Tour de France Stage 9 Preview

The gravel stage with 14 off-road sectors spaced throughout the course. There are two races today, one to win the stage and the other to avoid losing time.

Colombey-les-deux-étapes: the stage started with a bang as EF’s Stefan Bissegger and Neilson Powless attacked out of the peloton. You could tell they were going to move, poised at the front and wearing the team’s TT-style helmets. The indefatigable Jonas Abrahamsen made it across but nobody else could, he’s been a star of the first week.

It was almost too much too soon but were the team using this as a decoy move to tire the field so that Ben Healy could attack? Alberto Bettiol did try to launch the Irishman but it came to nothing. It was like watching a heist movie where the robbers to burst into the bank, only to turn on their heels and slip out. The EF pair sat up to leave Abrahamsen alone for the day, but at least they tried on a day when the rest of the peloton sat tight.

After a 150km interlude it came down to a bunch sprint. Cofidis hit the front but the front hit them back, Bryan Coquard stalled just as the slope began to rise. Biniam Girmay came around him and Jasper Philipsen pulled level with the Eritrean but in the final moments Girmay pulled clear, his second stage win. Once again Philipsen was close and Arnaud De Lie strong but he can’t find a way through.

Not to labour the point but Girmay is more than a sprinter and can sustain uphill efforts like this when others cannot. One of his rivals has been Mads Pedersen but the Dane is out of the race. It leaves Girmay well clear the points competition, 216 to 128 for Philipsen.

The Route: 199km and a rare loop, the start and finish in the same town. 33km are off road gravel sectors, often amid the vines. Gravel comes in many different forms but remember some of these roads were used in the inaugural Le Tour Femmes in 2022. Marlen Reusser won the stage and the only GC rider who lost time was Mavi Garcia, but not undone by the stones but felled by her team car. The gravel is not fierce but there’s the “fear of fear” effect where teams stressed about something going wrong fight for position which adds to the pressure and so on.

The early sections are hilly, tackling some tough ridges and contribute to the day’s total of 2,000m. They are counted down in reverse order and of the 14 sectors 12,11 and 10 are the most severe with plenty of double-digit gradients and wall-like ramps. Exciting, sure but these finish with 80km to go. Comparisons with Paris-Roubaix are probably excessive but one similarity should be the stress to get into position for each sector, the battle can be on the approach rather than the gravel itself. The sections keep coming but the latter ones are flat and the final one finishes with just 6.5km to go.

The Finish: flat and big boulevards.

The Contenders: wide open to many but this should have the feel of a spring classic. Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) is a suitable pick, his top speed might not be enough right now but give him a tougher stage and it might work; of course if not then it could be time for Mathieu van der Poel who has cut a discreet figure so far but has had today’s stage in mind for a long time. Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty) and Arnaud De Lie (Lotto-Dstny) are picks too but both would like an uphill finish.

There’s a long list of contenders. Tadej Pogačar (UAE) makes the list but if there is a sprint from a group some names are quicker but as dynamic and versatile as he can be, can he get an advantage of his GC riders and can his team deliver. Wout van Aert (Visma-LAB) ought to be a pick but what if he is a sherpa for the day for Jonas Vingegaard? Matej Mohoric (Bahrain) as the stealth pick, Oier Lazkano (Movistar) is looking in great form and Frank van den Broek (DSM) is a name to mull over but he might have to be solo to win.

MvdP, Philipsen, De Lie
Girmay, Van Gils, Mohorič, Madouas, Pogačar, WvA, Bettiol

Weather: 22°C and mostly cloudy, a 15km/h breeze from the south. Damp gravel sections from previous rain.

TV: KM0 is at 1.35pm CEST and the finish is forecast for 6.00pm CEST. The start should be hectic with a battle to get in break and with the GC teams racing for position.

Postcard from Troyes
Troyes + cycling = the Simon family. There are seven or nine Simon siblings depending on which newspapers you read. What’s certain is that five of them were boys and four became professional cyclists.

