The Inner Ring is a blog about cycling and cycle sport, especially pro cycling. News, comment, opinion and chat feature here. The aim is to give a different take on the sport and sometimes have a look at things that might get overlooked by the mainstream cycle sport media.
Le Tour’s turning out to be a vintage edition, a three week game of snakes and ladders with riders going up and down almost every day. Julian Alaphilippe’s looked brittle yet leaves the Pyrenees with more of lead than he went in with. Thibaut Pinot’s had the best weekend, taking back more time on Saturday and Sunday than he lost in the crosswinds to Albi. Steven Kruijswijk’s strong and the longer Alpine climbs should suit him more plus his Jumbo-Visma team look very strong. Ineos aren’t out of the race either with Geraint Thomas still second overall and Egan Bernal was the last to hold Thibaut Pinot’s wheel on the Prat d’Albis. Then come a list of riders with nothing to lose and as we saw yesterday on the Mur de Péguère, riders like Landa aren’t waiting for the final climb to launch raids.
Estimates claim 7 million people in France are watching the Tour, giving the broadcaster a crushing 50% audience share but it makes you wonder: what the other 60 million French people are doing? Some have tuned out and turned up as the roadside crowds look big (note: yesterday’s Prat d’Albis was only open to cyclists and people willing to walk up). It helps having two French riders in the lead, and yes this angle is exploited by the home media but it’s the variety, surprise and uncertainty that must be boosting ratings.
“Tour de Trance” headlines L’Equipe today and it’ll be better to return to why it’s been a great race once it’s actually finished, otherwise it’s trying to review a restaurant mid-meal but for now the ingredients, service, venue and courses so far have been exquisite. The route with its Eastern bias has ensured varied geography which has helped deliver route à la Netflix with some dramatic opening scenes and then regular cliffhangers. We’ve had peripeteia galore, take Pinot losing time only to take it back, Ineos not (yet?) weighing on the race, Alaphilippe as a bicycling Icarus and more, think Thomas De Gendt’s stage win and even the sprint stages have seem the honours shared rather than serving up repeat episodes.
Ordinarily the Tour would be heading into the Alps with a pattern established in the Pyrenees. In recent years this means Chris Froome or Geraint Thomas in yellow and a deflating sense of inevitability as the focus for sport switches to the stage wins, the podium places and even the dreaded team prize and people start arguing over race radios and powermeters. This time it’s all so open and given the racing so far predictions seem foolhardy. Still, let’s review where each rider stands…
A rider who holds the yellow jersey at the mid-point of the race has a 70% of winning in Paris and their chances only increase as the days go by. Only this is not a usual Tour and Julian Alaphilippe looks vulnerable, he looked likely to crack on a climb and the first fissure came yesterday although it was self-inflicted because he tried to follow Pinot’s attack when if he’d stayed with Geraint Thomas he might have managed his losses better but that’s hindsight and as we’ve seen he’s not a rider to stare at his powermeter or ponder on yesterday. Still he went into the Pyrenees with 1m12s on his closest rival, Geraint Thomas, and came out with 1m35s on Thomas so he continues to confound expectations but with news that he apparently reconned the Pau time trial course ahead of the race, what if he’s had private ambitions of a high finish all along? But his problem is the mountains ahead. Today’s rest day and tomorrow’s sprint stage will do him plenty of good but the three Alpine stages are probably too much, the question is if he’s dropped on, say, the Galibier how much can he limit his losses? He’s got 1m35 to Thomas but seems to be matching him and perhaps his best answer is to track Thomas?
Read this blog’s pre-race preview and Thibaut Pinot‘s challenges were set out: “he can end up on the wrong side of a split in the bunch” and “he seems prone to illness”. The first issue can still occur even if the forecast for Nîmes tomorrow looks benign rather than a raging Mistral wind; the second is still a concern and apparently Groupama-FDJ soigneurs are wiping down hotel doorhandles and the team bus with bactericide. One third concern was the pressure but Alaphilippe’s carried some of the burden and Pinot seems relaxed in front of the cameras, more fluent than ever. He’s the strongest in the mountains and this should be advantageous but when and where to attack? Probably late on the first Alpine stage à la Tourmalet so he can overhaul Thomas and Kruijswijk, then grind down Alaphilippe after. Easier said than done and if he rode rivals off his wheel on the Prat d’Albis, he only took 18 seconds on Buchmann and Bernal in 7km.
Dave Brailsford must be tearing his hair out or perhaps chewing down his finger nails as for once Ineos don’t seem invincible any more, the fortress has crumbled, the spell broken. All the pre-Tour talk about team leadership felt a stale, questions in search of a story, but now it’s a live topic and there’s still no obvious answer. Geraint Thomas is the closer on GC but Egan Bernal has climbed better over the weekend and seems to have momentum with him. This is hardly a decision for King Solomon, it’s better to have two cards with the team pacing both into place and then letting them race. But it’s a tricky position, if Bernal is to rise up the rankings then he can’t try to slip away in the final moments of a stage and snipe a time bonus, he needs to launch with several kilometres to go and what if this sinks Thomas who is left isolated and loses more time? The team’s having a tougher time but will they sit back and soak it up or will they gamble that finishing third or fourth and winning the white jersey isn’t what they’re spending north of €40 million a year for? Jumbo-Visma look very strong with George Bennett and Laurens De plus and Steven Kruijswijk should find the upcoming long climbs to his liking but of the names cited so far would he sign for a podium place today? It’s hard to see him going solo but everything is so closely packed he can wait to pounce. Emanuel Buchmann is in a similar position if not more, you wonder if Bora-Hansgrohe are plotting Unternehmen Podest or “Operation Podium” because they can plot a route to the podium and if he’s hovering around third going into the weekend then who knows what happens on the final mountain stages but he’s climbing very well and not afraid to attack either, he’s come this far and has a genuine shot at the win because he’s climbing so well.
Elsewhere Simon Yates has two stage wins. Mitchelton-Scott had come with ambitions for Adam Yates but he’s 33 minutes down and Simon’s success is more than a consolation, especially as he can hope take a stage in the Alps too and Daryl Impey has a stage too. The stage wins have been hogged by Jumbo-Visma, Deceuninck-Quickstep and Mitchelton-Scott with three each, two for Lotto-Sudal and one each for Bora-Hansgrohe, Bahrain-Merida and Groupama-FDJ. This leaves 15 teams stage-hunting the remaining six stages and the point here is the majority of the teams have a big interest in sending riders up the road so expect gruelling starts to the stages which will only make the race harder, a self-fulfilling prophecy.
