After yesterday’s frantic stage, a flat route along a valley with scenic views of a meandering river and some châteaux-vision today would do nicely to calm the nerves. But no, another big day in the Alps awaits that’ll have viewers perched on the edge of their sofas like cyclists on the nose of the saddle, all anticipating a chink of daylight between Vingegaard and Pogačar. The duel continues.
More-zine: 57 hours of racing and 10 seconds separates first and second place, there’s also one second between third and fourth place.
The stage got off to a bad start with a giant crash at the start, an unexpected band of rain caused a downpour and in the words of Philippe Court, journalist for local paper Le Dauphiné, there was “mousse” on the road, an emulsion of rain, oil and dust. The peloton looked like a bowling pins that had received a strike. Five riders would abandon there or later because of injuries sustained while the race was halted for the best part of half an hour to tend to the injured riders and get ambulances back into the race convoy. It wasn’t obvious at the time but third overall Jai Hindley was among those felled.
Once the race resumed at warp speed up the Col de Saxel, riders tried to get away but the peloton was moving fast. On the descent Romain Bardet and James Shaw crashed and were out of the race, a pity twice over with Bardet missing out on a return to the roads today that saw his 2016 masterpiece while Shaw has been a quiet revelation.
The Col de Cou saw moves form but if the breakaway had all the right climbers in it, a who’s-who of dropped riders able to take a stage win or hunt the polka-dot jersey, Jumbo-Visma wouldn’t give them any space. The previous day UAE had worked all day but didn’t have much to show for it but at least the breakaway stayed clear on the Grand Colombier. Here the Dutch team was like a combine harvester ready to harvest all that stood in front of it, threshing the breakaway and the only things the escapees would get is fatigue, except for Giulio Ciccone who collected beaucoup points for the mountains competition but only an option on the jersey as Vingegaard leads the competition.
Onto the Col de Ramaz and riders started to pop, notably Tom Pidcock, 8th overall and he’d slide to 11th and settle any Ineos leadership questions, at least in terms of resources with the Briton presumably disappointed but learning and perhaps liberated for the coming days too. Down the descent and Simon Yates got caught out by a split in the group and had to chase on the valley road up to Samoëns and he’d pay for the effort, losing three minutes and a place on GC.
The final climb of the Joux-Plane saw Pogačar and Vingegaard conduc their rivalry by proxy at first. After Jumbo had been working all day, Rafał Majka came to the fore at the start of the Joux-Plane, his pace spat out Wout van Aert but the Belgian came back and did a revenge pull which in turn cracked Majka. By now it was just Sep Kuss, Jonas Vingegaard, Tadej Pogačar, Adam Yates, Carlos Rodriguez, Jai Hindley, and the surprise of the day Felix Gall. Gall and Hindley would soon pop, then Rodriguez too as Kuss got to work and for a change he was pulling all sorts of faces, his normal botox-rictus was gone.
Pogačar made his move first. With a nod of the head he got Adam Yates to take over the pace with four kilometres to go to the pass, then 500m later he made his move. Vingegaard’s been working on his acceleration but couldn’t or wouldn’t match this and instead kept the Slovenian in sight at five 5 seconds. Pogačar started to look back more and more and with each turn of the neck he seemed to surrender a second, he knew he wasn’t getting away and two kilometres later Vingegaard was back. Having reunited the pair started marking each other. This wasn’t quite a track stand but Carlos Rodriguez was over a minute down but the Spaniard had halved the gap.
The day’s controversy came when Pogačar tried again attack Vingegaard as they approached the Col de la Joux-Plane arch with its 8-5-2 second time bonuses. Launching with 500m to go he was blocked by a TV and press photo motorbike in his path and had to brake and both motos are off the race for a day, an awkward event for France TV and L’Equipe alike but these are pros who ought to have known better, yet weren’t there because they’re dumb either. It left our tandem marking each other as Rodriguez grew closer and at the last moment Vingegaard surged for the time bonus and took it ahead of Pogačar. It could have been the other way around without the moto incident: most likely but not certain, Pogačar launched so far from the arch that Vingegaard could have had time to respond.
