Tour de France Stage 5 Preview

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.

51 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 5 Preview”

  1. I rode end to end across the Pyrenees some years ago (back when 39×26 seemed a low gear even with panniers on) and the Marie Blanque still sticks in my mind as a swine of a climb. I think because the top is so straight: you just go up steeply but with nothing to focus on – the road just seems to rise interminably in front. Definitely harder than a glance at the raw numbers might suggest.

    • At the right speed, the trajectory of this climb will help you escape the earth’s orbit, but at the wrong speed (and on a bicycle) it has the habit of turning your knees into a pestle and mortar for tendons and cartilage.

      You sit on the bike suffering at 10% for a km, only to be surprised that the next km couldn’t be worse, but it is. You sit there at 11% and think the next km has to ease off. It doesnt. It rises to 12%. You think to yourself it’s be a weird mountain road if the next km is 13% and that it has level out. But it is a weird mountain and it only ramps up.

      It’s a mountain that leaves a mark on you. When cycling up I spotted some cyclists shades jettisoned at the side of the road. Good ones. I wasn’t going to stop to pick them up. I might not get started again. Imagine my astonishment when the owner buzzed down picked them up and disappeared up the road – who does that? Who can do that?

    • It’s an odd climb with the long ramp, the gradient just gets steeper and steeper until suddenly it’s 12-14% with little to aim for. Visit in the summer and if people are grinding and grunting over the Tourmalet or Soulor, many are reduced to walking up this climb, click-clacking in their cleats like some slow tap dance.

    • I did roughly the same ride with some friends in around 2014 (so I think I had 34/28 gearing!). One of our number ground to a halt on one of the steeper sections of the Marie Blanque and promptly toppled over at the side of the road. A couple of us went back to help him get going again (which too a few goes) and then had to get going again ourselves (which involved a bit if zig-zagging across the gradient). It is a pretty brutish climb and I guess it is ‘only’ a Cat 1 climb because it’s not that long (only feels it!)

    • I climbed the Marie Blanc for the 1st time during the 2009 L’Etape amateur. It was the queen stage that yr I guess. Back then I was 30-something, lighter and trained and could at least pedal the bike up the hill because right after I passed it got packed and riders had to walk (I suspect most were alleviated lol).

      The “race” that year was first the Marie Blanc then the Soulor then the finish at the top of the Tourmalet. My rear tire blew up from the rim (old carbon rims…) at 60kmph on the descent of the Marie Blanc right before a sharp U-turn and I had to ride the whole thing in ripped, bloody shorts and jersey. Still have the scars on my knuckles.

      But it was great, I loved the climbs and I always felt better on the Pyrenees than in the Alps. And yes, 39×26 definitely was low, but we were young. It feels much harder today on my still-10 speed and my 53 yo legs lol.

      • Great memories, lest the blown tyre and a crash. I was among the walking crowd, as all came to a grinding halt 4 km from the top. I think this Etap was in 2010, NOT 2009 though.

  2. Yesterday’s wide roads near finish did not prevent accidents, it was actually painful to watch going so many men down. Too many curves? Well, even in the finishing straight…

    • A bit hard to blame the parcours this time. The riders seem to complain no matter how technical the finish. They’ve only got themselves to blame for crashing on a wide, sweeping motor circuit.

    • As far as I am concerned, I think that both yesterday and the day before the route has not been sufficiently analyzed in term of safety. A slight curve in the las 300m is looking for problems. Gouvenou says «  it was safe, proof of it is that no riders fell ». Well, well,… not sure the occurence of incidents in a road used one day is a very valid argument.
      The circuit yesterday was also very dangerous, with cumbersome curves. This is ok for motor racing, but for road cycling in one of the sole sprint of the tour de France, I am not sure. Riders looked very desoriented by the apexes of these curves.
      Last but not least, there is some very aggressive ride nowadays. This should be looked at. If somebody falls after mvdp manoeuvre I am not sure his sanction would have been the same (remember sagan some years ago). Again, the criterion to evaluate the danger seems to be the incident, which really puzzles me.

