The race goes into the Alps with the last chance for the sprinters and non-climbers.
Dylan’s blues: another close one with suspense all the way to the end. Is it just the Dauphiné that’s supplying these thrills, and come the Tour de France the sprint stages will be all too predictable? Sadly yes, because this week has had supplied plenty of hilly days, few sprinters have showed up so there aren’t many trains either to contain things either. But just as the Giro’s sprint stages weren’t so obvious, the Tour route often isn’t either.
The early breakaway of Jan Bakelants, Sebastian Schönberger, Fabian Doubey and Benjamin Thomas had a two minute lead going into Maconnais hills. Bike Exchange had again been working for much of the stage, then suddenly Ineos got to the front for the series of three climbs in the final and sure enough Dylan Groenewegen was out the back. It’s not his fault, the terrain didn’t suit and has suggested in yesterday’s preview these côtes were ripe to be harvested. If the speed was enough to eject Groenewegen, bringing back the quartet was a lot harder and even Primož Roglič was needed with a big turn to the flamme rouge. Up ahead the break looked to lose their cool, their cohesion understandable broken given the stakes and they were overhauled, just with Bakelants still making the top-10. Wout van Aert won, just holding off Jordi Meeus with Ethan Hayer in third.
The Route: if you’re going to Die, then visit the Vercors before. It could be a motto but it’s also today’s route. There’s 196km and almost 3,000m of climbing nothing very steep. After a start in the Isère plans the race wisely avoids the valley to reach the scenic Vercors plateau. Hipsters and experts will lament that it takes main road up, but the D518 road via the 1.8km Grand Goulets tunnel is still scenic, at least before the tunnel but there are many other roads that climb up and they have less traffic. Then the race leaves the plateau via a short tunnel before the Col de Rousset and it’s majestic descent. Here the race goes through the town of Die, capital of the Diois (“dee-wah”) area, the poorer cousin of the Vercors but often as scenic. The Col de Cabre is steady climb that never gets steep and then the route zigs and zags around valley roads, often up or down too but nothing steep.
The Finish: it’s into the town of Gap and then back out over a small hill but if you remember Gap and a finish with a hill out the back from the Tour de France, it’s definitely not the climb of La Rochette and the infamous descent, today’s got a much smaller version. Here it’s not long or steep, 3km at 3% but with one steep part early and another later maybe just enough to fatigue someone on the limit already but if that’s the case they’d struggle in the looming sprint anyway, a sprinter could lose places but not the peloton. Then comes a descent back into town and then the flat main road into town for the final 3km.
The Contenders: guess who? Yes, Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) again because it’s hilly and he’s sprinting so well. The big question though is whether his team will work as hard, he’s now won two stages so they don’t really need a third, is it worth deploying the whole squad to bring back the breakaway? Likewise for Ineos who can win with Ethan Hayter but may not use up Ganna again today.
So today’s a big breakaway day, the winner will need to make the right moves over the Vercors climbs and then have the power later for the finish. Andrea Bagioli and Mikkel Honoré (Quick-Step), Samuele Battistella (Astana), Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ), perhaps Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic) but unsure about the form, and maybe Nils Politt (Bora-hansgrohe) if he can get in an early move that settles down to ride tempo over the early climbs.
Do Dylan Groenewegen (Bike-Exchange) and the other sprinters have a chance? Yes as the second half of the stage is not as hard. Sure there’s lots of climbing all day but the worst for them comes early. The Col de Cabre is the kind of climb where being on a wheel helps and the final climb above Gap is a big ring climb. But Jordi Meeus (Bora-hansgrohe) did well yesterday so he and J-S Molano (UAE) could be fresher picks for the finish.
|Wout van Aert|
|Hayter, Meeus, Honoré, Molano, Groenewegen|
Weather: sunshine and clear skies and only a light tailwind from the NW, up to 27°C by the finish.
TV: the stage starts at 11.15am and finishes around 16.40 CEST with the last two hours live on TV, so the Col de Cabre onwards.
Local info: today’s Col de Cabre probably gets its name from the word for goat, chèvre in French and capra in Italian, closer to the Latin root. The verb se cabrer in French literally means for an animal to stand up on its hind legs. But it is used in cycling to suggest when the slope rises, when things get steeper, conjuring up images of a goat bounding up a steep pitch. Only today’s Col de Cabre doesn’t really se cabre as it is not a récalcitrant sort of climb but more an even one.