Pascal Simon was the oldest, born in 1956 and he had a solid career as a pro, taking a stage of the Tour de France in 1983 in the Pyrenees and with it the yellow jersey. With Bernard Hinault not racing Simon had a good option on the overall win with 10 days to go and a lead of four minutes on Laurent Fignon. The next day was a transition stage out of the Pyrenees and at KM46 there was an innocuous crash in the bunch but it included Simon and he fractured his shoulder. He almost got in an ambulance there and then. He tried to defend his overall lead in but the agony was overwhelming and he could not pull on the handlebars. Laurent Fignon took back three minutes in the 15km Puy-de-Dôme time trial. Simon was forced to quit the race two days later on the stage to Alpe d’Huez. “I think I could have kept it but destiny decided otherwise” he told local newspaper L’Est Eclair.

Régis Simon was the next brother, born in 1958 and he won a stage of the Tour de France too. Jérôme Simon was born in 1960 and he too would win a stage, and later became one of Greg Lemond’s domestiques.

Embed from Getty Images

François Simon was born in 1968 and he did not win a stage. Instead he did wear yellow and finished sixth overall in 2001.

The cycling family does not stop there because Robert Millar (now Philippa York) married a Simon sister and become their brother in law. The fifth brother was Stéphane who also got into cycling but was just a good amateur…

…and this brings us to another Troyes cycling connection. It’s not a big town but it has two rival cycling clubs: UV Aube and UVCA Troyes. Each has helped send many riders into the pro ranks. One of them, pictured in his UVCA kit, returns with the Tour de France today. Can you work out who it is?

51 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 9 Preview”

  1. I have to say I’m thrilled to see Girmay winning. I’d wondered/worried that he was a flash in the pan. He’s such an exciting rider in the last km…plus he’s so clearly a good egg. Glad to see he doesn’t have to pop champagne any longer on the podium.

    one typo: i think you mean Girmay is ahead of Philipsen in the points competition, not Pedersen…

    • Indeed! Girmay has suffered a few serious crashes after his breakout spring which held him back a bit. As a matter of fact I think he crashed together with WvA in DDV didn’t he? And again in the Giro….

      Just for the anecdote, I have a Ghanese colleague who likes sports, football mostly, but knows jack all about cycling. This week he came to me ‘hey I heard an Eritrean guy won a stage in the tour’ and then we chatted away all our lunch break about le tour and bicycle races.

      Also the rewards for the team are so well deserved, from being the laughing stock to top contender for one of cycling’s most recognizable prizes without ever tainting their soul.

  2. Rules of the stage: in an ITT in a stage race, the TT world champion is required to wear the stripes. Will Mohoric be wearing the stripes and MVDP sporting the gray denim? I suppose this will be a first.

  3. I also fancy Jasper Stuyven for today, he’s been showing good form and is European gravel champ if l’m not mistaken. Now Mads is gone this might be one of Trek’s prima chances to snatch a stage. Ciccone up against the fab four will be a big ask….
    Would not be surprised to see Alpecin and Trek tear the peloton to frieten on the early secteurs already.

    • Good call, would’ve made it but for Pidcock and Healey. What an epic but nevertheless curious stage.
      As always chapeau to this brilliant portal.

  4. Every man and his dog connected to a cycling team has gone out and said that there’s no place for a gravel stage at the Tour. Yet, here we are. Crashes are bound to be more a problem then punctures.
    As the parcours are a loop, could they not have raced it the opposite way so we don’t have a 80km easy run in? Nah …
    Lazkano won the Jaén gravel race so I’d expect him to do well, but team UAE will undoubtably provide the entertainment for the day.

    • If Pogacar fears the high mountains in the heat, Evenepoel fears the technical descents, Rodriguez the time trials, and Roglic fears whatever it is he fears, it’s only fair there’s a gravel/unpaved stage for Vingegaard and the pure climbers who avoid Strade Bianche, the Northern classics and certainly Paris-Roubaix to fear.

      Gravel and unpaved roads have been part of the Tour since before mountain stages were introduced. They’re a part of the sport and reward another skill set. I’m all for stages that force teams to consider bringing a greater range of domestiques to the Tour than just another mountain train helper.

      • The main problem with unsealed stages is the dust but if things are damp then it hopefully won’t be a problem tonight.l

      • Osbk67, this is a great way of putting it. I think grand tours should be a representative mix of what we otherwise see over the course of the season. The inclusion of gravel/pave is that extra bit of seasoning that makes a meal.