      • The change of scale can confuse the riders (and viewers too). The small climb out of the town of Nogaro helped line out the riders and they entered the circuit almost one by one in a line but suddenly everyone could use the whole road. It seemed hectic but not dangerous, like motor racing they could have added the artifice of a chicane to line things out but this would have created a danger in itself.

      • When the stakes are high, riders will test the limits which means crashing. The parcours can’t be blamed. Watching the first few riders through the turns (Coquard and his leadout man) was a thing of beauty. Only 15 places back did the bunch struggle to share the road. That’s a result of a relatively benign leadout — one man can’t keep up the pace for 1.5km. I don’t know why alpecin and deuceninck couldn’t collectively boss the peloton, but the days of a highroad caravan seem to be behind us.

        At least the crashes didn’t lead to serious injuries, as far as I’m aware, as happen with road furniture or badly designed barriers.

        Perhaps sprinters need to start wearing pads a la kierin, although I fear that would just encourage them to push their limits all the harder.

      • We didn’t see anything unsafe yesterday though, although Van der Poel’s move was sanctioned.

        It is notable that there’s rightly a lot of concern about descending and crashes, but sprints are celebrated for the speed and risk.

    • I’ve been racing bikes for most of my life and been involved in many high-speed sprints, admittedly not at Tour de France level, but fast and furious enough to find myself puzzled about how little I understand compared to others about what makes for a safe finish and what doesn’t. Of course, some things are obvious, like road furniture, downhill or narrowing finishing straits, etc., but beyond the obvious stuff I would not know what to account for if I was to analyze a finish for safety. When people seem to say that even a motor racing circuit is inherently dangerous, I even start to doubt the things I thought I was sure about before. I would say first that its a complex interplay between roads and racing and second that coincidence plays a lead role.

  3. S Yates if the break doesn’t stay away. He appears to be climbing well and is good on a technical descent (recall him catching Bernal coming down the Iseran in 2019 before the stage was annulled). And after stage 1 he maybe owes Jayco a stage. The problem is that Jayco doesn’t have a team for GC support.

    • If there’s no breakaway, he’ll surely be going for the 8 second time bonus to put him in yellow on the road (and maybe UAE at least would let him).

      • I would imagine Pogacar is keen to take all the time bonuses he can at this time. The question mark in my mind is how he will fare in the third week considering his hindered preparation – if he feels strong right now, there’s no reason for him to wait.

  4. I think on Marie Blanque Pogačar outsprints Vingegaard, then there’s the look, the shake of the head and a small group forms to contest the sprint

    • Well, accurate if you reverse the protagonists and subtract the look – Jonas is a more humble-focussed sort. Either Pog’s form is suffering from sub-optimal prep or UAE is playing a game of ever-expanding chicken(s) with both Vingegaard and Hindley to chase… will he even make the podium?

  5. I’m not sure you are doing Col de Soudet justice in your review I climbed it yesterday and it was extremely hard in sections,there are 4/5k over k 12.5%. But maybe it was just me I’m not exactly skinny or fully fit.

    • I always remember the Yorkshire grand départ and not having reconned the roads, readers emailed in tips with talk of the peloton being blown to pieces on the steep climbs. Come the day and Marcel Kittel was riding up one of these fearsome climbs with his hands off the bars as he reached into his musette for lunch. The riders do flatten the landscape

      I let the graphic for the Soudet do the talking. Being the first climb but also mid-stage it won’t be so hard for the peloton, the steep sections you mention can be broken down and they’re often visible long ramps but it’s not like 4-5% always over 10%, there are moments at 10% but not always.

  6. Any comments on the supposed disagreements between Van Aert and Vingegaard at TJV? Apparently the DS has come out to say that there aren’t any, which is always a sign that there are.

    • Is there any evidence or report that there actually is some tension though? From the outside it looks like this all started from WvA’s cry of frustration at the finish line on stage 2, and pundits weighing in to tell the “what if” scenario where the group rode harder behind Lafay, but i saw nothing to suggest he was angry at his own team?

      • The evidence is in the DS saying there are no problems. In my opinion, Vingegaard and TJV could have spent a fraction of the energy to help Van Aert win and keep him happy. It was a small investment to make.