King of the mountains is Tim Wellens but he looks like a prince about to get toppled. He’s got 64 points after scoring points all over the first two weeks while Pinot has taken 50 points over the weekend weekend to move into second place. Given the action for the overall classification this contest has yet to come alive but Wellens and De Gendt should still try while Romain Bardet has started harvesting points too and Simon Yates could aim for this too.
In the points Peter Sagan is comfortable in green with Sonny Colbrelli second in the points competition, Michael Matthews in third and Elia Viviani in fourth 100 points behind. It’s Sagan’s to lose now because Viviani would have to win in Nîmes tomorrow and Paris just to close the gap to Sagan… assuming the Slovak didn’t score a single point either.
Finally what’s next? Tuesday is a large loop around Nîmes with a likely sprint finish, the last chance before Paris. Wednesday sees the race head for the Alps and a stage for the breakaway with a late climb before a fast descent into Gap – but not that descent, it’s the Col de la Sentinelle rather than La Rochette – and there will be a big fight to get in the break. Thursday is the first of three Alpine stages with the long, hard climbs of the Vars, Izoard and Galibier. Friday crosses the Iseran, Europe’s highest paved mountain pass before a slog up to Tignes. Saturday’s stage has three climbs with the last one to Val Thorens 33km long and harder it looks on paper. This much we know, the question is what will happen? There seem to be six possible winners in Alaphilippe, Thomas, Kruijswijk, Pinot, Bernal and Buchmann all within about two minutes. Mikel Landa is further down on GC but still one to watch, Movistar’s free radical is climbing with the best and if he continues his remontada then the risk is could threaten to photobomb the podium picture the others might crave. This time next week it’ll all be over.
This surprising Tour continues with a new summit finish in the Pyrenees after a hard final 60km with tough backroad climbs. Julian Alaphilippe’s spell in the yellow jersey continues but he’s got little support and rival teams want to work him over.
Stage 14 Review: a big breakaway kept on a tight leash from the start by an ambitious Groupama-FDJ team. Vincenzo Nibali, Tim Wellens and Elie Gesbert escaped from the break over the Col du Soulor but behind Movistar cranked up the pace such that Adam Yates and Romain Bardet were among those dropped and the breakaway had no chance.
Onto the Tourmalet and Movistar kept up the pace with Dan Martin and Adam Yates dropped… then Nairo Quintana couldn’t take his team’s pace, it was if the team was brandishing their famous tridente at rivals only for a prong to fall off. After Barèges, Groupama-FDJ’s David Gaudu upped the pace and more riders were dropped like Richie Porte, Rigo Urán. Jumbo-Visma took over with Laurens De Plus and George Bennett. Emanuel Buchmann was the first GC contender to attack and his move saw Geraint Thomas dropped. Once around the final hairpin bend Thibaut Pinot opened up a small gap on the ramp to the finish that Egan Bernal couldn’t close and Pinot grabbed the stage win, another prestige summit finish for him. Julian Alaphilippe was second and Steven Kruijswijk was third, the Dutchman looked as cool as a canal.
Alaphilippe spent the day tracking Thomas, he doesn’t have a team for the high mountains so he can ride hobo on the Ineos. On the upper slopes of the Tourmalet Alaphilippe looked to be suffering, he was grimacing one minute, his tongue hanging out the next à la Voeckler as if all steam was about to come out of his ears but paradoxically the closer he got to the finish, the better chance he was in for the stage win as he could rely on his jump and he used this to take a few extra seconds on the final ramp and with the time bonus. He’ll find it hard today because of the fatigue and if he’s in yellow this evening, the big threat is Stage 18’s marathon across the Var-Izoard-Galibier, even if he took time today it’s still premature to see him in yellow for Paris. Enric Mas cracked which helps Alaphilippe as the Spaniard’s ambitions recede even if he still has a shot at the white jersey and a decent overall finish, which, given he’s due to leave the team, still count for plenty.
Ineos don’t look like Team Sky. Their mountain train couldn’t asphyxiate the race and were on the receiving end this time from Movistar, Groupama-FDJ and Jumbo-Visma. Egan Bernal didn’t wait for Thomas. The Welshman lost 36s to Pinot but is still in a strong position, he’s second overall and it’s theoretically possible Alaphilippe cracks, Thomas collects the yellow jersey and wins again in Paris. But he wasn’t sizzling in the time trial, he had to let up on the first big mountain and rivals will have restless leg syndrome now. Jumbo-Visma won’t sit still, Steven Kruijswijk is 12 seconds behind Thomas so if the team can set a pace to sap Thomas then Kruijswijk can leapfrog into second overall and as first to inherit the lead should Alaphilippe implode.
The Route: 185km from Limoux, home of an unheralded sparkling wine. The Col des Tougnets is the first climb of the day and a gentle one for the breakaway to form on before a quick descent into Puivert and then another unmarked climb, this time 4km at 4.5%. The Col de Montségur is listed s 6.8km at 6% but the final 4km are 8% as they climb up towards the famous Cathar castle and then a long valley section to Tarascon and then up the Vicdessos valley.
The Port de Lers is 11.4km at 7% and all on a tiny backroad. The slope varies between 6% and 10% in places and it’s the longest climb of the day, followed by a reciprocal descent.
The Mur de Peguère is the Tour de France’s name for the Col de Peguère and mur sounds better than col, “wall” rather than “pass” and it’s a label invented by the race because it’s normally the Col de Péguère for locals. The climb out of Massat to the Col de Four and it’s a steady road. It pitches up more to the Col des Caognous again on a wide road. Then they turn off for the Mur which featured in the 2012 Tour de France. It was supposed to feature in the 1973 edition but the riders went on strike to protest at it because the road was a mess. It’s still not easy, a very narrow road and double digit percentages with portions of 16% and 18%.
It’s then followed by a varied descent, a bigger road but the slope varies, the first part of the descent is gentle forcing the riders to pedal hard which is not good for anyone dropped on the way up because they must keep going. It’s only later that they drop down to the Col de Marrous does the slope get steep with 10%. It bends and twists through the forest, there’s rarely much visibility of what’s coming up and it was here in 2012 that Luis-Leon Sanchez launched his winning move to win the stage
The Finish: the Prat d’Albis is a new climb for the Tour and it’s been freshly surfaced. In case you’re wondering a prat is a large field or a plateau high up. To get there it’s via a difficult climb with a slope that’s always changing, this isn’t an engineered road to a ski resort. The first six kilometres are the hardest and then the slope eases and it’s a steadier effort and the slope eases to the line.
The Contenders: the breakaway has more of a chance than yesterday but we’re talking a chance rather than a certainty. Still Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida) and Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) could aim for a repeat with team mate Jack Haig free to try too. Now that we’ve got the Jacob Fuglsang of old Astana – tenth yesterday, eighth overall – Astana are likely to fire riders forward, think Pello Bilbao. Ag2r La Mondiale need a result and Tony Gallopin is their best bet.
