…and if Stage 8 was a sitdown meal, Stage 9 is a full-blown buffet of the Jura* Mountains. 7 categorised climbs, 3 HC climbs, and a profile which looks like the mouth of a shark. If you struggled on Stage 8, Stage 9 is a whole new definition of pain.
By the time the flag is waved and the stage starts, the riders will already have around 4.5km of climbing under their belt. Straight from kilometer zero, the riders start the first climb of the day in the Cat 2 Côte des Neyrolles. Wrapping around Le Martinet, it’s 3.2km long at a 7.2% average, on a lumpy climb with lots of steep pinches. There is no relief until after kilometer 11 at the top of the Cat 3 Col de Bérentin which itself is 4.1km at 6.1%. The flatter section of the stage only really starts at around kilometer 15 after the Col de Bérentin, and the riders also face a fast weaving descent off the back of the Col de Cuvery.
The riders hit a valley at Barrage de Génissiat at kilometer 35. This only means one thing, more climbing. With the shadows of the Col de la Biche on the horizon, the riders tackle the short steep Côte de Franclens – 2.4km at 6%. It’s a sweeping climb with weaving switchbacks, although the gradient is constant the whole way up. There is a straight descent all the way into Seyssel before the first HC climb of this year’s Tour. The Col de la Biche is 10.5km at 9%, and it’s constant all the way up. The first kilometer of the climb averages 11.5%, while the finish is on an 8% slope. The climb carves itself out of Seyssel with 13 switchbacks along the way, with the distance between switchbacks decreasing as the climb goes up. It’s the first time the climb has been used in the Tour, and it’ll be interesting to see how riders tackle it considering…
No more than 15km later, the Grand Colombier starts. And boy is it grant. 8.5km at 9.9%, this climb has been used twice before in the TDF – in 2012 in Stage 10 and in 2016 on Stage 15. The slopes of the Grand Colombier hit 22% on the early sections, with kilometers 3 to 5 of the climb being the steepest, averaging 13% over the 3km. It flattens out halfway up, while the ride to the finish is 8.5%. The riders are also approaching it from the shorter West side compared to the more traditionally used, longer East side. There is a corner 200m from the summit of the climb which has a slight kicker, and riders going for the KoM jersey will kick off this corner to try and take the points.
After the Grand Colombier, the riders take a scenic descent down the side they usually ascend down into Anglefort, for a bit of flat relief. There is an uphill sprint point into Massignieu-de-Rives, with a steep kicker with 300m to go and a sharp corner directly after the sprint. Straight after the sprint point, there is the Cat 4 Côte de Jongieux. By this stage, the 3.9km climb averaging 4.2% will seem like a piece of cake considering it’s sandwiched between two HC climbs. The Jongieux climb has a number of sharp corners where the gradient flattens out a bit, but reaches 5% in the final meters. The descent weaves through Billième and Saint-Paul, and just as the descent finishes, the riders face the last climb of the day.
The HC Mont du Chat is 8.7km at 10.3%. It’s the steepest average climb of the day, and the profile for it is as black as the souls of the riders ascending it. It debuted in 1974, where Raymond Poulidor attacked from the West side ascent, before being caught on the descent by the legendary Eddy Merckx. 43 years later, the riders of the modern peloton will be doing the same course as the legends before them. The climb features a lot of sharp corners and jagged roads up, and kickers in excess of 15% the whole way up the climb. The final kilometer of the climb also averages near on 10%, and after 155km in the legs, this will feel like torture.
But wait, there’s more! The riders descend down the East side of the climb, which averages 9.8% over 11.6km. It will be a fast descent, and as the riders approach Le Bourget-du-Lac the road starts to coil up on itself, and the straight roads of the early descent turn into tight hairpins. After Le Bourget-du-Lac, there is 13km of flats to navigate on the way to Chambéry. It’s almost unfair – normally with that many climbs you expect a mountain top finish, but once you are done with the climbing, you still need to do the ride home. And it’s not like it’s an easy finish into Chambery. The final 5km of the route is very technical, with roundabouts (4), underpasses (1), 90 degree corners (10) and chicanes. Will there be a sprint? Maybe – depends what you classify as a sprint. It’ll be a slow drag to the line with the chance of a split in the technical final kilometers, but either way the climbing is the showcase of the day, and making up time on the flats will be very difficult once dropped.
Weather tomorrow is expected to be cooler and slightly wet. The riders rode a blistering pace today and managed to avoid the forecasted showers (like a true group ride), but it will probably be unavoidable tomorrow. It looks like it’ll catch the riders just before the Mont du Chat, which means it’ll be a slippery and wet descent. That combined with the high pace of racing for time before the rest day means that there will be some dangerous riding before the rest day. The temperature is also expected to max out at a pleasant 26C. Wind-wise, only a light 4kmh breeze is expected across the riders as they head South and into the riders as they go over the Mont du Chat, but nothing major.
The GC Situation
The peloton was attacked and splintered all the way into Station des Rousses, and while a late attack by Dan Martin threatened the Yellow Jersey, he was reeled in before the finish. Super-domestiques like Bauke Mollema and Andrey Amador lost minutes on the leading group (13 and 20, respectively), but no major GC contender lost any time and the top 10 stays the same heading into tomorrow’s stage where there will almost certainly be a shake-up of the GC.
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”
Tomorrow’s stage will bring some major changes to the GC. Chris Froome would have to be the hot favourite for the stage. He is on form after Stage 6 and managing to get a podium and secure Yellow, and he is renowned for his descending skills, so the finish into Chambery down the Mont du Chat will be a great way for him to win. While he can’t go solo last last year due to the 25km of flat afterwards, he will be up there. Richie Porte has also shown form just missing out on a podium in Stage 6, as well as finishing 2nd on top of the Mont du Chat in the Criterium de Dauphine just last month – behind Jakob Fuglsang, who will most definitely be riding in support of Fabio Aru who is just 14 seconds off Froome’s Yellow and in with a chance of taking it. Romain Bardet will also be up there if it comes to a sprint-y finish, and has a bit more of a buffer for a break compared to Aru or Martin to take time from Froome (oh, and Chambery is the home base of AG2R).
Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana will also favour themselves for tomorrow; and while they were weak on Stage 6 they held onto the main pack on Stage 8 and might be feeling okay heading into tomorrow. Dan Martin‘s attack at 3km got me hopeful that he would be able to podium (I did predict that he would win, but I will still claim the fact that he attacked at the exact spot I said he would) on today’s stage and take some time back, but I don’t think he will be able to put the same effort in tomorrow and might suffer.
The stage is probably a bit too hard for a rider minutes back on GC to break and win, but it’s a possibility that must be considered. The mountains are probably too hard for puncheurs to win, but riders like Guillaume Martin (3rd on today’s stage, and Wanty’s first Tour podium) and Brice Feillu might be able to stick it with the favourites and then be allowed to go away for a win. However, I can’t see that happening easily, if at all.
My pick is probably a safe bet, but he has proven time and time again that you can’t ignore him. Chris Froome has the ascending and descending skills to win this stage. He was 3rd on the Mont du Chat at the Dauphine, and can descend better than Porte. He can also sprint, or just go solo if he feels like it (with enough team mates in support). The only way one could contest Froome on this stage would be to wear out his super team, but even that would tire a rider out before they have even gotten to thinking about breaking Froome. And Sky hate giving up Yellow. Froome to win in Chambery for me, and to hold the Yellow over the rest day.
~ The Cycling Raven