If Mont Ventoux was the Queen Stage, today is also mountain monarchy. Over 4,500m of vertical gain with a surprisingly tough start, lots of strength-sapping climbs and then the tricky Collada de Beixalis in the finish.
Bauke Knock-Out: a relentless start to the stage. One way to analyse stages is to break them down into different phases. The opening phase is where the race begins until the early break goes and things settle down. Sometimes this can last seconds, yesterday took hours. Eventuall y several groups merged into one and from this Bauke Mollema attacked them to go solo, a crafty move at the bottom of a descent when the others were hoping for a breather and a drink. Give Mollema ten seconds and he’s always hard to bring back, this time he quickly took 30 seconds and behind the group was too big to chase, for every worker there was a passenger. Mollema didn’t have to worry about tactics and stayed away for the win, but there was suspense until late, it was always possible that a climber could spring on the Col de Saint-Louis.
All that was missing were the GC contenders trading attacks on the final climb, this would have made it a contender for a highlight of the season. But they’re waiting for today, plus a proportion are hoping to stay put and defend their position rather than risk it. Guillaume Martin is up to second overall but only has a minute and half’s lead on the others and given he lost three minutes in the Laval time trial he’ll need to attack and take time to finish on the podium which is unlikely. So he’s caught in a sort of tactical nomansland, unable to get the space to attack for a stage win, unlikely to finish on the podium.
The Route: a big day, 191km and over 4,500m of vertical gain. A start in Céret, famous for cubism and the small bump in the profile at the start doesn’t have any categorised climbs but don’t be fooled, this will have plenty pedalling squares. The day opens with a proper climb from KM0 it’s 4-5%, a big ring climb but the difficulty is the way it twists up, it’ll line out the peloton and gaps open up. There’s a small break along the way before it kicks up again. It’s followed by a twisting descent on a narrow road for the best part of 18km but there are a couple of uphill sections along the way.
The difficulty for anyone dropped early is if the breakaway has not gone clear yet as the pace up the main valley road from here will continue to be high. But after the early climbing there are no more surprises, it’s all the kind of roads you could drive a team bus up until 25km to go. It’s up the Tet valley on a big main road and the mountains point is before Font Romeu and the Col de la Calvaire. The same for Puymorens and the Envalira, big, well-engineered roads and regular descents but watch for the wind, they’re open and it could blow today.
The decisive climb of the day should be the Collada de Beixalis. It familiar for all the peloton’s Andorra residents and more as it’s been in the Tour before, the last time was 2016, plus a staple of the Vuelta’s visits to the principality before. Listed as 6.4km at 8.5% these stats don’t it justice, nor do the 10.9% and 11.6% references on the graphic above. It has several muro moments between 14-17% and 22 hairpin bends which will line out any group left.
The Finish: a more regular descent than the climb up and down to the valley road with its tunnels before a quick tour around turn with two left hand bends in the final kilometre.
The Contenders: Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quickstep) had a day’s rest yesterday, as in he didn’t get in the winning breakaway. He’s a candidate for today but capable of winning big but he’s often a runner-up too. David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) didn’t have big GC ambitions but now he’s firmly a stage-hunter but today might be too soon. Dylan Teuns (Bahrain) can feature. Astana have been quiet and are all in for Lutsenko but Jakob Fuglsang can take his chance, ditto Ion Izagirre. Movistar aren’t even in the running for the team prize so a stage win close to Spain would be a consolation, can Miguel Angel Lopez make the break? Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) will want to score mountains points today but the long steady climbs suit him. Michael Woods (Israel) could try again or team mate Dan Martin could help mark Quintana for the points.
Tadej Pogačar (UAE Emirates) is an obvious pick but as ever his team are struggling to contain the race so if there’s a breakaway they’re unlikely to reel it in while rival teams are likely to hold back and let them burn themselves out. Richard Carapaz (Ineos) might not be able to win in an uphill finish but could try the descent.
|Julian Alaphilippe, Dylan Teuns|
|Gaudu, Fuglsang, Izagirre, Quintana, Lopez, Woods, D Martin, Pogačar, Carapaz|
Weather: hot and sunny, 30°C in the valleys and mild at altitude. It’ll be windyt
TV: the stage starts at 12.20pm and finish is forecast for 5.45pm CEST. Tune in for the start to watch the breakaway start and come back in time for the finish in Andorra.