Julian Alaphilippe has a chance here, the climbs are shorter today and he’s got that jump for the final sprint but his problem is coping with three climbs in a row, he just needs to get to the final 4km intact. But in a tour of surprises where big names keep cracking, how long can he hold on?
Thibaut Pinot‘s form is there for all to see. Groupama-FDJ have David Gaudu too but he’s likely to work hard to help his leader.
Team Ineos had a rough day yesterday but on relative terms. Egan Bernal is still climbing well and Geraint Thomas isn’t out of the picture, he could just have had an off day after a sluggish TT and today’s finish isn’t as steep.
Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) climbing well but maybe doesn’t have the punch to win today’s flatter finish, his time should come in the Alps with the long climbs to Tignes and Val Thorens with George Bennett in the match too. Victory today for them would be to race the final two climbs at warp speed in order to destabilise Alaphilippe and derail Ineos.
Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic) had a great ascent of the Tourmalet yesterday, his attacks were premature but if he plays it cooler today a stage win could happen.
Finally Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Mikel Landa (Movistar) are shaping the race but they have to attack early for the stage win but this means they’ll get chased down and swamped. Alejandro Valverde has got a good chance too.
Bilbao, Valverde, De Gendt, S Yates, Barguil, Gallopin, Teuns, Haig, Landa
Yellow story: why is the yellow jersey yellow? The story goes it’s the same colour as the paper used for the newspaper L’Auto which promoted the race but the paper was more an off-white, it was simply cheap paper that was wasn’t bleached white. Still it matched. The genesis though is because earlier in the 1919 Tour riders from the La Sportive consortium (an alliance of Peugeot, Alcyon and other French manufacturers) were using yellow sashes for riding in the night so that the team’s helpers could spot them more easily. This impressed race boss Henri Desgrange who rustled up the idea of the maillot jaune days later.
Weather: warm and sunny in the valleys with a top temperature of 29°C but things could cloud over for the stage finish and a shower or even a thunderstorm is possible.
TV: the stage starts at 12.05pm CEST and finish is forecast for 5.20pm CEST / Euro time. If you want to tune in for the final climbs then the Port de Lers starts around 3.00pm.
The Pyrenees and a summit finish on the Tourmalet, a long climb and a big test for Julian Alaphilippe.
Stage 13 Review: an exciting day for a time trial with suspense right to the end helped by a course that mirrors the entire route so far, there’s always with a surprise. Thomas De Gendt set the bar high with a time that would last for hours. Once the GC contenders got underway Richie Porte then Steven Kruijswijk set the fastest times at the opening checkpoint and a sign that they’re competitive for the coming days. Thomas went through faster and Alaphilippe even faster. It set up a lively finish, you’d think Thomas would take time on the less technical return to Pau but Alaphilippe matched him and then even gained time on the final ramp before the finish line, sprinting up in the big ring. Alaphilippe’s win is a surprise but not a shock, he’s won World Tour time trials before and is in form. He was even spotted in May on a recon ride of the course, as if he had private ambitions for the stage. Still to beat the specialists and hold off Thomas is a scenario you could imagine but it seemed unlikely.
Away from the match for the stage, Geraint Thomas had a good day. He might have been eclipsed by Alaphilippe but put over half a minute into Steven Kruijswijk who did a good ride. Rigoberto Urán, Richie Porte, Thibaut Pinot and Enric Mas all had a good day with the later taking the white jersey from Bernal. Meanwhile Nairo Quintana and Adam Yates had a tough time, losing about two minutes each which was a surprise for Yates especially. Wout van Aert and Max Schachmann both crashed out on the same corner and leave the race and it shows how hard they were trying to save time.
The Route: just 117.5km from Tarbes to the Tourmalet. It’s all on classic roads with the standard Soulor approach road via the climb at Labatmale and then the sharp climb at Arthez d’Asson, the Tour’s raced this many times before. These climbs barely register on the profile above but they count for the formation of an early breakaway as places where the elastic can be snapped. The road gets more and more narrow towards Ferrières at 48km and then the Col du Soulor begins.
The climb is 13km at 7.1% and there are no traps or hidden surprises, just a steady slope up which varies between 6-9% but without any abrupt changes as it climbs up the small road through woodland and then onto open pastures where, away from the tour, cattle and horses roam free. The descent is on a bigger road and well-known to the peloton before a 20km valley section.
The Finish: the Col du Tourmalet’s the most frequently used pass of the Tour de France. This is the western ascent via Barèges, probably the more scenic side. The defining feature is the length, 19km which is long for any climb but in the Pyrenees it’s exceptional. It’s all on a regular road that’s wide and even for most of the way up. The first hard section comes with the hairpins before Barèges and from here on the climb feels harder. The final three kilometres have the hardest gradients and the finish is right at the pass itself after a ramp of 10% from the final hairpin.
The Contenders: there should be a fight to get in the breakaway but they’ll find it hard to stay clear, there’s not much time to build up a lead and surely Ineos are going to deploy their mountain train today on the approach to the Tourmalet and its early slopes. Still, George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma), Marc Soler (Movistar) and Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida) fit the bill as strong riders who are down on GC and so have space but take your pick from others too.
Among the GC contenders Thibaut Pinot is great form and finally reaches the mountains he likes, he has a strong, cohesive team with David Gaudu an outsider for the stage win too.
Ineos need to put the pressure on today. Maybe they don’t take the race lead, maybe they do. They need to wear down Alaphilippe and one way to do this is to make the Soulor hard and then ensure the Tourmalet is a full 50-60 minute effort. Geraint Thomas is in good condition and even if Egan Bernal had a relatively poor day yesterday now he is on terrain to suit.
Several big names have now lost time on GC so if they move it’s not a priority to shut them down immediately. Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) come to mind, the same for Jacob Fuglsang (Astana), Dan Martin (UAE Emirates) and Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) while Emanuel Buchmann is sixth overall but probably not a priority to close down either.
Who’d bet against Julian Alaphilippe? Deceuninck-Quickstep aren’t set up to help him too far and Enric Mas must be itching to ride for himself. Alaphilippe’s having an extravagant Tour but today’s a completely new test with two long climbs, normally his weakness. Still he was first over the Tourmalet a year ago (from the breakaway) and he’s apparently lighter now but he’ll be on his limit. He can hold on and as said before here, if someone wants to take the jersey from him they’ll have to rip it off his shoulders, and the more he can hold on during the climb, the more he could even contend for the stage win given his punch. But this is “only” Stage 14 and there’s a lot more to come, he’s popular partly because he poses for so many photos, emerges early from the team bus to sign autographs and more and the long spell en jaune could add up and that’s before he starts trying to defend his jersey on long mountain passes.