        • I guess Lefevre et al would like them to only ride on autoroutes?
          Most of the mountain passes the race uses today have only been paved relatively recently.

    • We’d had pavé stages before and always get the “do they belong: yes/no” arguments.

      The more subtle argument is “yes but how much?”, as in do we have the Arenberg and Carrefour de l’Arbre or just a few easier sectors? The Tour likes to import the thrill of Paris-Roubaix but usually stays away from the fiercest sectors.

      Today’s gravel is a lot gentler than the pavé and the hardest sectors come mid-stage.

  5. I know the current focus here is the TDF but surprised no mention of yet another fatality in pro bike racing. The details (quite rightly) are fairly sketchy but it does appear to be another incident on a fast mountain descent. It could have equally happened on the descent of the Galibier the other day and there are more fast descents to come in this race. I understand the argument that descents are part of bike racing but there must come a point when the balance between entertainment and risk has to be addressed. In comparison the risks on a stage like today are minimal though as always in bike racing the consequences of even a minor crash can be serious (Chris Froome was lucky to survive a crash on a flat road with no other rider in sight!)

    • The police are investigating and the causes seem unknown. We can just think of his family and team mates and hope they’re getting plenty of support.

      I’d remind people that when Antoine Demoitié died in Paris-Roubaix Gent-Wevelgem the autopsy / post-mortem were not as certain as some of the initial headlines and “hot takes”, some of which must have been distressing for close ones to read. So let’s wait for more information from reliable sources rather than speculate via the comments section of a blog.

      • A small correction: it was during Gent-Wevelgem that Antoine Demoitié was hit by a motorcycle.

        (It was possibly the death of Michael Goolaerts during Paris-Roubaix two years later that has also stayed in our memories.)

    • I think Wout Pouls was with him, if you mean the Dauphine reconnaître crash. He may well have saved his life by the roadside .

      • Always worth bearing in mind the significance of dates…Bastille Day for the French.

        Today is San Fermín….. Movistar Wil have red neckerchiefs and all the Basque riders will be, maybe, a little more motivated..aupa.

  6. To all the Naysayers, professionals, commentators and amateur’s alike.
    Todays stage around Troyes proved a classic and exciting stage. With a worthy winner! A couple of crashes and several punctures, but no more than a normal road stage. No GC riders affected.
    Great days racing.

    • It was.

      I do wonder what the conversation was between Pog, Vingo, and Remco, when they were chasing down the break together, then decided to sit up.

      • Given what Pogacar said after the stage, I’m guessing:

        “Jonas, why don’t you ride so we can crush Roglic?”

        And Vingegaard said: “OK, but first let’s stop and get me a new bike, and, um, I think Roglic is zero threat. You two are.”

        • Yes, Vingegaard’s refusal to put in any effort to distance Roglic can surely only mean that he is confident of being able to easily put time into him later in the race. At the moment it seems to be looking pretty good for Vingegaard, assuming all the experts who say he will get better through the race are correct.

    • Think it would be a popular pick.

      Note there are gravel roads all over France, the “ribin” of Brittany, the ones used in Paris-Tours amid the vineyards. All sorts along the western edge of the Alps, you can even find them in the mountains.

      • Why wasn’t Pidcock wearing a Red Bull helmet? I have to say I’m feeling a bit like Phil Ligget, unable to identify riders with the new Red Bull and Visma kits and so many Red Bull helmets.
        Happy for Turgis. Always seems strong during the classics but without any teammates.

        • Also very happy for Turgis. Perhaps he will no longer be quite so “criminally underrated” (as Daniel Friebe describes him).

          • That was an exciting stage.

            Dust management must be right up there with oxygen.

            Front = less dust… Teams must always be aware of how dust effect the next day…

            Good thing there’s a rest day to mitigate.

        • Pidcock doesn’t wear it on the road; there was a Cycling Tips article a few years explaining why. Ineos have a relationship with the Mercedes F1 team, who are sponsored by Monster – a Red Bull rival.

