A time trial to settle the top-10 overall. Only a feverish imagination could see the podium changing but places among the top-10 can be won and lost. Plus there’s the battle for the stage, a chance for the specialists who have been hauling themselves over the Alps and Pyrenees.
Christophe the Messiah : the stage started with Enric Mas out of the Tour, he’d cut a discreet but strong figure in the race but was due to finish 11th overall and with it, bank a helpful 150 UCI points for Movistar’s relegation fight until he got flicked by a Covid test.
We got treated to another lively stage, a breakaway of heavy hitters got away but never got much more than a minute. The peloton seemed to catch them too soon but the crosswinds were making the riders nervous. Move moves went, Tadej Pogačar even had a go. A late attack from Jasper Stuyven, Alexis Gougeard and Fred Wright had a slender lead going into Cahors and the post-Pyrenees peloton was ragged, using up riders in the chase.
Coming into the finish, a window opened for Laporte. When Maciej Bodnar made a jump, the Frenchman followed. Bodnar quickly ran out of juice leaving Laporte to surge across to the three escapees where he found a helpful slipstream. Then he attacked them with 400m to go and rode away to take a solo win. There was something almost old-school with a rider “doing the kilometre” as they say in French, getting the jump on the peloton, and once again spoiling things for the sprinters. Laporte got a big win, he’d been second twice before in the Tour and this counts double: a win for him but also France as the home nation is saved thanks to a stage win, avoiding the scenario of 1926 and 1999 when there was no home stage winner.
The Route: 40km and 440m of vertical gain. A fast start out of Lacapelle-Marival under the shade of many chestnut trees, the road twists and turns and riders can stay tucked in the tri-bars to take the racing line through the bends on the way to the first time check in Aynac. After this there’s a smaller road which instead of twisting, rises and falls but the difficulty here is just getting the right gear, it’s never steep. After the second time check in Gramat there’s a prolonged climb out of town and it’s over the Causse plateau to the third time check in the village of Le Couzou.
From here on comes the most technical part of the course, a high speed descent into a gorge with some awkward corners, how fast do you dare take them? Them it climbs out of the gorge for 1.5km, it feels much more like a proper climb than the 4.7% stat suggests, it’s more often 5-6% and lined by rock that’s been heated in the sunshine, the slope eases as it crests the ridge. Then comes a longer but less wild descent with views of Rocamadour opposite. Once at the bottom it’s straight up with 1.7km at 7-8%, a regular road but through one tunnel at the foot and another just before the top. Overall it’s a fast course where specialists can make big gains but the two final climbs suit the GC rouleurs. It’s also very scenic and somewhat timeless, as if you’ll meet a Citroën 2CV or an Renault 4 coming the other way.
The Contenders: several riders have been hauling themselves around France with the hope of avenging their rainy ride in Copenhagen. Filippo Ganna (Ineos), Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) and Stefan Bissegger (EF Education) will all fancy their chances and they’ve been able to rest as much as possible, Ganna’s not played the wrecking ball role he’s done in the Giro in the past, smashing the peloton. But the final two climbs will be hard for them, they can be quick through all the time checks but come undone thereafter on the climbs and descents to the finish.
A few outside picks could be Brandon McNulty (UAE), Alberto Bettiol (EF Education), Benjamin Thomas (Cofidis), and Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step) but he’s often in the top-10 but a rare winner, right?
As for the GC contenders, Aleksandr Vlasov won’t win but he needs less than a minute to pass Louis Meintjes and Nairo Quintana to move up to fifth place overall. If he was in sparkling form he might even be able to get fourth place from David Gaudu , three minutes ahead of him. Adam Yates is tenth and only needs a few seconds to leapfrog Alexey Lutsenko which he’d with his Copenhagen legs but he’s been on the slide while the Kazakh’s on the up.
Tadej Pogačar (UAE) can aim for a stage win but as the GC’s out of reach and he’s a touch sore from a crash, he’s not 100%. Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) is good in a time trial too but doesn’t need to do the ride of his life either. Geraint Thomas (Ineos) should place high too.
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) ought to be tired from all his riding but he won the final Bordeaux time trial last year after another hyperactive Tour. Normally can match Ganna on the flat – as we saw in the Dauphiné – and the hills suit today but what has he got left?
|Wout van Aert, Filippo Ganna|
|Bissegger, G Thomas, Pogačar, McNulty, Bjerg, Lampaert, Bettiol,|
Weather: sunny and 25°C and a light headwind.
TV: Caleb Ewan is off at 1.05pm CEST and it’s reverse GC order with riders off every 90 seconds at first, then every two minutes midway in the field and Jonas Vingegaard leaves at 5.00pm CEST.
Food and drink: the finish town of Rocamadour has its own cheese. It’s a small disc of goat’s cheese that is made all over the area but borrows the name of Rocamadour, presumably because the town is famous as a tourist destination, it’s better marketing than calling it, say, Gramat. The goats graze on the causse, a karstic plateau. This is also truffle country, the “black diamond” is sought-after and often grows wild but as it grows in a symbiotic relationship with particular types of tree, some people plant the these trees hoping the fungus will grow among the roots. The local wine is from Cahors, where for years the Malbec grape made for a potent, punchy drink and a “like it or leave it” attitude but wine growers are being more selective these days and there’s variety to suit different tastes.