The Tour goes into the Alps with a tough trilogy of climbs in the final 50km.
A Stage For The Age: this Tour has had its moments so far, yesterday was action from start to finish. Wave after wave of attacks and over 50km covered in the first hour. Finally Mathieu van der Poel helped tow away a group of 29 riders, of course Wout van Aert was there too. The UAE team were chasing which was odd, burning through riders in an unequal chase, a team of eight versus a breakaway of 29. The group didn’t have any real GC rivals, yes Vincenzo Nibali and van Aert were up the road but the chase could have been more measured, more leash than lockdown but it’s interesting as it suggests UAE are weaker than we thought.
The big group was too big and after a few attacks Matej Mohorič and Brent van Moer got away. Jasper Stuyven and Victor Campenaerts bridged across. The others behind might have had some stronger riders but counter-attacks were marked and there was a stand off. Campenaerts didn’t last long at the front and Mohorič used the Signal d’Uchon’s lower slopes to go solo and stay away for the stage win, a triumph after his horror crash on the Passo Godi during the Giro.
In the peloton Pierre Latour had a go on the Signal d’Uchon and couldn’t get a gap as Ineos chased but the pace saw Primož Roglič ejected and alone, Steven Kruijswijk and Jonas Vingegaard didn’t wait. Richard Carapaz then attacked and got a gap, this had Geraint Thomas dropped but the Welshman got back on the descent while Movistar led the chase to sweep up Carapaz in sight of the finish line. It was all a warp speed stage, 250km with an average of 45.5km/h and almost half an hour ahead of fastest schedule planned.
The Route: 150km and 3,500 vertical metres. A start in Oyonnax, they could have trundled down the valley but instead it’s uphill into the Jura, with 6km at 7% which makes this the biggest climb so far in Tour only it’s an unmarked climb, perhaps it’s all about perspective and what is about to come later on. It’s followed by a regular descent back down to the valley and then a series of big ring climbs where if the break hasn’t gone climbers can still make moves.
The climb to Copponex is only half the climb, the KoM point in the village a staging post as the road carries on rising, the same for the next climb to Menthonnex. There’s a drop down to the Arve valley and from here on things get Alpine.
The Mont Saxonnex climb might be déjà vu for some as it shares the same start as the Plateau de Solaison summit finish used for the final stage of the 2017 Critérium du Dauphiné, a narrow approach road where it’s too late to move up, followed by a even more narrow funnel unto the start of the climb. Listed as 5.7km at 8.3% it’s a hard climb on paper… and harder on tarmac. The valley road feels like it smashes into the cliff and it rears up instantly with 10 and 12% ramps to start and many non-climbers will be quickly dropped here. It climbs up through shaded woodland had some narrow sections and tight hairpins before easing towards the top. The descent is a bigger road and drops the riders straight into the start of the Col de Romme.
The Col de Romme is 8.8km at 8.9% and featured in the 2009 Tour de France where several GC contenders were quickly in difficulty on the steep slopes. The profile says it’s 9.8% for the first kilometre but between the start of the climb and the first hairpin after 1km there’s a long ramp of 11.5%, it’s steeper than it promised and harder still because the south-facing cliff reflects heat back at the start and it’s a tough, selective climb.
A quick and tricky descent through the woodland and the route joins the Col de la Colombière halfway up. From here it’s a wide road and largely a steady a steady climb, first via big hairpins and then a long straight section to the pass with the small time bonuses.
The Finish: a 12km descent, it’s on a big road but not easy to chase, someone with a lead of 20-30 seconds over the top can hope to win the stage. Things flatten out in the arrival town of Le Grand Bornand, there’s 2.5km on flatter roads with a false flat leading back to the finish line.
The Contenders: a good day for the breakaway, but who? A lot of climbing contenders are still close on GC so won’t get much room, think Sergio Higuita or Pello Bilbao. Among those who are no longer a danger to the yellow jersey Dan Martin (Israel) took a fine win in the Giro, is he still fresh enough for a win? Team mate Michael Woods is due a stage but the descent and sprint finish is a risk after he donated a stage in the Tour de Suisse. Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) has given up on GC to go stage hunting but is the form there? Wout Poels (Bahrain) can make a double for Bahrain but is an infrequent winner. Neilson Powless (EF Education-Nippo) another to watch. Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) should fit the bill but he was dropped yesterday, his team say he’s not feeling great… unless this is a bluff.
Tadej Pogačar (UAE) can sprints – see Liège-Bastogne-Liège – from a group. Richard Carapaz (Ineos) can launch on the Colombière.
|Michael Woods, Tadej Pogačar|
|Carapaz, D Martin, G Martin, Lopez, Bilbao, Izagirre, Yates, Herrada, Benoot, Powless|
Weather: a big band of rain pushing through from 1pm onwards, up to 22°C before the rain hits and then cooler with a chance of a thunderstorm.
TV: the finish is forecast for 5.15pm CEST. Tune in from 3.3opm to watch the approach to the Mont Saxonnex climb.
On a tangent: A start in Oyonnax, an industrial town known for its plastics. It’s where the Bollé was founded in the 19th century, it started making combs and frames for glasses. In 1956 Bollé launched the “Nylon Grand Sport”, the first cycling-specific sunglasses. The brand still exists but these days Bollé is just that, a brand and there’s no local connection. This would probably annoy Roger Vailland, the writer who won the Prix Goncourt in 1957. Two years before Vailland penned “325 000 francs”, one of the few novels to feature a racing cyclist as the protagonist. Set in “Bionnas”, a fictitious name but Oyonnax, it’s the story of Bernard Busard who gives up his ambitions as a racing cyclist to work in a plastics factory in order to accumulate the 325,000 francs needed to open a roadside café and become the businessman his girlfriend thinks he should be. Busard toils, even doping himself with amphetamines to match the frenetic pace of the giant press that moulds plastic toys day and night. Vailland, a communist sympathiser until the Hungarian revolution, portrays a world where Busard can’t find happiness chasing money but the novel is far from a political tract, it’s readable with a good description of a bike race at the start and economic prose comparable to, say, Hemingway. There’s also a film adaptation.