A sprint of a mountain stage but with four sharp climbs before the steep finish on the Peyragudes airstrip.
(R)emporté par Houle: a maxi-breakaway and a series of moves, the group was so big that within minutes of it forming riders started attacking it. Among the attacks Hugo Houle attacked with almost 40km to go on the lower part of the descent off the Port de Lers, and in his own words he was there to prepare the ground for Israel-PremierTech team mate Michael Woods. But he took 30 seconds and held this all the way up the Col de Péguère, helped by Woods marking Matteo Jorgenson. Houle stayed away to take a comforting and satisfying win, the emotional story of dedicating this win to his lost brother but also a win for someone who’d travelled a long way just to race in Europe, had become a valuable team mate, but until now hadn’t won a pro bike race: now he takes a stage of the Tour de France, solo.
Behind Pogačar tried a move on the Port de Lers but Vingegaard was his equal. UAE and Jumbo-Visma clashed again on the Col de Péguère, until Rafał Majka jammed his chain to leave Sepp Kuss to set the pace and Pogačar could only sit tight. If nothing happened, it suggests Vingegaard’s crash on Sunday hasn’t had any after effects.
Nairo Quintana is up to fourth place overall, David Gaudu up to fifth but both are over two minutes behind Geraint Thomas. Quintana’s interesting if he can get into a groove for the upcoming stages, he was climbing faster than Thomas; Gaudu is yoyo-ing but of course even if Quintana can take back two minutes on Thomas, he’d lose this in the Rocamadour time trial on Saturday. Romain Bardet fell to ninth, complaining of feeling ill.
The Route: just 129km but 3,300m of vertical gain and most of this crammed into the second half of the stage with four climbs, it’s a stat but later today it’ll feel too real: this is a hard day. A start in Saint-Gaudens and then across the Comminges but sticking to the flat roads all the way up the Neste valley to Arreau.
The Col d’Aspin’s climbed via the harder side and there are no surprises on the way up but there are some tight hairpins to make the life hard for those several wheels back. The descent is wide and regular on the way down.
The Hourquette d’Ancizan starts halfway down the Aspin, a backroad behind the Lac de Payolle. It’s an irregular road than frequently changes pitch, including a descent as the profile above shows before it finally climbs up beyond the tree line. The descent is as irregular as the climb, but longer and all on a narrow road.
The Col d’Azet takes the race from one valley to another and the hardest part is through the village of Azet midway, from here onwards the slope is more regular. The descent is very straightforward, a series of hairpins to drop down to the valley. There’s a short section to the final climb, it’s around the lake and includes a couple of uphill sections just to reach the final climb.
The Finish: most of the Col de Peyresourde with a sting in the tail. The road up to the ski station of Peyragudes is a regular road, a highway even, at least by Pyrenean standards. Approaching Peyragudes instead of taking the road into the ski station they use the “altiport” airport runway like they did in 2017. It’s an airstrip but a unique one where the runway hits 20% with the final 200m averaging 16% just before it levels out to the line.
The Contenders: the breakaway has a great chance again, Jumbo-Visma and UAE aren’t going to drive a fierce pace across the plains and then all four climbs, neither have enough riders left especially with UAE losing Marc Soler; Ineos are sending riders up the road more for stage wins too.
But it’s not easy to pick a stage winner, we need a strong climber free from GC duties who is looking fresh in this third week and there just aren’t many left. Michael Woods (Israel) was in the thick of the action yesterday but might still have something left for today, because he had Houle up the road he could hold back a touch. Chris Froome could also be in the mix here but the stage win is still a step up.
Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) sat out the breakaway yesterday, does he go up the road today or his David Gaudu’s fourth place overall more important? The team can probably spare him today or if not, tomorrow.
Rigoberto Uràn (EF Education) could go for a swansong stage win, he’s 35 and has spent all his adult life in the pro peloton. Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) can be better on shorter climbs and today suits.
Otherwise Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) is looking unflappable, matching everything Pogačar can throw at him.
|Michael Woods, Thibaut Pinot|
|Konrad, Jungels, Uràn, Ciccone, Vingegaard, Pogačar, Teuns|
Weather: cooler, it’ll be 25°C at most and cloudy at times.
TV: the start starts at 1.15pm CEST and the finish is early, around 4.50pm CEST.