Thibaut Pinot, Geraint Thomas
Egan Bernal, Mikel Landa, Emu Buchmann, Alejandro Valverde
Fuglsang, D Martin, Porte, Quintana, Kruijswijk, Alaphilippe, Gaudu
Yellow story: how many yellow jerseys are given out each Tour? With 21 stages the first answer would be 21 but perhaps you’ve seen TV footage of the podium ceremonies and the backstage moments where the wearer signs other yellow jerseys. In total there are about 350 yellow jerseys a year which can go to team mates as gifts, sponsors as well as VIP guests and others than the rider. So an actual yellow jersey isn’t so exclusive, the Crédit Lyonnais lion mentioned the other day is more rare.
Weather: hot and sunny, 32°C in the valleys.
TV: the stage starts at 1.30pm CEST and finish is forecast for 5.15pm CEST / Euro time. Tune in early for the battle to get in the breakaway.
A time trial to shake up the overall classification before a series of mountain stages. If watching a TT on TV isn’t your thing then don’t miss La Course this morning.
Stage 12 Review: the combativity prize often feels like a consolatory offering but yesterday’s stage had a wild start with wave after wave of attacks until a giant move finally went clear on the plains. Once on the mountains the Peyresourde thinned the move a touch but it was on Hourquette d’Ancizan that things were lively. Simon Clarke led into the climb chased by Matteo Trentin and later Simon Yates appeared to be working to catch team mate Trentin but was more covering moves and thinning the chasers down and sure enough a small group caught and passed Trentin. Yates’ hallmark move is going clear over the top of the final climb but this time couldn’t or wouldn’t go clear and had Gregor Mühlberger for company over the top of the climb with Pello Bilbao joining on the descent. The trio had time to play with but kept working together all the way to the finish and Simon Yates led into the final corner and played it cool to keep Bilbao away and close the door on Mühlberger as his team owner Gerry Ryan looked on with delight.
There was also an imbroglio over Rohan Dennis’s abandon, he quit mid-race and his team put out a tweet saying they’d “launch an immediate investigation” into what happened which translates into they didn’t know why either although it seems an argument with the team staff could be to blame. It’s not a big deal, just a PR blunder.
The Route: a 27km course in two parts with the outward section to the second timecheck at 15.5km being a rolling route with several ups and downs including a climb right at the start in town before heading into the Jurançon via a small road where there’s a climb to the first time check with some 7-8% sections and the second time check is also atop a hill with a kilometre at over 7%. The return to Pau is on the Route Nationale, a larger, flatter road but with a sting in the tail, a steep climb with 600m to go, just 120 metres long but 10%.
The Contenders: Wout van Aert won the time trial in the Critérium du Dauphiné and by some margin. Jumbo-Visma have had a great Tour so far and he’s a contender to win again today but how tired is he, he’s never done a stage race this long and race over mountains yesterday that aren’t his thing. Tony Martin used to be a certain pick but a reminder that he hasn’t won a World Tour level time trial since 2015.
Geraint Thomas is one of several contenders from Team Ineos. We’ve only had glimpses at his form so far, be it his jump atop the Planche des Belles Filles or chasing back to the peloton on the stage to Saint-Etienne but each time he’s looked convincing to the point where he should take time on GC rivals today and also has a shot at the stage win. It’ll depend on tactics and ambition but Michał Kwiatkowski could also have a shot today.
Of the other GC contenders perhaps only Richie Porte has the pedigree to win the stage today, this seems unlikely as his form’s still in doubt but this is his day to move up the GC.
Deceuninck-Quickstep have three goes to today in Yves Lampaert, Kasper Asgreen and Julian Alaphilippe. Lampaert is strong but his challenge is the hilly, technical first half while Asgreen’s was second to Lampaert in the Tour de Suisse TT in Goms but has been toiling all week. Alaphilippe’s won time trials before and be roared on by the crowds.
Now for a few outside specialists. Movistar’s Nelson Oliveira has won some time trials before but never at this level. Mitchelton-Scott’s Luke Durbridge could try but will Durbo want to deploy the turbo or his he 100% in for Adam Yates. Katusha-Alpecin’s Alex Dowsett is an infrequent winner but seems in good form and Nils Politt almost won in Paris-Nice but both could find the first part of the course ruinous. Groupama-FDJ’s Stefan Küng is also a big rider who could find the course too hilly. Team Sunweb have two picks in Giro TT stage winner Chag Haga and Søren Kragh Andersen ahead of Wilco Kelderman.
Geraint Thomas, Wout van Aert
Yves Lampaert, Kasper Asgreen
Porte, SKA, Politt, Oliveira, Alaphilippe, Moscon, T Martin, Haga
Yellow story: today’s the 100th anniversary to the day of the maillot jaune when it was awarded to Eugène Christophe mid-race in Grenoble. 50 years ago the anniversary was celebrated by… the arrival of a sponsor on the jersey in Virlux, a brand of butter. The competition had been sponsored by several companies from oil giant Shell to a brewery the jersey itself didn’t have a visible sponsor until Virlux appeared with a small red lozenge logo.
Weather: hot and sunny, 30°C and a light 10km/h breeze from the NE.
TV: the first rider, lanterne rouge Yoann Offredo, is off at 2.00pm and Julian Alaphilippe hits the road at 5.19pm CEST / Euro time and is expected to finish around 5.55pm. You can tune into see the main GC contenders but remember La Course is on with the race starting at 9.20am and TV coverage starting at 10.00am CEST and the finish is due at 12.20pm CEST.
The race heads into the Pyrenees with two hard climbs, this should give us a fight for the breakaway but the main GC contenders will aim for a steady introduction ahead of tomorrow’s time trial
Stage 11 Review: a four rider breakaway in what Tour director Thierry Gouvenou calls a “4×4” with four riders getting four minutes and this blog’s tempted to raise it as a 4x4x4 with four riders getting no more more than four minutes in a forlorn move. Still they tried and two locals in Lilian Calmejane and Anthony Perez making sure the regional press had something to write about. With the breeze fluttering the peloton got nervous and a crash with 30km took down several riders including Nairo Quintana and Richie Porte, and took out Niki Terpstra. Soon after we got the expected sprint finish and Caleb Ewan won, he’s been top-3 in every sprint stage so far and so the most regular of the sprinters but without a win until Toulouse. It’s taken time to convert this into a win, much like the Giro in May but he’s also a man in a hurry being one of the few riders to have won stages in all three grand tours and he’s only 25. Note Michael Matthews didn’t contest the intermediate sprint nor the finish, he had started the day second to Peter Sagan in the points competition but seems to have dropped the contest.
The Route: 209km south-west into the Pyrenees. After rolling through the Bagatelle quarter of Toulouse – a tough part of town, the Tour visits deliberately to try and show it can visit all of France – the first 130km sees the peloton stick to small side roads. Once past Saint-Gaudens after 85km the route picks an easy way through the Comminges foothills – the training roads of Pavel Sivakov among others – to reach Bagnères-de-Luchon.
The Col de Peyresourde is a mountain highway, a steady climb on a wide road that saps energy rather than shreds the race. It’s followed by a fast descent and then a short section along the valley before flicking left for the Hourquette d’Ancizan, listed as 7.5% for 9.9km but the whole climb is more like 8% and has a steeper start: it’s hard. There’s a fast descent on a narrow road with bumps that make taking a sip of water risky during the long straight sections but also some uphill sections, it’s 4km downhill from the pass and then a kilometre uphill at 5-6% before another 4km down and another uphill section but with a gentler gradient on the more regular descent of the Col d’Aspin. Then the descent reaches the familiar valley road from Campan to Bagnères-de-Bigorre.
The Finish: a loop around Bagnères-de-Bigorre with the same format as the Tour’s last stage finish here in 2013 when Dan Martin smoked Jacob Fuglsang. It’s flat and the final bend is crucial, coming just 150m before the finish line.
The Contenders: the breakaway has a great chance today because it can take time early and the final two climbs will probably see the GC riders watch each other closely, they’ll ride fast but it’s more to see who gets dropped from the front group rather than who can put in the biggest attack, especially as tomorrow’s the crucial Pau time trial. There’s also the self-reinforcing aspect that the upcoming summit finishes could be reserved for the GC contenders so for any baroudeurs wanting a stage win it’s today or next Wednesday’s stage to Gap. We can expect, or rather hope, there’s a huge battle to get in the break.
The two climbs mean the day’s winner will have to be on the lighter side but not a mountain goat, the Peyresourde rolls well and if someone loses a minute on the Hourquette d’Ancizan there’s still a chance to come back. Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) is an obvious pick but the long descent and flat finish aren’t ideal for him, he’d have to go solo from afar while team mate Tiesj Benoot can try again too. Bahrain-Merida have options with Matej Mohorič, Dylan Teuns and maybe Vincenzo Nibali too. The Sicilian has been losing time but his problem is that some of this is not deliberate, he’s more off the pace than he wanted to be.
It’ll be interesting to see if the GC teams send riders ahead, this is a common tactic for Astana but they’ve not deployed it so far but Omar Fraile and veteran Luis Leon Sanchez are suited.
Alejandro Valverde has been on team duties for Movistar but if he wants a mountain stage this is the course for him, but maybe Movistar can deploy someone else like Carlos Verona today.
Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quickstep) has a shot at the stage today, you can see a scenario where the breakaway is brought back and even if dropped on the Hourquette he could take back time on the descent and then win the sprint. But his problem is how hard his team will work today, they’ve contributed to containing
Thomas De Gendt, Vincenzo Nibali, Alejandro Valverde, Dylan Teuns
Yellow story: it’s said the yellow jersey gives a rider extra strength… but it doesn’t make a rider invincible. Ten riders have quit the Tour de France while wearing the yellow jersey with Francis Pélissier the first in 1927 and Tony Martin (pictured) the most recent in 2015. Two more in Michel Pollentier and Michael Rasmussen also surrendered the jersey, not through injury but disgrace with Pollentier failing a doping test and Rasmussen being forced to quit the race by his Rabobank team.
Weather: sunshine and clouds and a top temperature of 25°C.
TV: a long day as the stage starts at 11.30am CEST and finish is forecast for 5.10pm CEST / Euro time. We should plenty of action at the start to get in the breakaway and the Hourquette d’Ancizan begins around 4.00pm CEST.
One Way Ticket: Nine Lives on Two Wheels by Jonathan Vaughters
Jonathan Vaughters has written an autobiography that covers his start in cycling, the rise up the ranks and his move into team management. I’d been looking forward to this book for some time as there few books from senior team managers, the only other contemporary one from Marc Madiot.
We start with chronological account of a teenage racer rising up the ranks, the likes we’ve read before. There are a couple of moments when Vaughters steps back from recounting his adolescence to dwell something that would later repeat itself, whether exploring the grey areas of cycling’s unwritten rules, or exploring ethnocentrism – when as a junior, he and his peers believed foreigners could dope but their own wouldn’t – as well as a bad habit of “always leaving people behind” and these moments foreshadow future events. The first chapters are amusing while illustrating how different the US cycling scene was, as a junior he was hanging out in a bike shop run by hot-headed Italian expatriates, driving from state to state to take on senior riders and domestic pros in order to get noticed and score prize money and motorpacing behind his father’s old Volvo. Meanwhile peers in western Europe had it served on a platter with races on their doorstep and more.
Vaughters makes it to Europe with the US junior team, a golden generation with Bobby Julich, Lance Armstrong, George Hincapie, Chann McCrae and others but there’s no automatic route into the U23 scene, and a pro contract. Via Venezuela he finds a Spanish amateur team and buys a one way ticket. He lands at Madrid airport to meet his new squad…
“I was dressed in a tweed sports coat with a nice waistcoat underneath, which I think was the reason it took my pickup party some time to find me. He probably expected a jock, wearing a tracksuit and athletic shoes”
This is part of what makes Vaughters endearing, who else would sport tweed on a transatlantic flight? Where this fashion sense comes from isn’t obvious. Other eccentricities appear, such as his training regime where he works out that he needs more intervals and controlled efforts to boost power and ends up on a home trainer… mounted on the roof of the house he was staying in for all the village to see. It’s quirky but determined, he wants to succeed and sets out on a path regardless of what friends or team mates think as his passion for the sport turns into work. Meanwhile EPO is on the rise, as are rider haematocrit counts. Vaughters resists, then gives in. The story of going from refusal to rationalisation is better done in David Millar’s Racing Through The Dark or Thomas Dekker’s Descent thanks to more detail and you probably know the story too but for the general public and newcomers to the sport, the widespread use of EPO, and the lack of consequences, is something needs context.
Vaughters tells of Lance Armstrong first as a junior, then as a Motorola rider and the Texan features more than anyone else in the book, more than friends and family, a lot of it with Vaughters trying to set the record straight post-USADA. It’s understandable given their paths crossed for years but means that there are moments where it’s less “one way ticket” and more “my version”. Did Vaughters bring down Armstrong? No but he surely was a catalyst. If Floyd Landis who got the ball rolling, Vaughters was there to corroborate stores in the media and underpin USADA’s work.