We can extend the “what-if” scenario such that if Pogačar had got the Joux-Plane time bonus he might have pressed on for the stage win and its ten second bonus, and with these narrowed Vingegaard’s overall lead to just two seconds. But this relies on a few assumptions, namely being aware that Rodriguez was closing in, as his real interest was in watching Vingegaard; and if he knew Rodriguez was coming then he’d probably have felt comfortable about beating him in the flat finish in Morzine. Whatever conditional assumptions we make, the most likely outcome is the time gaps would be microscopic like they are now.
With impeccable timing at the very last moment of the climb Carlos Rodriguez made his way back to the two leaders and had Yates in two. Just as they rounded the final bend before the road plunged, Rodriguez had enough momentum to get to the front and as he came past Vingegaard drifted left, checking Yates accidentally. This left Rodriguez in front with a few metres and he started to pull away. UAE had numbers but Yates was stuck at the back. Bend by bend Rodriguez was able to get clear on the descent to Morzine and stay away for the stage win, a feat of perseverance and then nerves. All the reports say he’s going to Movistar but Dave Brailsford is at the Tour and you’d think the British team would be making Rodriguez offers he couldn’t refuse.
Moto mayhem aside, the bigger questions are what’s coming next? Pogačar can get the jump on Vingegaard but so far he can’t get away, so things are so close that the time it took you to read this sentence is longer than the gap between them. Jumbo-Visma shredded the race to the annoyance of several rival squads but all they got was a one second gain to show for it (ok, Vingegaard has the polka dot jersey now too, tied on points with Powless), at least as much as we can tell for today will reveal fatigue in others. But of course the fatigue applies to the Dutch team even more who rode aggressively yesterday and now have to try and hold on today.
The Route: 179km and 4,500m of vertical gain. Squint at the profile and you’ll see the climb at the start, it’s the Col de Châtillon. It’s certainly uphill and the first of several unmarked climbs. It’s a big main road and after a quick descent the valley floor across to the also unmarked Col des Fleuries, 8km at an even 5% to help the breakaway get away and then it’s across some lumpy roads to Lake Annecy.
The Col de la Forclaz de Montmin’s featured before and not what the stats say. In total 7.7km with a gentler start and some flat sections along the way but this is just storing up trouble for later and the final 3km are a steep 11% to the pass. It’s followed by a fast descent down to the valley floor and only a few kilometres before the next climb begins, the Col du Marais via the Col des Esserieux, unmarked but 10km at 4.5% and because of a descent midway there’s plenty of 6-7% as well.
A quick descent and then the Col de la Croix-Fry chased by the Col des Aravis. The Croix-Fry starts gentle which means that the 11.3km at 7% has a steeper middle section and it’s arguably the hardest climb of the day. A quick descent and then a right turn for the Aravis, 4.4km at 5.8% and as the stats say it’s not a steep climb. There’s a long descent into Flumet which includes some uphill sections towards the end and then it’s on a big main road to Megève and beyond.
The Finish: a ski station summit finish but with a twist. It’s the same finish as the Tour used in 2016 and the Dauphiné the year before, namely Le Bettex via Les Amerands. Instead of the main road via St. Gervais the race turns right up the mountain side via the hamlet of Les Amerands and there’s almost 3km at 12% and the hardest thing is the irregularity of the road, it rears up and levels out then it kicks up again, all while twisting in places too and there are ramps at 15%. Once the steep part is over there’s a descent and 8km to go, all on a bigger road designed to help ferry bus loads of skiers up to the slopes.
The Contenders: we thought the breakaway would stay away yesterday, will it make it today? Jumbo-Visma could try again but after yesterday’s work-reward ratio they might not try to shred the race, but UAE could decide to test them instead. The course helps too, some sections where a breakaway can get away, they couldn’t outclimb the peloton by much yesterday but a determined group can share the work to pull away. Still they’ll need to take beaucoup time by the start of the Croix-Fry.
|Ciccone, Skjelmose, Pogačar
|Vingegaard, Woods, Jorgenson, A Yates, Powless, Pinot
Weather: sunny and cooler, 26°C.
TV: KM0 is at 1.20pm and the finish is forecast for 6.15pm CEST. Tune in from the start.