A tough mountain stage awaits, a big test for the new race leader Wout van Aert and an opportunity for plenty of others. There are plenty of candidates for the stage win, the kind of day where writing a preview with picks for the day’s win feels too confusing and you just want to sit back and see what happens. Still, read on if you want…
Wout did you expect? turned out it was better to be on Jumbo-Visma than to be called Stefan. The Dutch squad got their second 1-2-3 of the race. Rohan Dennis set the best time early on and spent hours in the hot seat, only for Primož Roglič to set the best time right at the end, then Wout van Aert came in two seconds faster after him. Shocking? Only if you haven’t been watching cycling given Jumbo-Visma have the Olympic TT champion on their books (Roglič), the guy who won the Tour de France time trial last summer (van Aert) and hired a former World TT champ / Olympic bronze too over the winter (Dennis) , what happened yesterday wasn’t a sudden change. Stefan Bissegger said he fell ill overnight, at least he didn’t have to leave the race like Ben O’Connor but if a bug is spreading among some it risks getting others.
Simon Yates did a great time among the other GC contenders, Pierre Latour, Aleksandr Vlasov and Dani Martinez did well too. Latour’s had huge problems with descending, a phobia but he’s been working to correct this and we’ll see how he fares starting today. Yates is the best non-Jumbo rider, 49 seconds down on GC and 39 seconds on Roglič and it’s already a big ask to reverse this but we’ll see, starting here.
The Route: 188.8km and a mountain stage. The altitude never goes beyond 1201m but there’s 3,500m of vertical gain spread across the day, starting with the big Croix de Chaubouret, a summit finish in 2015 when Richie Porte won in a Team Sky 1-2 with Geraint Thomas second… and Michał Kwiatkowski in third but he didn’t join Sky until the following season.
After 100km feature a succession of steep climbs, starting with the climb to Saint-Romain, it’s away from the Rhone valley through the vineyards and all on a small road. The climb to Toulaud is similar, another irregular road up into the vineyards. Then it’s back down to the Rhone valley floor for a 10km breather.
The Col de la Mure has a steep start as it climbs out of Saint-Laurent-du-Pape but it’s all on a wide road, a strong team here can try to control things. The slope eases up but only just, this is a proper climb that will sort out the GC contenders and climbers from others. The first part of the descent is on the same road but there’s a left turn and onto a much smaller, trickier road.
If the Col de la Mure was the last categorised climb of the day there’s still the 6.5km climb to Saint-Vincent, all on a very narrow road to the intermediate sprint. It’s often 4-5% but there are steeper parts in the second half. The descent down to the valley floor is twisty but on a much wider road.
The Finish: after dropping down to the Eyrieux valley floor, the road is flat into town.
The Contenders: a breakaway or a GC day? Thanks to the crosswinds and time trial plenty of riders are no threat to the overall and can get a ticket to ride away today. David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) was last yesterday, saving himself? Brandon McNulty (UAE) won the Ardèche Classic on similar roads a couple of weeks ago but is well down on GC now, team mate João Almeida is only four minutes adrift. Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) will like the course but he’s only three minutes down. Wout Poels (Bahrain) could go for it and will Ethan Hayter or Omar Fraile (Ineos) be allowed in the break. There’s a lottery element but the winner will have to cope with the tough climbing in the finish.
Among the GC contenders we’ll see how Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) fares. The Col de la Mure is hard for him but he and his team will be setting the pace so he’s in with a chance and if he’s still there for the finish he’ll obviously clean up in a sprint. Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco) will be heavily marked, Jumbo-Visma won’t want to let him get a gap and the time bonuses but his speciality is clipping away over the top of a climb to take a solo win and easier said than done to stop this. Ineos have cards to play with Adam Yates and Dani Martinez.
|Wout van Aert, Simon Yates
|Roglič, McNulty, Gaudu, Poels, Martinez, Mollema
Weather: sunshine and clouds, a top temperature of 12°C. A southerly breeze of 15km/h means a headwind for much of the stage, except the Col de la Mure.
TV: coverage starts around 2.15pm, hopefully in time to get the St. Romain climb and probably Toulaud. The finish is forecast for 4.00pm CET. It’s on France TV and Eurosport/GCN.
Col de la Mure: a footnote as this was the climb used in 2011 and Tony Martin was hanging with the best on here and went onto win the race overall thanks to a win in the time trial stage. His team mate Matthew Goss had enjoyed a great start and would win Milan-Sanremo days later but on this day Martin went from promising time triallist to “could he win the Tour de France one day?” status. Obviously not with hindsight and he’d go on to establish himself as the dominant TT rider for the coming years but his ride on this one climb did make people wonder if he could go beyond this for a moment. There’s probably a lesson in extrapolating too much from from one climb and one race, but also in the relative value of being the best in one niche – here time trials – versus being an outside Tour de France contender.