The final third is the more unique angle as it covers the creation of the Slipstream team and the difficulties keeping it on the road. Given the repeat problems of sponsor retention, the team almost disappearing and more there are probably more stories to tell than, say, Marc Sergeant explaining how Lotto-Soudal have enjoyed stable funding for decades. There are many rider autobiographies but few from the perspective of the team car or service course office, especially contemporary ones. There’s a mix of calling the shots from the team car, like Johan Vansummeren’s 2011 Paris-Roubaix win and the business of pro cycling such as trying to keep the team funded and Slipstream co-founder Doug Ellis’s involvement with the team, both as a mentor and a generous benefactor, stand out. Roger Legeay gets several creditable mentions too. There’s more setting the record straight on issues with British riders David Millar and Bradley Wiggins, with Millar it’s about leadership of the team while with Wiggins it’s less personal and more a clash with Team Sky and their prodigious resources. Vaughters covers his time as President of the AIGCP, the association of pro teams, and his work on the revenue-sharing pact with RCS… but curiously there’s not one mention of the Velon group which has perpetuated this. There’s more bemoaning pro cycling’s sponsorship model but only a few pages ago the same model let Vaughters into the sport, bootstrapping a junior development team into the pro ranks and, with the benefaction of ASO, ride the Tour de France all within the space of a few years. Thankfully the book doesn’t turn into an economics lecture and if anything this section skims and skips a lot to point where major events in the team’s course don’t feature, take Ryder Hesjedal’s Giro win where there’s only the most oblique mention where Vaughters writes “a few days after Ryder Hesjedal won the 2012 Giro for our team”… he was talks to then Giro boss Michele Acquarone about a revenue sharing deal. Vaughters has led a rich life so there’s plenty that can’t fit into 380 pages but no grand tour? In fact there are many big stories that don’t feature.
It’s an autobiography but sticks largely to cycling, there’s little on personal tastes from clothing, music, fishing, wine or that he’s got a private pilot’s licence, all of which ought to make him more interesting. At one point there’s a mention of his wife Ashley when only a few pages before he was married to Alisa; it’s only later there’s a chapter dealing with private life covering marriages, divorce and more. Here things get a lot more personal, it must have been the hardest part to write and no fun to print for public consumption which might explain why it’s tackled last.
Enjoyable to read, unsatisfying to finish. An easy read even if there’s a gear change from wild west era anecdotes that cover junior racing, burritos, Spanish EPO and buried bikes, to UCI politics and the finances of a pro team. The early part is fun and light-hearted before turning darker as the racing gets more serious; the latter part makes Vaughters’ perspective as a team owner more interesting. I’d been looking forward to reading this yet once done there’s a feeling of something missing. Closing the book on the last page is like getting out of one of those old train compartments where you’ve shared a long journey with a fellow passenger and they’ve told you plenty of stories but you never got the measure of them as person. Once you finish the book you realise many material incidents from Vaughters’ time are omitted making for an autobiography that feels incomplete and the tone doesn’t quite capture the humour and quirkiness of Vaughters.
One Way Ticket will published as paperback by Penguin Random House in the US during August and Quercus Books have already published a hardback version with the paperback to follow
Note: a digital copy of this book was made available for free for review
Who will win in Toulouse? The race resumes and the wind could feature again.
The Route: 167km south-west. It’s a scenic stage passing Cordes-sur-Ciel, a tourist hotpoint that will be telegenic when filmed from the helicopter and then the first categorised climb of the day to Tonnac, 3.6km at 5% and then the road drags on up to the Col de la Liberté. From here on the road rises and falls gradually, this is gentle countryside with roads typical of south-western France with plenty of roads shaded by trees and past sunflower fields but now and then there’s no cover and it’s exposed to the wind, take section with 50km to go where the race leaves Lavaur, climbs up a long drag and over the top it’s exposed, or the later section from Saussens to Drémil-Lafage or soon after when the road turns north and starts some uphill drags.
The Finish: with just over 6km to go the race rides into the city of Toulouse, crossing town’s rocade ring road and it’s here an unmarked climb begins, 1.4km at 4%. Hardly Alpine and all on a big boulevard but when ridden for recon purposes to write this preview it stung just enough to suggest some sprinters go backwards in the bunch. There’s a descent from 5km to just after 3km to go where it could pay to have a 55T chainring. The road then flattens out and circles the shaded boulevards of Toulouse for a flat finish.
The Contenders: our trio again of Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-Quickstep), Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) and Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) but there’s still no obvious pecking order. The climb into Toulouse is disruptive and tilts it to Viviani and Ewan but this is tilting, not converting. As ever Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Alexander Kristoff (UAE Emirates should be close.
Caleb Ewan, Elia Viviani
Dylan Groenewegen, Peter Sagan
Yellow story: Raymond Poulidor must be the greatest rider not to have won the yellow jersey. He came so close in 1973 when he lost out in the prologue to Joop Zoetemelk by 0.83 seconds. This was his 11th Tour and he’d ride 14 in total with eight podium finishes in Paris but never the top step and not even a day in yellow. His first autobiography set the tone with the title of La Gloire Sans Le Maillot Jaune, or “Glory without the Yellow Jersey” in 1964. To this day to “do a Poulidor” is to come second in France, a term applied to domains beyond cycling like, say, a politician who keeps trying to get elected but fails. Poulidor’s famous for losing he still has a palmarès many would trade a kidney for, with a Vuelta a España win, the Vuelta, Dauphiné, Milan-Sanremo and plenty more. Poulidor’s still at the Tour de France and enjoys the celebrity. He knows that coming second all the time gave him a label, a myth and consequently a brand and an income that he wouldn’t have enjoyed had he worn yellow for a day or two. And yes, he’s Mathieu van der Poel’s grandfather.
Weather: warm and sunny, a top temperature of 30°C. The Vent d’Autan is the local wind and looks set to blow at 20km/h from the W-NW which is the bare minimum needed for crosswinds so keep an eye on things in case it picks up.
TV: the stage starts at 1.35pm CEST and finish is forecast for 5.30pm CEST / Euro time.
