192km and into the Alps, this is a mountain stage as the tall peaks and ski resorts show but it’s a warm-up for the big days to come next week.
Society: it’s an old joke in social science academia that for the university exams the questions are the same each year, it’s just the (right) answers that change as people try to address the same problems in new ways. For the Tour de France, the question of who is going to win each day is the same, and the answers are feeling familiar too. Glance at the photo above and the signs are helpful to remind us what happened otherwise the picture would be too familiar. This time a stage finish in Lausanne, and Wout van Aert won, sprinting ahead of Tadej Pogačar and between them they’ve won four of the eight stages.
If Lausanne is home to the International Olympic Committee, the peloton seemed to adopt the Coubertin mantra of “it’s the taking part that counts” as they all rode to Lausanne together. But this was involuntary, it’s surprising that there wasn’t a bigger fight for the breakaway but just when three riders were clear there was a big crash in the peloton and this paused the chase and race. The trio were left clear but they were never going to hold out. Jumbo-Visma and BikeExchange kept the gap down and so we got an uphill dash where the field was reduced from 170 or so riders down to 26 riders on the same time on the line, a clue as to how hard the climb was. Pogačar seemed to show early on the climb before his team mates rode up in front of him, but no attack on the steepest part of the climb. Van Aert won after being caught out of position but as soon as he found an opening in the final metres he was able to ride away for the win.
The Route: 192km and into the Alps, 3,700m of vertical gain and barely a pothole or cracked road in sight. Starting in Aigle, the race heads along the Rhone valley and around the swanky shores of Lac Leman, it’s all flat until turning away from the lake for gentle climb among the vineyards that gradually drags on to the first intermediate sprint of the day.
Soon after it’s Bulle and Gruyères and the race heads into the Alps proper, the road is enclosed by tall peaks. The Col des Mosses is never steep and comes in four parts: 3.5km of climbing at 5-7%; a flat section through Etivaz ; climbing resumes up to the Col de La Lecherette at 5-6%; then it eases for the Col des Mosses itself. Then comes a quick descent on smooth roads to the ski town of Les Diablerets.
The Col de la Croix is the hardest climb today when comparing stats, thanks to the 7.6% gradient. It’s even all the way up and a chance for any pure climbers in the break to make moves or sap others in the break. Then comes a 20km descent, at times with some very fast sections.
It’s back through Aigle where locals and visitors alike can presumably bag caravan freebies twice in a day. There’s a flat valley road section for the best part of 20km.
The Pas de Morgins is a big highway of a climb, more than a ski-station access road. The slope varies a little on the way up but it’s a confusing climb, the Alpine scenery and some hairpins give it the allure of a climb to spin up in a low gear; the wide road, impeccable surface and steady, sometimes soft gradient invites riders to bend the elbows and push a bigger gear.
The Finish: a steep descent into Châtel and then back out, then a 4km drag up to the line that has its moments at 7% but rarely feels like it, it’s a big ring approach. The final kick is under the flamme rouge before the slope softens for the final 600m.
The Contenders: a breakaway day? Normally yes but this blog’s predicted this to happen in Longwy and Lausanne and been wrong twice in a row. Still the course today suits a breakaway twice over, the early phase is where a move can go clear and the later part is hardly terrain for teams to bully Tadej Pogačar (UAE), the relatively gentle slopes today reward sitting on a wheel; unless Ineos or Jumbo-Visma go radical with some high risk moves, say a long range attack from one of their GC contenders.
For the breakaway picks, there’s a subset of riders who are strong in the mountains but can put their back into turning a big gear on the not-so-steep climbs today. Think Simon Geschke (Cofidis), Bob Jungels (Ag2r Citroën), or regular stage winner Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), but anything he can do, Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe) can probably do better right now and his team mate Felix Großschartner is handy here too, Max Schachmann should be but he crashed hard. Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) should be ideal but his team are having a dire season so far. More able climbers for today could be Jakob Fuglsang and Michael Woods (Israel),
|Tadej Pogačar, Lennard Kämna
|Mollema, Jungels, Geschke, Lutsenko, Teuns,
Weather: sunny and 28°C
TV: the stage starts at 12.30pm CEST and finish is forecast for 5.45pm CEST. Tune in for the start to see the breakaway form and get a glimpse of the Alps. The Col de la Croix starts around 3.40pm, the Pas de Morgins begins around 5.00pm.
Aigle: the stage starts in Aigle (French for eagle), home of the UCI, cycling’s governing body. While many sports bodies tend to be in cities, cycling’s one is out in the sticks in between a retail park and the river Rhone, but this location means they can have their own velodrome and a BMX track rather than urban office space.
The Tour’s owners ASO and the UCI have clashed over the years but things have calmed down of late, just as they have on the front between the teams and the UCI as well. Is this stage a sign of the rapprochement? Maybe, but the main thing is the town of Aigle wanting to put itself on the map as a cycling destination. You’ll remember it was supposed to co-host the Worlds in 2020 but the pandemic ended that, now it wants to have the Tour de France. There are good rides around – you’ll see them on TV – and now the area wants to go up a gear and encourage more cycle tourism.
Food and drink: more cheese and wine? Today’s stage goes near Gruyères and it passes through Etivaz where the Etivaz cheese comes from, similar to Gruyère but only made in a small area. The race rides right past the “House of Etivaz” today, apparently it’s open 7 days a week, all year and there’s a vending machine in front in case you need some cheese when it’s closed at night. There’s wine too, the early part along the shores of Lac Léman passes the Unesco site of the Lavaux vineyards, then later on Aigle makes wine. If you’re sick of this cheese and wine combo, what else is there? Aigle turns out to be a big producer of cornichons, or pickled cucumbers… but there’s no escape because they’re an essential condiment for raclette, scrapings of melted cheese.