          • Ah, I remember that. To be fair, I’ve seen Pidcock much more in cx than on the road. But yes, it’s probably that I’m gettin more Ligget-like.

  7. Funny that, of all the teams, most complaints about the gravel stage were from Bora. Doesn’t really fit with the “extreme sports” image of Red Bull!

  8. The riders may not have universally loved it (tho Pog and Remco looked to be enjoying the racing) but I was gripped from secteur one to the end, not often that happens in a GT. The race is beautitully poised, I’m curious to see if Pog hasn’t burnt uncessary matches (not for the 1st time) and VL have managed the hand of cards dealt to them very well. Remco also seems to be fully bought in on the Tour which i had my doubts over given the poisoned chalice that has come with being a Belgium GC favourite when he could have taken the classics route and enjoy a Boonen type career with plenty of fame and fortune.

    • Yesterday they had to try and Vingo was indeed about to crack on several occasions. Just look how he was commenting “this doesn’t belong in TDF” ^___^
      The team was eventually decisive to save him, but the others would have been wrong no to try all the same, although with hindsight they could as well spare some energies.
      Among other things, going again and again flat out with no control over the required effort unlike what happens, say, on a climb (supposedly) implies more of a later problem for whomever is (supposedly) trying to build up form through the race…

      • I’m not sure I understand what you mean in your last sentence.

        In any case, Pogacar is racing like he hasn’t done the Giro already, as someone somewhere said. That can mean he feels no ill effects from his first tour of the summer, or it means he’s being his old, somewhat foolish self, and he’ll collapse, and his minute on Vingegaard or 90 seconds on Roglic will be but a memory in 2 weeks.

        Are people starting to believe Evenepoel can survive the big mountains? Day in and day out?

        • I agree with both of you: in the heat of the race it made sense for Remco and Pog to attack JV as he was struggling at times and they could have put significant time into him. But with hindsight their efforts seem like a waste of energy that may come back to haunt them in the big mountains. The counterpoint (which I think gabriele alludes to) is that forcing JV to make repeated over-threshold efforts could hinder his ability to improve fitness (/recover) before the mountains. Who knows? I’m just glad to see such an exciting stage!

          Unsure about Remco’s prospects in the big mountains but he certainly looks leaner than in previous years, while his TT suggests this hasn’t substantially compromised his top-end power. Very interesting to see what unfolds…

          • ahh, now i see what gabriele meant. i guess that makes sense. i know nothing about training.

            remco is indeed leaner looking–no longer the dimpled toddler. he’s lost the baby chub and has learned some big boy words like “balls”. it’d be great if he can sustain it all through the mountains.

      • Vingegaard also commented that the hard part was where the gravel was soft and loose, he felt that he was at an disadvantage there compared with the (slightly) heavier Pogacar and Evenepoel. He was more comfortable where the road surface was harder.

        It may, of course, have been just nice clever sports psychology, explaining away, so to speak, the sense of being weaker at that point of the race – but I think I can vouch for the fact that it´s not a blessing to be a lightweight rider in some conditions on gravel rides.

        • He already explained us that he was at disadvantage downhill because of his lightweight… a little tedious now. Especially as the likes of Evenepoel or Pidcock, with a different build and muscular qualities, no doubt, yet speaking of pure weight, well, they still weigh very much like the Dane.
          He could have spoken of the wind, much more of a factor yesterday when he was struggling, also dependant on weight, but in this case Remco is favoured by his position on the bike, whereas Pidcock also underperformed a bit possibly because of the same.
          But I guess that in Visma they love a good random talk just to confuse things.

      • For the portion that I watched JV looked fine, he was well placed and with help got on TP’s wheel, whereas RE did not…

        Maybe it was a different situation earlier.

        I think RE and TP could have just kept riding, if JV doesn’t want to help that’s his strategy, they certainly could have continued. The sprint teams aren’t blamed for trying to keep it together, it’s just their strategy vs the breakaway.

  9. I’m not sure how wise it is to be so open and honest, but Remco’s “balls” talk has certainly added some spice to the doldrums of this year’s Tour. Can’t wait for the Tourmalet to see where his climbing really stands. Seems to me that stage 14 will give us some answers to the questions we’re all still asking.

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