After yesterday’s stage for the age, a superb encore. There’s more climbing and the final climb of Alpe d’Huez, a celebrity climb because of numerous appearances but also just a steep one. Can Tadej Pogačar mount a comeback in the heat or will Jumbo-Visma have the race under their grip?
Granon, grand oui: in the end, the old “1-2” tactic worked a treat. It just took time to set up, and then patience to see it pay off. The stage was frisky from the start with a joint attack by Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel. Jumbo-Visma seemed to have a plan because Tiesj Benoot was busy monitoring the moves.
Once the race reached the Col du Télégraphe Jumbo-Visma activated their plan with Benoot launching Roglič in an attack. Pogačar gave chase. This was early to make moves and it seemed too early even as once onto the Galibier ,Vingegaard was making searing attacks like it was the final climb. Faced with the splendour of the mountains, Victor Hugo once remarked that “in the Alps you are either an eagle or a cretin” and it was becoming hard to tell which camp Jumbo-Visma’s fell into. It was thrilling and they did crack Pogačar’s UAE team mates. At one point Jumbo-Visma looked like a swarm of bees surrounding the yellow jersey. But Pogačar was holding his ground and as the higher the Galibier got, the more it looked like Vingegaard’s team had gone too soon. By the top of the pass it was just Pogačar and Vingegaard, a situation the Slovenian must have preferred.
Up ahead Warren Barguil was leading solo into the start of the Col du Granon. It was his team mate Nairo Quintana who set off in pursuit. It looked rude towards Barguil who was slowing but Quintana’s style is to go early and just ride half a kilometre an hour faster than everyone else. Quintana was closing in on Barguil but crucially building up a lead on the yellow jersey. Then Romain Bardet had a go and it signalled open season on Vingegaard and Pogačar and that the pace wasn’t so high. With 5km to go Vingegaard attacked. Rafał Majka gave chase but crucially Pogačar could not follow and in a flash Majka vanished, Vingegaard was away and Pogačar losing ground, dropped by Geraint Thomas and his yellow jersey flapping in the breeze. He was soon overhauled by David Gaudu and Adam Yates. Vingegaard took the stage and 2m51 on Pogačar to turn the Tour upside down.
There was the sense all this was coming but it was spectacular to see. This blog’s suggested UAE is a weak squad, but in relative terms with riders who could lead other teams; but now blunted because they’ve been riding on the front for days already. Jumbo-Visma by contrast look much stronger but the burden is now on them. As TotalEnergies boss Jean-René Bernaudeau said in Longwy last week about UAE, “everything comes with a price, move in the Tour and you pay“.
As well as the sport we enjoyed on the day, the stage was also good because of the tantalising promise it offers for the days ahead. First let’s hope Pogačar’s problems are temporary, a Haribo crisis rather than the onset of a Covid infection because if he’s in the race he’ll keep attacking and Jumbo-Visma will find it hard to contain him. But there’s a lot more than a Pogačar-Vingegaard duel, Romain Bardet is second overall now at 2m16, then come five more riders in less than a minute. There’s a lot more sport to come. Starting today.
The Route: 165km and 4,650m of vertical gain. Riders will be warm-up on rollers for the start as it’s straight up the Col du Lautaret and to the Galibier although it’s a climb that starts gentle on a big road before getting steeper and steeper, especially after the turning at the Lautaret. The HC point at the top is big goal for anyone with an interest in the mountains competition.
Then it’s back down the Galibier, into Valloire and the climb to the Télégraphe before dropping down to the Maurienne valley.
The Croix der Fer is a giant of a climb and a staircase, 29km at 5.2% but the mean average includes a descent along the way. It’s a hard climb and this time goes beyond 2,000m and followed by a reciprocal descent that’s not too technical and got some climbing on the way down and then a quick 10km valley section that’s a slight uphill drag, short but enough for some to flounder.
The Finish: the famous 21 hairpins of Alpe d’Huez. There are actually 23 to the finish once you include the extra two bends once inside the ski resort. It’s 13.8km at an average of 8.1%, but the main climb is consistently a steep 9-10%. The climb is regular and the famous hairpin bends matter, as they’re engineered and flat so that tourist coaches can pass with ease and so offer the cyclist a change in rhythm. As an engineered road it’s also got large rock walls to reflect the heat making it more of a furnace and the temperature is raised further by the dense crowds. The slope eases into town and there’s a final bend to the left and then the 220m finishing straight.
The Contenders: a straight match between the breakaway and the GC contenders. Thibaut Pinot didn’t go in the breakaway yesterday, he wasn’t on team work duties for David Gaudu either. While Gaudu is high overall in seventh place, getting him higher up GC seems a big ask and so Groupama-FDJ can spare Pinot today. He’s won on Alpe d’Huez before in 2015.
Tadej Pogačar (UAE) has promised to attack today. But the how and where is of interest. He doesn’t need to set his team to work from the start, instead just a straight contest on the Alp might suit. But Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) got the better of him yesterday and in the heat can hope to do the same again, this time if only to snipe the win rather than take minutes although if he spots weakness, he’ll take it.
Geraint Thomas (Ineos) was ever-present yesterday but always reacting rather than making any moves. He’s clearly not here to win the race but his steadier riding yesterday can help here and if he’s in the mix for the finish he’s got a chance but expect more linear, steady riding.
Lennard Kämna (Bora-hansgrohe) is in form but has been overdoing it, if he can make the right move today but play it calm he’s got a good chance although he’s not a pure climber. Rigoberto Urán (EF) can have a go here. There are other climbers but it’s hard to see who can ride away, Michael Woods (Israel) might have to wait for the Pyreenes to get over his injuries.
|Thibaut Pinot, Jonas Vingegaard
|Pogačar, Uran, Woods, Kämna, Thomas, Mollema
Weather: hot and sunny, 33°C but Alpe d’Huez is south-facing and the rocks beside the road radiate back heat.
TV: the stage starts at 1.05pm CEST and finish is forecast for 5.55pm CEST. The Croix de Fer should begin around 3.40pm and the foot of the Alpe is 5.20pm.
Food and drink? the choices here aren’t so obvious. There’s a Galibier-brand of saucisson, the dry cured sausage, but if it borrows the name of the mountain pass, it is made from it. Instead a linguistic deviation because today is the quatorze juillet in France, the French national holiday, the national festival of the French republic. Outside of France it’s called “Bastille Day” as a nod to the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789 which marked the definitive end of the monarchy in France. But the national day of celebration wasn’t so obvious, the date moved around until almost a century later in 1880 it was decreed that this day should be the national holiday of the French republic and it’s stuck ever since. The 1989 Tour de France is probably the best ever edition of the race and largely for the sport but it was all enhanced as the bicentenary of the French republic, France was saluting a 200 year history, a bigger party than usual and the Tour was part of this.