The race goes into the Alps with a roller coaster stage.
Moyen Colombier: a good stage, not a brilliant one, once again the Grand Colombier didn’t quite deliver the fireworks, so far it’s a better climb to ride up than race up. We got a fierce battle at the start for the breakaway and both EF and Intermarché sent numbers up front. The move never got much a lead, there was suspense whether they’d stay away for the win because UAE were chasing. Pierre Latour was up front but was dropped down the Col de la Lèbe, he’s tried everything from descent practice to hypnosis sessions and plenty else but the phobia keeps returning and even this straightforward descent was his undoing.
Quentin Pacher attacked the break on the first ramps of the Grand Colombier but he was soon caught by Harald Tejada, James Shaw and Maxim Van Gils, it looked like this trio could fight for the stage but Matej Mohorič and Michał Kwiatkowski where just a few seconds behind. Once on the lacets section of the climb Kwiatkowski made his move, catching the trio and attacking them and then the slope eased and this flatter part suited the Pole who extended his lead while behind UAE’s train was dropping plenty of riders but not eating much into Kwiatkowski’s lead. Kwiatkowski took his first win since… the Polish TT title three weeks ago but he’s had a lean spell, the Amstel in 2022, a Tour stage in 2020; in 2018 he won nine races but he’s looked in good shape and collects another prestige win.
The missing ingredient was a big GC battle. UAE had been riding all day but didn’t get much out of it; Jumbo-Visma seemed to be easing off and said this was the plan, although we’ll see if it was deliberate or not today. Anyway Adam Yates made a late move to thin the group out but Sep Kuss got him back. Then Tadej Pogačar made his move within the final 500m, to take four seconds on Vingegaard plus collect the remaining four second time bonus to now sit nine seconds behind. Ideally there’d have been more of a fight but going into the weekend with things so finely balance is mouthwatering. The big GC change was Pello Bilbao losing 25 seconds to slip down two places on GC to seventh, leapfrogged by the Yates brothers.
The Route: 151.8km and 4,200m of vertical gain. It’s uphill from the start but on gentle big ring roads to the village of Boëge where the Col de Saxel starts and this is a wide road with a regular slope and here the race lingers around the Chablais Alps, the foothills south of Lac Leman/Lake Geneva so expect helicopter shots of the scenery. If the names of the cols here aren’t familiar, they’ve been used in the past, for example Eddy Merckx stomped around here.
The descent is fast with some bends and it’s into the Col de Cou and this is the first of the hard climbs of the day with 7km at 7% with some bends, all on a regular road though and over the top it’s not straight but down but a passage across to the Col des Moises and then a fast descent with no rest until the Col du Feu, 5.8km at 7.8km. Then it’s onto some roads used last year via the Col de Jambaz and the descent to Onnion.
The Col de la Ramaz has featured in 2010 and 2016. It’s a hard climb with two steep kilometres and then a breather through a tidy village called Messy before the road winds up past Alpine meadows for five kilometres. Then comes a hairpin and the road tracks the cliff-edge before entering a tunnel. This is the steepest past of the climb and optically confusing as the tunnel gives few clues to the rising gradient. Once past the tunnel the road eases soon after and passes around a large plateau area with a more gentle gradient and it’s over to the Col de la Savolière before a fast descent with a series of regular hairpins.
The descent is mixed, some obvious sections but also a steep part with a series of hairpin bends linked by steep ramps and it’s here that they’ve been doing roadworks to try and keep the road open despite perpetual rockfalls. Once through the road opens up and joins the main road down from Les Gets to Taninges. Then comes 20km of gentle descent and the undulating valley road to Samoëns and the foot of the Joux Plane. This is a long stretch to condemn any lone moves over the Ramaz.
The Finish: if only it was as easy as the profile. The Joux Plane is unusual for the way it snakes up through the meadows, it’s steep yet without the usual visual clues of vertical gain such as a steep drop off on one side or a snowy peak on the other. Daniel Friebe recounts in Mountain High that Chris Horner said it was “like 20% all the way up” while Dutch climbing legend Peter Winnen wrote it was “the nastiest climb in the Alps”. It’s not 20% and there’s worse in the Alps but it’s the way the Joux Plane feels that confounds, a steep start, a nasty middle section and upper section that goes on for too long. It’s the opposite of an engineered grade, the road changes pitch more often than Miles Davis in his experimental phase.
As locals and pedants know the Col de Joux Plane is where the hard climbing finishes but there’s a passage past the lake and then a long false flat section to the Col de Ran Folly. It’s here the descent begins. It’s fast with tight bends and often few sight lines, the kind of descent where local knowledge or elephantine memory of each bend counts as it’s steep and irregular but it’s not crazy dangerous, more that if you can set up one bend right and get the line ok for the next then you’re taking time. They arrive in Morzine and there’s a final kilometre on the flat on a waving road before the finish line arrives.
The Contenders: breakaway or GC contenders? Let’s go with the breakaway because UAE and Jumbo-Visma are challenging each other but neither of their leaders is making big moves, nor do they have to yet either. Plus the breakaway stayed away yesterday when many thought it wouldn’t. Lidl-Trek tandem Mathias Skjelmose and Giulio Ciccone have the talent but they’ve had mishaps this month. Ben O’Connor (Ag2r Citroën) is down on GC but the form of last month’s Dauphiné feels distant, we’ll see if Felix Gall can rustle up his Tour de Suisse form. EF’s Neilson Powless and Esteban Chaves both have a good chance, Powless will like all the climbs with the cols de Cou and Feu generously given 1st category status.
Locals picks are Aurélien Paret-Peintre (Ag2r Citroën) and Victor Lafay (Cofidis) who a year ago would be niche selections but APP has a Giro stage win and Lafay’s got a win in the Tour already, both were arch rivals in local races a few years ago.
Still Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) and Tadej Pogačar (UAE) are safe picks. Vingegaard might be the better descender for the finish into Morzine, Pogačar might have more punch to get over the top of the climb and to win a sprint between the pair. If they don’t put daylight into their rivals Tom Pidcock (Ineos) could be one to watch.
|Vingegaard, Pogačar, Pidcock
|Woods, Chaves, Martin, TJH, Lafay, Guerreiro, Skjelmose, Ciccone
Weather: sunny and 34°C at the foot the Joux Plane, it just be the local cheese that liquefies, the tarmac can start to melt too
TV: KM0 is at 1.20pm and the finish is forecast for 5.30pm CEST. Tune in for the whole thing to see the breakaway try to get away.