Nobody knows how many roundabouts there are in France, only that their number has soared. The image of the peloton parting like a school of fish to navigate a roundabout has become a staple televisual image and there sometimes tactical features of the course, ask Jacob Fuglsang and Thibaut Pinot or see Edvald Boasson Hagen exploit one to get away for a stage win in 2017. They’ve become an unloved feature of France and even political. Let’s take a tour…
Frenchman Eugène Hénard was the original inventor of the carrefour giratoire or “giratory crossroads” at the turn of the century. As Kory Olson sets out in “Contemporary French and Francophone Studies”, Volume 14, 2010, the new Paris Métro was set out as “the true solution for movement and hygiene in Paris” but Hénard differed, he knew the railway was good for pedestrians but not for the rise of the motorcar and delivery trucks. Hénard proposed the carrefour giratoire and the Place de l’Etoile, the hub with the Arc de Triomphe at its centre was transformed to allow moving vehicles to flow better. Apart from a few examples on big city junctions, including New York, things went dormant until the British revived the scheme in the late 1960s and hit on the idea of the roundabout as a traffic measure. This is what we know today and differs from the old French version as traffic approaching the roundabout had to give way to vehicles already on the roundabout.
Rondpoint or carrefour giratoire? there’s a corner of the internet where militant carrefour giratoire police pop up to point out that technically the rondpoints we know today, where approaching traffic is met by a “give way” sign and priority goes to traffic already on the roundabout are not rondpoints but carrefours à sens giratoire. But for 99% of people they’re rondpoints.
In the late 1970s Jean-Marc Ayrault was mayor of Saint-Herblain and the town had some traffic problems. Ayrault – who’d become prime minister in 2012 – had visited the UK and invited a British traffic expert over. Soon the town experimented with makeshift roundabouts, with temporary signs and bales of hay placed in the middle of crossroads. It worked. Today nobody knows the exact number, only that they’ve grown enormously. Thorough work by a blogger says there are 65,000 which is roughly six times more than Germany, three times more than Britain and double that of Spain or Italy only the work only . If France has gone from almost zero to 65,000 in the space of 40 years that’s roughly 1,600 a year, every year or over four per day, every day.
There are so many they’ve become banal, a constant feature yet hardly noticed. Still many are decorated in municipal pride with flowerbeds and even installation art to become local landmarks and eyesores. As journalist François Thomazeau ventured on The Cycling Podcast a while ago, they could be proxies for municipal corruption given the construction contracts and the maintenance deals but at the same time France’s regional press loves reporting just how much they cost, even a plain one can add up to a million Euros and the same papers regularly invite readers to pick the “ugliest roundabout” in annual contests.
Life on the edge
The roundabouts are also the story of the French economy and society of late. A lot of medium and large towns in France have become encircled by retail parks, warehouses and other zones. They’re ubiquitous and near-identical and part of what geographer and sociologist Christophe Guilluy calls La France périphérique, or “peripheral France”, a marginalised part of French society where large hypermarkets draw shoppers and nearby town planners have allowed the widespread construction of pavillons or small one and two-storey houses where inhabitants need a car. Guilluy’s work is imperfect to say the least but he’s given a label to a segment of French society that’s priced out of the charming town centres with their squares, fountains and boutiques; yet urban enough to be separated from the rural charms. To cut a long story short it’s no surprise that the gilets jaunes protest movement last autumn was most active on roundabouts, the movement was rooted in these areas among people who often need a car to get to work, to buy food and also so controlling the roundabouts makes strategic sense compared to waving a banner in a street as it actually blocks things. The movement still exists but many don’t want to block the Tour de France as they see it as a festive event to enjoy.
As for the racing, rondpoints matter. No other country has so many and with a typical Tour de France stage starting in town before riding out to the countryside before an urban finish it means rondpoints take on a tactical aspect, they’re a feature of the course. Sometimes they dictate the route even with the Tour threading its way through a town to avoid obvious pinch points and even sometimes a mayor will be asked if they’d mind adjusting or even demolishing the roundabout so that the race can finish in a desired location. It helps explain why there’s a neutral roll out to the stage so that the peloton can navigate its way out of town to get a wide, ordinary road before the action starts although Tejay van Garderen broke his hand the other day once the race had started, the peloton had navigated a roundabout and was reforming when he tumbled on a divider designed to separate traffic on the entrance and exit to the roundabout. Crucially they matter in the finale of a race and as we saw yesterday, they can shape the race at any point.
“Passage des 2 côtes” = pass on both sides
The Tour’s roadbook lists them for the final five kilometres but before that it’s normal for teams to send soigneurs up the road to drive course on their way to the feedzone and they can scout the course and report back any observations including asymmetric roundabouts where one side is quicker than the other, something Dimension Data did in 2017 when Edvald Boasson Hagen won. That only gets people so far.
In 2010 Lance Armstrong’s comeback was undone by a roundabout. As the bunch sped to the first Alpine climb of that year’s Tour on the stage to Avoriaz the peloton parted like a school of sardines to pass a dull roundabout built to regulate traffic in and out of a supermarket. It was on a descent and the passage of hundreds of thousands of vehicles braking before and on the rondpoint had caused the downhill traffic to ripple the bitumen while the traffic on the other side of the road coming uphill never had to brake so hard. So the right side of the road was bumpy and Armstrong took this side at speed and struggled to turn while being bounced by the rippled tarmac and crashed. He finished 58th that day, finished the Tour and only rode one more race before retirement.
Nobody knows how many roundabouts there are in France, just that there are a lot and more than any comparable country. They’ve gone from almost zero to an estimated 65,000 today and are a feature of France, although one that is rarely celebrated and sometimes mocked. Visit for a ride and you’ll probably encounter more rondpoints than cols even if they’re starting to flourish on mountain passes these days, take the Col d’Aubisque and Galibier for example. They matter to the race, TV producers like aerial shots of the peloton navigating them but they’re regular crash-points and some are tactical features because of their asymmetry.
A sprint interlude but a hard day awaits across lumpy roads.
Stage 9 Review: a breakaway of 14 riders and then 15 once Marc Soler bridged across. 14 teams were represented in the move with many strong riders to set up a tactical final. The skirmish started early, but gently, with riders trying to distance their rivals with the least effort possible. Lukas Pöstlberger went all-in with a solo move but was left to dangle before being collected on the final climb. Tiesj Benoot and Nicolas Roche led over the top as Daryl Impey made his move, surging away from Jasper Stuyven and Oliver Naesen to reach Benoot as Roche cracked to leave a duo in the lead. Impey’s pedigree and build suggested he’d be an easy winner and with threat of Stuyven and Naesen closing in their was little time to play poker. Impey duly won the sprint. Perhaps Benoot could have tried to make Impey sweat more but had he slowed, surely Impey would just have had more power to accelerate anyway and this way Benoot reserved second place with the hope for better.
The Route: 217km and 3,000m of vertical gain with sunflowers galore. A quick descent to cross the Truyère valley and then there’s an unmarked climb of 6km at 5% as a breakaway launchpad and if that doesn’t work the next two climb which are categorised should. They’re only the start of the climbing today, the road has lots of rollers, drags, false flats and more to make for a tiring stage.
