The second day in the Alps and a more mountainous stage than yesterday, an extra one thousand metres of vertical gain, all in 145km.
All roads lead to Romme: it took 70km for the break to go clear, although Wout Poels had been dangling solo. It had several good climbers in it but the weather was a factor, Alejandro Valverde had to sit up, shaking with cold, unable to put a jacket on by himself and they’d yet to start an Alpine pass. Others too were frozen, later saying they wanted to attack but couldn’t. Michael Woods attacked on the Col de Romme but looked more laboured than usual, muscling the pedals round.
UAE Emirates’ tactics are still a work-in-progress, at one point Pogačar himself went in a breakaway attempt, then Brandon McNulty went clear. The only signing they made for Pogačar was Rafał Majka who finished in the grupetto. Once Pogačar is side-by-side with his GC rivals the tactics manual goes in the bin because he seems to be able to do as he pleases. He attacked on the Col de la Romme, Richard Carapaz followed, he attacked again and Carapaz cracked. The Ineos rider soldiered on but faded and was caught by the rest of the GC contenders, losing 3m20s to Pogačar.
Teuns passed Woods on the top of the Colombière to go solo for the stage win, the second in two days for Bahrain and so far four teams are sharing eight stages. But the story of the day was Pogačar’s ride. L’Equipe’s Alex Roos called his time trial performance “an axe blow” to the Tour as he felled several rivals for the GC. Yesterday he was wielding a chainsaw like a Bornean palm oil plantation worker, razing the field. He seems unbeatable à la pédale in the mountains and time trials but elsewhere? Possibly as his team look weak, Pogačar might be in the race lead but this not Froome at La Pierre Saint Martin and Fortress Sky, the yellow jersey is going to have a lot on his plate.
The Route: just 144km but over 4,500m of vertical gain, a big day in the mountains. After a dash up the valley the riders take the Domancy climb, used in recent editions of the Tour and Dauphiné and famous as the climb used in the 1980 Worlds won by Bernard Hinault and now renamed in tribute. This takes the riders up to Megève and then it’s across to the Col des Saisies which climbs via the Crest-Volland side meaning there’s no descent two thirds of the way up, it’s a consistent climb to the top. A fast descent down the main road delivers the riders into Beaufort, home of the eponymous cheese.
The Col du Pré is a gem of a climb although you wouldn’t know it at the start with the main road to Arêches looking ordinary. But soon it turns onto a small backroad and a series of hairpins with steep ramps in between. It’s hard, but the HC-rating is stretching things. Then comes a flattish traverse around the Roselend lake before tackling the Cormet de Roselend. Then comes a very fast descent with some sections that are tricky in the dry. There’s little rest as the final ascent begins as almost soon as the riders reach the valley floor.
The Finish: labelled the Montée de Tignes, it’s 23km in the graphic here but climbs just to get to the start. It’s the Col d’Iseran for the first 17km, a main Alpine artery that services ski resorts and then the turning to Tignes below the large hydroelectric dam. It’s a big slog where the distance and altitude count as much as the gradient. The slope levels out for the run through the resort.
The Contenders: the breakaway has a good chance again and there are mountain points on offer, especially with the HC rating for the Col du Pré, a virtual finish line for anyone wanting the polka dot jersey. Dylan Teuns won yesterday but today is that much more mountainous so both he and Matej Mohorič will have a hard time delivering a third win for their team. Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) is perfect for the long drag to the finish but his form post-Giro is questionable. Esteban Chaves (Bike Exchange) is suited too while colleague Simon Yates has gone in the break two days in a row now and come up short so risk being even more tired today, even if the course is ideal. Miguel Angel Lopez (Movistar) has had a rotten Tour so far but the course suits him today too. Jakob Fuglsang has lost time on GC now so has the space needed to attack. Ineos can still get Carapaz on the podium but can probably spare riders for attacks and today is ideal for Richie Porte. Michael Woods went yesterday so does Dan Martin go today? Neilson Powless (EF-Nippo) was tipped yesterday… and finished second last. Perhaps he’ll go again today?
Otherwise who’d bet against Tadej Pogačar (UAE Emirates) ? He can take minutes out of the breakaway with an attack on the final climb. But he doesn’t need to, perhaps he’ll only go if provoked by others or if his team mates dwindle again. Richard Carapaz (Ineos) can try and see if it’s third time lucky and the final climb is perfect for him, not too steep and at altitude.
|Tadej Pogačar, Jakob Fuglsang, Richard Carapaz, M-A Lopez|
|Mollema, Chaves, Porte, Konrad, D Martin, Yates|
Weather: cold and wet with showers, 17 at most but 5°C at the finish.
TV: shorter in distance than yesterday’s stage but probably 45 minutes longer in time, the stage starts at 1.00pm CEST and finish is forecast for 5.45pm CEST.
Off on a tangent: the Cormet de Roselend features today. Cormet is a local word for a mountain pass but it’s hyperlocal, there’s probably only one other cormet in France. Col is the most frequent term for a mountain pass in France and by a very long way. The “Club des 100 Cols” publishes Le Chauvot, a catalogue of every mountain pass you can tackle with a bike (ranging from tarmac roads to gravel to acrobatique where you’ll be scrambling up a rock face shouldering your bike). There are over 10,000 passes listed for France, 7,600 for Italy and if it’s not a bible for stage previews here, it’s certainly scripture. The vast majority in the Chauvot for France are cols but you’ll find bouche, bocca, brêche, collet, golet, foce, passage, port or sattel. The ubiquitous use of col tells us something about France, a large country with remote parts and bordered by several different languages yet this is a very centralised country where French as the official language monopolises the geography.