      • There are always stories and rumours at the Tour however there are a number of reports of a lot of shouting going on inside the JV bus post stage, so it seems likely to have happened. At the same time raised emotions in team dressing rooms are hardly an unknown in sport and are often a good thing as it helps “clear the air” and actually removes tensions

    • Exactly
      I’m pretty sure w’ll not see Van Aert work (for Vingegaard) in the same way as last year. He was stabbed in the back by Vingegaard in San Sebastian and didn’t get any help of teammates in the final of the two sprintstages.
      I’m convinced the wife of Van Aert will have early contractions sooner than expected….. as a result of which Van Aert will leave the Tour earlier than expected.

      • I don’t think you can say he didn’t get any help for the sprint stages. Laporte placed Van Aert perfectly on stage 3 and yesterday the whole team lead into the circuit, but Van Aert got pushed back, several times. Laporte was once again constantly looking for him in the final km.

      • WvA has a selective memory. Five stages prior to Donostia / San Sébastien, ie at the third last stage of TdF 2022, he was delighted when he was handed the win in the ultimate ITT at Rochamadour by JV.

    • Some of this is played up by the Flemish media as “their” man Van Aert’s not winning. But of course the team has to portray an image of harmony, especially as they’re trying to sign a new sponsor.

      I can see why Vingegaard was leading out Laporte in the Dauphiné but in the Tour the stakes are bigger but most of this is people trying to look for splits, it’s when riders start clashing in public then we know there’s a problem 😉

      One thing I’d like to do a post about shortly is asking “where’s the beef?” as there are very few clashes and rivalries these days, when the old days seemed to have all sorts of splits, duels and rivalries that went far beyond events on the road, some like Anquetil and Poulidor or Coppi and Bartali split households, a dividing line in the country at times.

  7. Stage 4 showed ASO and its course director is really bored with cycling. This could have been a really great transition stage along Pyrenean foothill slopes. Ideal breakaway terrain. Maybe there was a thought that crosswinds could have defined this stage, but the finish on a circuit for karts and street motos was just laughable.
    Wide sweeping turns on nicely oiled and rubbered super-smooth tarmac is bound to bring crashes. Taking top sprinters and their leadouts into such a playground could only end badly. Never again, please.

    Having Adam Yates in yellow suits Pogacar just fine as he rides himself back in. Today could be his first test at full effort.

    • I think it was deliberate, you have a flat stage for the sprinters with not much happening – yesterday’s TV section just listed the race time, it didn’t suggest tuning in for anything – but it means the peloton is rested for today and so we get fireworks.

    • ASO should hire you to design 2025’s route. I guess it’s just the way it is these daze – everyone in front of a keyboard’s a f__king expert and everyone else’ is an idiot.

  8. Interesting, this is not a bunch of wild cards playing to keep the TV director happy, good chance Jai Hindley might be in yellow at eop and might not be so easy to dislodge him

  9. Wonder if anyone saw the bump between Alpecin (I believe it was Jasper) and Fabio that caused Fabio’s crash? I’m a long-time reader but rarely end up watching the race and so I have no idea how to interpret the sprints, but it feels like Alpecin has made both of the sprints more dangerous for the other riders. To my unexperienced eyes, the sketchy moments are starting to add up: the Jasper bump that seemed to contribute to the Fabio crash, MvdP getting relegated on this stage for pushing Girmay, and the Alpecin train move back and forth across the road on stage three. I wonder if the more experienced viewers see the same pattern? Or am I off-base?

    • It’s always difficult to attribute blame, I don’t like the finger-pointing unless you can see something deliberate, or even careless/negligent but I think this time it was just Jakobsen under pressure and overlapping wheels.

      • Yeah, shouldn’t have said “caused the crash.” I just can’t quite tell if this is typical for the strongest lead out train with the strongest sprinter, or if Alpecin has been a bit more aggressive than we typically see.

        • No worries and I didn’t mean you assigning blame, more a general trend online to find someone to pin things on so I try to step away from this. Could get more clicks from the outrage factor but not bothered by all that.

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