A stage in the Pyrenees that promises plenty of action with a fight to get in the breakaway and the steep upper slopes of the Marie Blanque towards the end.
No go to Nogaro: having raised the prospect of protests stopping the race a couple of days ago, the riders conspired not to attack instead. It all made perfect sense through, a stage reserved for the sprinters, many teams have house sprinters, plus the added factor that teams don’t owe their invitation to the race organisers anyway so even if they don’t supply the “animation” they’ll be invited next year. But it wasn’t a day when nobody attacked, Benoît Cosnefroy and Anthony Delaplace had a go to the relief of the TV directors and commentators and enough for Cosnefroy to get the day’s consolatory combativity prize, not much for a rider who can be world class on his day.
The inevitable sprint came and another sprint win by Jasper Philipsen, again towed into place by Mathieu van der Poel although phrasing it like this makes it sound like the Belgian was in a Sedan chair, he had to sprint just to hold his colleague’s wheel before launching again and these two efforts had their price as he faded with Caleb Ewan closing in. Van der Poel was impressive for his lead out, less so for elbow barging Biniam Girmay aside and he was relegated for this.
A big publicity coup for Alpecin in France, their sales must be set to soar right? Only it’s not available in France except online outlets, the usual retailers of shampoo like supermarkets and pharmacies don’t stock it.
The Route: starting in Pau 162km there’s 3600m of vertical gain on the menu. It’s a copycat stage, almost identical to 2020’s Stage 9 except that time the main difference was the Soudet was climbed via another road.
There’s a dash south-west to the intermediate sprint after 40km, it could be that the breakaway doesn’t go until after if the sprinters’ teams want to have a go at this although Philipsen already has twice the points haul of Ewan in second.
There are several ways to the Col de Soudet and the nearby La Pierre Saint Martin ski area, this is from the west and an irregular road but with no surprises, lots of long sections.
The descent is fast and without any nasty surprises and there’s the intermediate sprint of the day. The Col d’Ichère is a nice even ride on the way up, the descent down is rougher and here there’s less than 10km to the final climb, a last chance to eat and drink.
The Marie-Blanque is an unusual climb, 7.7km at 8.6% but with three kilometres at 12-13%, look closely and you can probably see marks on the left of the road where surprised cyclos click-clack their way up in cleated shoes. It’s not just amateurs, Bernard Thevenet had won the Tour in 1977 but climbed off his bike on these slopes in 1978 and Bradley Wiggins once said “this is just the mountain I don’t cope with very easily, it seems to defy analysis”. The steep section is for the most part a long straight ramp, there’s no hairpin to exploit, no flat section to recover for a moment. There’s the 8-5-2 seconds time bonus at the top and a flat plateau section across the top before a fast descent with some tight bends.
The Finish: once off the mountain pass there’s a right turn and the riders head up the valley, there’s a slight gradient of 1-2% in places but otherwise it’s flat.
The Contenders: a good day for a breakaway, UAE might want to put Jonas Vingegaard under pressure but they don’t have to defend Adam Yates in yellow. Neilson Powless (EF Education-Easypost) is an obvious contender and if he’s in the break he can aim for the points on the Soudet and Marie Blanque without using up too much energy. The hard bit now is narrowing down all the other names so many will want to have a go today which means a rider could try but miss the right move, when they rode this stage in 2020 the move didn’t go until the start of the Soudet. George Zimmerman (Intermarché) took a Dauphiné stage. Patrick Konrad (Bora-Hansgrohe) is a versatile rider with a Pyrenean stage to his name already but it’s his only race win outside of Austria. Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar) can handle sharp climbs and packs a decent sprint from a group. Felix Gall (Ag2r Citroën) is climbing well and doesn’t have to shepherd Ben O’Connor.
A GC contender? There’s perhaps more chance of a battle tomorrow but if the break can’t get away and build up a lead then Tadej Pogačar (UAE) is the obvious pick, he won in Laruns back in 2020 with the same finish, the day Marc Hirschi had been away solo for much of the stage. Tom Pidcock and Pello Bilbao have a chance too, both quick finishers and handy for the descent.
|Pogačar, Powless, Jorgenson
|Gall, Zimmerman, Van Gils, Pidcock
Weather: sunshine and clouds, 22°C in the valleys with an increasing chance of rain for the finish.
TV: KMO is at 1.25pm and the finish is forecast for 5.20pm CEST. Tune in at the start for the action if you can.