quickstep) is good for a short climb like this. Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) normally has the best sprint among the GC contenders. Do we include Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) among them or not? Either way his jump on the Col d’Eze impressed and if he wins he takes the yellow jersey. Sergio Higuita (EF) is fast finisher, has he got the nerves and muscle to position himself for the final kick?
|De Marchi, Alaphilippe, Higuita, Roglič, Yates
|Hermans, Peters, Benoot, De Gendt, Barguil, Pogačar, Herrada
Weather: sunshine and clouds, 21°C in the valleys but it’ll be cooler for much of the day.
TV: live coverage from the start at 1.25pm CEST and finish is forecast for 5.30pm Euro time.