By David Hunter
Saint Genix Les Villages – Les Sept Laux Pipay 133.5km
Get ready for a big weekend of climbing.
Just 133.5km long, but this stage contains over 4300m of climbing. It starts off relatively easily, but the final 100km features very little flat roads.
First up is Col de l’Épine, which is 7.2km at 7.2%. An easy descent follows before Col du Granier.
9.9km at 5.4% is the easiest climb of the day. Another easy descent follows, before a short section in the valley, which leads into Col de Marcieu.
13.2km at 5.3%, but that masks the difficulty of the climb. You can see it has a very challenging 3.5km section at 9%. It then kicks up again near the crest with 2km at over 8%.
The descent is very technical, and we could see some teams try to expose those who don’t descend very well, before we bounce straight into the final climb.
Montée de Pipay is a monster of a climb, 18.7km at 6.8%. This is a proper alpine test for the climbers and with riders already tired from a demanding day in the saddle, expect to see big gaps between the GC riders.
There is quite a lot of rain around in the late afternoon. The peloton need to go fast to stay dry!
All the GC teams will be thinking the same thing, get riders in the morning break. Teams only have seven riders, and most have arrived with sprinters too. Froome not being here completely changes the dynamic, which team is confident enough to step forward and take control of the race? Ineos still have a very strong team, but they don’t have their main card to play. Mitchelton are in the yellow jersey and they do have Schultz, Howson and Haig to support Yates. This is a strong unit, but can they control the whole race?
FDJ are in a good position, with Reichenbach, Molard and Gaudu here to support Pinot. I would say that they are the strongest team left in the race and how they approach the stage will be very interesting. The French have been craving a home winner for many years, Christophe Moreau won in 2007 and 2001, but that’s it. The home public will sniff a chance for one of their favourite sons to take a huge win and this is a stage where he can make a move.
Astana also have some strength, but not as much as FDJ. Fuglsang will look towards Izagirre and Lutsenko for help, but you wouldn’t call either of them alpine climbers. The rest of the teams look weaker, but that doesn’t mean their leaders can’t win, it just means they need to get their tactics spot on.
No doubt we’ll see FDJ and Astana trying to put pressure on Mitchelton. I think we’ll see them trying to get riders like Lutsenko and Molard into the break, meaning the Aussie must chase and waste resources. Looking at the climbs, I don’t think we’ll see big moves until the final climb. Once there, we’ll see plenty of shots fired and the front group will gradually slim down.
Thibaut Pinot – the Frenchman has a recent victory to his name, which is different to his rivals. While they all disappeared to altitude camps, Pinot decide to recon many of the Tour de France climbs, before winning Tour de l’Ain. After Froome’s crash, he will sense a huge opportunity to win this race, something he did talk about before it started. He has the team to support him deep into the race, but does he have the legs to beat some of the best climbers in the world?
Adam Yates – sits in a very strong position, not a surprise after the season he’s had. After going very close to victory in Tirreno and Catalunya, he’ll be hoping to final break his long run without a GC victory. Yates only has one of these to his name, that was back in 2014 when he won the Tour of Turkey, you could say he’s due another. He looks in great condition and while be one of the men to beat in this stage.
Jakob Fuglsang – another rider who’s enjoyed an outstanding season, he’ll be very hopeful of taking another big win this weekend. Fuglsang won the Dauphiné back in 2017, but I do still have a few questions about him in the high mountains. He clearly is a brilliant rider, but maybe not as natural a climber as some of his rivals in this race.
Nairo Quintana – speaking of natural climbers, will the real Quintana please stand up! 2nd in Paris-Nice and 4th in Catalunya were good results, but he didn’t look to be at his best in those races. