If Stage 6 was a taste of the Alps, Stage 8 is an elegant sit down meal of the Alps. A fair serving of high mountains, a dash of steep kickers and a garnish of fast descents will be served to the riders as they climb to Station des Rousses.
The riders head a little bit East from Nuits-Saint-Georges to the depart in Dole tomorrow. From there, the riders head in a south-easterly direction before turning South at Champagnole. After the Côte de Viry, the race turns north-easterly towards Montée de la Combe de Laisia Le Molunes and the ‘flat’ finish into Station des Rousses. The climbing for the day starts from 28km after the town of Arbois. The uncategorised Louis Pasteurs Climb is 5.7km at 4%, which on any other day would probably be categorised, but today it’s just a warmup for the small giants of the Alps. The sprint point is placed really early in the stage at just 45.5km in Montrond. This will allow a break to go out early, get the points, and then conserve energy for the climbs ahead. The sprint into Montrond is slightly uphill, but pretty straight in the lead up.
After Montrond, the next points action is up the Cat 3 Col de la Joux at 101.5km. It’s 6.1km in length at 4.7% average in the handbook, and the Strava Segment shows the climb as having two particularly steep sections near the end of the climb which reach 20%. There is also a slight descent after the first steep section before the second kicker to the line. It’ll be quite annoying to think you’ve reach the top only to realise that there is another kicker, as well as two more categorised climbs on the day. The descent following the Col de la Joux is short before it flattens out, but the riders end up finishing up at 382m above sea level before tackling the Côte de Viry at 138.5km.
Used in the Tour de l’Ain in 2013, the Cat 2 Côte de Viry is 7.6km long at 5.2% average. There is a slight downhill halfway up the climb before the riders hit the KoM, with the climbing averaging around 7%. After the KoM point there is another two kickers reaching up to 10% just to rub it into the riders. The descent after these kickers is short before another sharp climb, but once the riders hit Saint-Claude there is a slight flat reprieve. After the flat though, their sights become firmly set on the Cat 1 Montée de la Combe de Laisia Le Molunes.
Montée de la Combe de Laisia Le Molunes is the longest climb of the Tour so far, at 11.7km. It also has an average of 6.4%, and finishes just 10km before the stage finish in Station des Rousses. There are a number of switchbacks along the climb, but the gradient is pretty constant at around 6%. There are some sections in excess of 8%, but the most technical part of the climb will be navigating the switchbacks. The climb levels out slightly half way up to around 3% but then kicks back up again. Once the riders hit the top of Montée de la Combe, it’s a lumpy 10km into Station des Rousses.
At Les Seimenbergs, there is a kilometer section which averages 6.1% up into Lamoura, which finishes 2.5km out from the line. The final ‘sprint’ into Station des Rousses is on a slight uphill. There is a right hand corner with 500m to go, but the slightly uphill sprint is straight otherwise. It most definitely won’t be contested by the sprinters, but a good climbing puncheur will definitely hang in with the peloton and have the best chance of contesting a sprint. However, a sprint isn’t the only possibility of the day.
The favourites won’t want to contest today’s stage and would rather save their legs for the hard climbing of Stage 9. The distance from the top of the climb and the finish means a break going away on the climb could stay out. From even further out, the starting break of the day could determine the contenders for the stage win, but I think the climbs will be too hard for a break to make it that far (not to mention the 10km of flat afterwards which will be harder to power if you’ve been in a break for the whole day). Alternatively, someone going solo into Lamoura might be able to hold out. However, I think it’s more likely the stage will finish in a reduced bunch sprint.
The weather tomorrow is supposed to be wet. Rain is expected to come at around lunchtime, making the downhill descents somewhat chaotic. Risk taking riders will ignore the rain at their peril, but for the most part the peloton will be extra cautious through the corners considering the intensity of Stage 9. The wind tomorrow is will probably be a non-factor, with a slight westerly all day long giving the riders a little headwind up the final climbs.
The GC Situation
The echelons on today’s stage had the chance to split the GC leaders, with gusts of up to 40kmh. Most contenders were safely placed ahead of the splits, although Rafal Majka found himself in difficulty at times. Primoz Roglic had a day which he would rather forget after crashing twice. He didn’t lose any time but it’s quite demoralising, so it’ll be see how ‘in it’ he is mentally tomorrow on the tough slopes.
Top 10 GC Contenders
- Christopher Froome (Team Sky) – 28:47:51
- Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) – 12″
- Fabio Aru (Astana) – 14″
- Dan Martin (Quickstep) – 25″
- Richie Porte (BMC) – 39″
- Simon Yates (Orica) – 43″
- Romain Bardet (AG2R) – 47″
- Alberto Contador (Trek) – 52″
- Nairo Quintana (Movistar) – 54″
- Rafal Majka (Bora) – 1’01”
It’s either going to be one for the climbers who can sprint or the puncheurs who can climb. I don’t really see any of the favourites going for the stage because they will be saving their legs for tomorrow. It will be one for either a breakaway (unlikely in my eyes but still a possibility) or a reduced bunch sprint. In a breakaway sense, Steve Cummings will be the best rider to go from there. Coming off a Nats RR and TT win, he loves a hilly breakaway stage and could hold off to Stations des Rousses. In a similar vein, Tim Wellens loves breakaways and loves the wet and can hold it in the climbs. But I still don’t see a breakaway surviving the climbs even with GC guys saving themselves for Sunday.
Rigoberto Uran showed some form on Stage 6 for Cannondale and most definitely can perform well in a sprint after a big climb – just look at his Lombardia results. 1 week specialist Roman Kreuziger might be given a bit of free reign on Stage 8 to go after his own ambitions too, and this would be a pretty good stage for him if he can keep in contact with the front. Direct Energie have 3 riders who could contest the stage: Thomas Voeckler wanting to nab a stage win in his last Tour and his last race, another veteran in Sylvain Chavanel could go from the break, as well as Lilian Calmejane who already has some form on the climbs this year. And although Trek have GC ambitions in Alberto Contador, Fabio Felline and Jarlinson Pantano would be able to survive to the top of the climb and would be strong in a reduced bunch sprint.
My pick for tomorrow is another re-used pick, but his form on Stage 6 was undeniable of his hunger to pick up a stage win. Dan Martin has already gotten a 4th place and a 2nd place on this year’s Tour, and the Ardennes specialist reminded us that he can still be a GC guy by out-sprinting Froome on La Planche des Belles Filles. While most people (wink Discord) think he won’t be able to win it, I do think his ambitions for this year lay in stage wins, and this stage does suit. If he can hold onto the pack at the top of Montée de la Combe, I can see him potentially attacking going into Lamoura for the win. Dan Martin should be able to pick up the bikkies tomorrow on the Tour’s second ‘mountain’ stage.
~ The Cycling Raven