The Finish: the race rides around town on city streets, they’re not boulevards but there’s only one tight bend in the final kilometres. After the flamme rouge they cross the Tarn river and then right after the bridge it’s uphill and more than the roadbook suggests with the final 500m at 5%.
The Contenders: a bunch sprint is the most likely scenario but the lumpy roads won’t make this a formality, especially if some bigger engines go in the early move, think of riders like Niki Terpstra (Total Direct Energie), Nils Politt (Katusha-Alpecin) and maybe Rohan Dennis (Bahrain-Merida) but he might be trying to economise every pedal stroke before the Pau time trial stage. It’s probably a bunch sprint because it’s today and Wednesday for sprints this week.
Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) won the last time the Tour visited Albi in 2013 but the stage and the finish were different. Still today’s uphill finish suits him but our trio of Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal), Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-Quickstep) and Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) should be fine too, it’s just that Sagan can probably give them a direct challenge today. Who to chose among the three, it’s a tough call as there’s no pecking order among them yet, perhaps the uphill finish tilts to Ewan? Alexander Kristoff (UAE Emirates should be close).
Lilian Calmejane (Total Direct Energie) is the local rider for today and tomorrow but he’s not in great shape and short of the form he showed last year and in 2017 when he won the stage to Les Rousses ahead of Robert Gesink.
Caleb Ewan, Dylan Groenewegen
Elia Viviani, Peter Sagan
Kristoff, Matthews, Colbrelli
Yellow story: the winner of the yellow jersey each day also gets a lion soft toy. Why? Because the sponsor of the jersey is LCL, today’s name for Crédit Lyonnais. The bank has sponsored the jersey for 32 years and a lion is the emblem of the bank, a play on the city of Lyon where the company is from.
Weather: warm and sunny, 29°C and a slight crosswind of 20km/h which could be risky if it blows stronger than forecast.
TV: the stage starts at 12.10pm CEST and finish is forecast for 5.45pm CEST / Euro time.
The Bastille Day stage with a hard start and a tough climb at the finish, this should be a day for the breakaway.
Stage 8 Review: a start so fast only three riders got away: Niki Terpstra, Thomas De Gendt and Ben King. Mads Würtz got within ten metres of the trio but they were moving so fast he just couldn’t close the gap, cracked and fell back to the bunch. Alessandro De Marchi was more patient, trying a little later and did bridge the gap once things calmed down but maybe the time spent “potato hunting” cost him later. It was surprising that there was no more of a fight from others given how many teams crave a stage win… but that was their loss. The gap never got much above five minutes and was brought down to three with 100km to go and soon after Astana and EF Education First picked up the pace, by which time De Gendt and De Marchi had shed King and Terpstra to form a noble breakaway duo and the tension began to ratchet up. On the approach to the final categorised climb with its bonus sprint Geraint Thomas was brought down by a crash but with hindsight this was hardly a negative given the luxuriant way he closed the gap, it was a big effort but he made it look easy. As soon as they started the final climb De Gendt took off leaving De Marchi looking immobile and the Belgian rider had a slender lead over the top of the climb. Here Julian Alaphilippe took off and Thibaut Pinot joined him, Alaphilippe banked the five second time bonus but this meant he was still one second behind Ciccone and had to ride on. The French duo worked well together with Pinot testing his nerves on the descent. Ahead De Gendt was resilient and only lost about 15 seconds in the final 10km to take a memorable stage win, arguably the match of his Giro Stelvio win. Pinot won the sprint and six second time bonus for second place with Alaphilippe reclaiming the yellow jersey and the main contenders came in 20 seconds later.
The Route: 170km west to Brioude, the town where Romain Bardet grew up (but he’s since moved away). Soon after the start the race drops down to the Loire valley and then climbs up a long drag, six kilometres at 4% and then it’s across the big difficulty of the day, the Mur d’Aurec. Listed as 3.2km at 11% it’s steep enough but there are warning signs for the 20% gradient and the slope keeps changing.
Then it’s across the Forez, a wooded plateau of the Auvergne region and past Craponne and Arlanc which featured on the Dauphiné route last month with the intermediate sprint in Arlanc and then a long drag up to a KoM point and from here on the roads are steady, there’s an unmarked climb to come but it’s a steady road.
The race reaches the edge of Brioude and then heads out for a loop via the climb of Saint Just, 3.5km at 7.5% and all on a narrow, rural road followed by fast descent with long straight sections.
The Finish: it’s downhill into town, there’s a right-hand bend with 400m to go and there’s a slight downhill run to the line.
The Contenders: a day for the breakaway? Probably but the finish today is something the likes of Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) can aim for as the final climb is plenty enough to shake out their rival sprinters. For Matthews his problem is that if there’s a sprint someone is faster but when he wins a sprint someone’s gone up the road.
Otherwise today’s course is less mountainous than yesterday and so accessible to more riders, they need to cope with the Mur d’Aurec where the breakaway might form and with the Saint-Just climb in the finale but there’s less in between. Breakaway picks include Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), Greg Van Avermaet (CCC) and Rui Costa (UAE Emirates). Longer range shots are Benoît Cosnefroy (Ag2r La Mondiale), Pello Bilbao (Astana) and Jesús Herrada (Cofidis) if he’s avoided the bug going around the Cofidis team.
Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) is the local rider and the town’s been decorated in tribute with flags and even a roundabout dedicated to him but his form’s not exactly scintillating and Alaphilippe’s robbed the title of best Auvergnat. His problem today is that he’s not far down enough to GC to get any room.
Yellow story: this blog has a hypothesis that the more often the yellow jersey changes shoulders during the Tour, the better the race. The 1924 Tour saw Ottavio Bottecchia take the race lead on Stage 1 and keep it for the rest of the race, a feat repeated in 1928 by Nicolas Frantz but arguably greater since the race moved from 15 to 22 stages, the same for 1935 by Romain Maes, impressive but must have been dull to folloe. The Merckx era looks glorious with the sideburns and lapels but when he wore the jersey for 20 stages in 1970 the contest must be been a bit flat. By contrast the 1958 Tour saw the jersey change shoulders 10 times among eight riders and the 1987 Tour saw nine changes among eight riders, these were great races. In 1989 it was six times among four riders which sinks the hypothesis a touch and in 1998 the jersey changed shoulders seven times among seven riders which ought to signal a vintage edition but it was perhaps more memorable for the Festina affair, rider strikes and worse.
Weather: sunny and a top temperature of 26°C
TV: the stage starts at 1.05pm CEST and finish is forecast for 5.30pm CEST / Euro time.