A last hurrah in the mountains with a short and lively stage in the Vosges. There’s a prestigious stage win, places in the top-10 in play, the polka dot jersey is still up for grabs with Felix Gall able to challenge Giulio Ciccone, unless Jonas Vingegaard runs away with everything.
A bout de souffle: end to end action, this was a classic stage and the only thing missing was action on the GC but in the moment that didn’t seem to matter, there was never a lull. At one point Adam Yates was caught out on the wrong end of a split, later Jonas Vingegaard tried to play le patron and calm things down but got ignored.
A break of eight riders eventually got away, the proverbial elastic had snapped. Then Israel, EF and Uno-X started chasing and if they’d missed the move this looked like a dreaded punishment chase but up ahead the riders were flagging, their heads bobbing, the legs chopping at the pedals, so much so that Nils Politt broke his chain and was out of the front group and this seemed to tip the balance, the gap fell to thirty seconds. After the intermediate sprint a group that had contested the points continued and bridged across and we had 33 riders in the lead.
Victor Campenaerts and Simon Clarke slipped up the road and the pair got a minute’s lead but then Clarke got cramp and Campenaerts was left by himself and slowing. On the day’s final climb Kasper Asgreen launched and Ben O’Connor and Matej Mohorič went with him, they caught and passed Campenaerts and had a good lead. Behind the group was chasing hard but also with some hesitancy, the presence of Van der Poel and Jasper Philipsen weighing on them as to work hard could be to gift them the win, while there was Mads Pedersen and Christophe Laporte too. Laporte tried to get across and Van der Poel came with him but it was to close him down and with hindsight this probably denied Alpecin-Deceuninck an option on a fifth stage win as if the Dutchman got across he had a shot at the win, and could sight tight for the sake of Philipsen.
O’Connor tried a long sprint but he doesn’t have the jump, third place seemed inevitable. Asgreen chased with Mohorič on his wheel and the Slovenian drew level and the pair threw their bikes at the line. In a stage full of action and suspense this continued once the riders had crossed the line with tension to identify the winner and it was Mohorič. If you haven’t heard his post stage interview, you probably should.
This was a stage of exceptional quality and while it still feels too soon to judge already it’d be something to look forward to if Eurosport-GCN could announce that one wet, wintry evening in November they’ll replay the whole stage from start to finish again.
The Route: 133.5km and 3,450m of vertical gain. A flat start out of Belfort to Giromagny and then the Ballon d’Alsace, 11.5km at 5.2% and steady for the most part with just a steeper middle section and similar descent.
The Croix-des-Monats is a very narrow road but they pick up a big road for the descent, again for the Col de Grosse Pierre, another small road that winds up before a joining bigger road but this time no real descent, just the passage across to the Col de la Schlucht. The descent off the Schlucht is long and fast, and like much of the Tour route, has been freshly resurfaced. The slope eases on the approach to Munster and there’s a small flat section out of town, a chance to move up, to eat and drink.
The Col du Petit Ballon is the odd-one-out of the big climbs in the Vosges, a forest backroad compared to the big wide boulevards. It’s 8% for 9km but because there’s a flat section that the profile doesn’t show most of the time the slope is 9% or more and opens with some 10-14% ramps which will eject some tired riders at the start. It gets easier towards the top and then comes the descent, there are warning signs for cyclists but the danger’s more in the bumpy road surface, keep both hands on the bars and it’s ok.
The Finish: the Col de Platzerwasel is as it looks on the profile, it starts straight out from the descent and climbs with alternating sections of 9% and 6%. It’s all on a wide road with gentle bends and it rolls by fast. Over the top and the climbing isn’t finished, there’s a kicker to come. The final three kilometres are flat and lead to Le Markstein, the tiny ski station.
The Contenders: Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) and Tadej Pogačar (UAE) are obvious picks, if the Slovenian has recovered from the Alps then his sprint is suited to the flat road in Le Markstein but of course Vingegaard can pre-empt this and launch before and while his team have dominated the race, they’ve only had one stage win so far.
Can the breakaway make it? It’s a short stage so there’s not much room to build up a lead and the two final climbs suit a chase too. Still plenty of riders are going to try and some in the top-10 overall have room to move. The likes of Simon Yates (Jayco-Al Ula) and David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) have skills for sprint in a small group.
Giulio Ciccone (Lidl-Trek) can win the stage but for him the Petit Ballon could be his finish line. The second category climbs offer 5-3-2-1 points, the first category climbs 10-8-6-4-2-1 points and Ciccone is six points ahead of Gall and seven ahead of Vingegaard. Still he’s quick for a sprint in a small group. Ineos have it hard to get Carlos Rodriguez on the podium but we’ll see if they can spare Michał Kwiatkowski for the breakaway, if he can manage the Grand Colombier he could be ok today.
Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) is the local rider and of course he’s a contender but his form’s good, not scintillating. It’s a chance to say adieu to the roadside fans, at least until he joins them and their BBQs next year so expect banners and signs galore.
|Yates², Gaudu, Gall, Bilbao, Kuss, THJ, Kwiatkowski|
Weather: sunny but not hot, 22°C and lower altitudes and cooler high up.
TV: KM0 is at 1.45pm and the finish is forecast for 5.00pm CEST. Don’t miss a pedal stroke as it’s the last day of non-stop action in this Tour.