The Mont Ventoux stage with two ascents of the giant mountain. Today’s stage will attract a lot of hype and myth but there’s no escaping the difficulty of the route.
Poly-Valence: the calmest day of the Tour so far, a classic sprint stage and another win for Mark Cavendish. It’s his third this year, his 33rd in total. Deceuninck-Quickstep dominated the finish, trying to split the field in the final hour although it was never quite windy enough; and then they were the most powerful through the roundabouts of Valence. For once Cavendish stayed on his team’s wheels, an easy choice. He’s closing in on Merckx’s stage record, it’d be neat to equal it, special to beat it. Sections of the media are pitting this as a competition but Merckx could surrender the record and it would barely dent his palmarès. We should note the lively finish and the sight of Tadej Pogačar himself having to close gaps and defend his position alone for a while.
The Route: 198km and over 4,500m of vertical gain which makes this a big mountain stage which ever way you look at it, although it’s just that and not much more. After leaving Sorgues the route waves around the plains south of Carpentras on exposed roads. The first climb springs of Fontaine de Vaucluse with some wide hairpins and then climbs up a narrow road. There’s a small descent after the banner but carries on climbing up before dropping down to the intermediate sprint and then comes the next climb through the olive groves to Gordes. From here the race heads east for about 20km on exposed roads, then north for another 20km on an exposed and hillier road leading to Sault via the steady Col de la Liguière.
The climb from Mont Ventoux from Sault is the easiest version of the three roads up, it starts past the lavender fields and is typically 4-5% and eases off before reaching Chalet Reynard and then taking the famous road to the top. The descent is very fast with long ramps in between hairpin bends and on a wide road. Then it’s round to Bédoin via the mini Col de la Madeleine, a climb complete with hairpin bends, only dwarfed by what is to come.
Then comes the final ascent of Mont Ventoux from Bédoin, the classic route. There are three parts, first the section out of town past the orchards where it climbs, often at 5-6%. The comes the hairpin at Saint-Estève and it’s steep from here to Chalet Reynard, often on a long straight road with little to aim for ahead. Then it levels out before Chalet Reynard. After this comes the famous barren white rock section again and the road climbs irregularly with the section after each bend alternating between steep and less steep. There’s the mini time bonus point at the top and if it’s HC rated, points are doubled here today, with 40 points for the mountains competition.
The Finish: the descent to Malaucène again and then a 1km run around town with a small rise to the line. Why the descent rather than a summit finish? To paraphrase Christian Prudhomme, because on a summit finish riders leave it late to attack, with a descent if they still attack late then the action lasts longer.
The Contenders: Tadej Pogačar (UAE) is the safe pick given he can outride the others, take 30 seconds over the top and he can stay away. But today should be for the breakaway, so many strong riders have given up on the overall classification, either by election prior to the race or because of events and this helps create a self-fulfilling prophecy where enough strong riders go clear so that the UAE team can’t chase them back.
Are Ineos riding for a safe podium? Today might help tell us more, they paced Richard Carapaz to Tignes and was this to keep Pogačar in yellow so he gets all the pre and post stage routines, or to defend Carapaz’s fifth overall? They have the team today to exploit the whole course and try to crack the UAE team before Mont Ventoux. Easier said than done and they may prefer to see if Carapaz can win the stage instead with a late move or even from a small group sprint.
The problem for the breakaway is breaking away, if it takes too long for a move to form then it might not be able to build up enough of a lead. The top-13 riders are grouped within 12 minutes and after that comes Dylan Teuns (Bahrain) at 20 minutes. He has a good chance today, as do team mates Wout Poels and Matej Mohorič. Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) will want to be in the break for the mountains competition alone. Simon Yates and Esteban Chaves are two cards to play for Bike Exchange, normally Yates excels in picking off stages like this but hasn’t looked as sharp, normal with the Giro in his legs.
Astana are here stage hunting but haven’t been in the mix yet. Jakob Fuglsang has all the attributes for today, arguably he first made a name for himself as an ex-MTB rider with the CSC team on Ventoux.
Michael Woods (Israel) is looking strong, but not sophisticated, he if can manage his energy better he should be a strong pick. Team mate Dan Martin has the experience and craft for today but has cut a more discreet presence so far.
Finally Jumbo-Visma have had a torrid time but with the warmer weather Sep Kuss has a better chance here.
|Simon Yates, Nairo Quintana, Wout Poels|
|Woods, Teuns, Pogačar, Lutsenko, Carapaz|
|Latour, Fuglsang, Mollema, Kuss, Chaves, Mohorič, Higuita|
Weather: warm, 28°C and there’ll be a breeze, just enough to help split things at first around Carpentras and then stronger on the approach to Sault.
TV: the stage starts at 12.15pm and the finish is forecast for 5.35pm CEST.
Off on a tangent: is today the Queen Stage? Probably but if you want to argue Sunday’s Andorra stage is, that’s ok. But where does the term “Queen Stage” come from? It’s a literal translation from French, and perhaps too literal. In French all nouns have either a male or female gender, like le vélo (masculine) or la bicyclette (feminine), both terms for the bicycle. A stage is une étape which is feminine so the accompanying regal adjective adopts the feminine ending to become étape reine, literally the Queen stage. But in English where nouns don’t have genders, you could easily say the “king stage” or more neutrally the “royal stage”. Or étape royale if you feel like Vincent Vega. For more on clumsy translations, see the “False Friends” blog post during last year’s Tour.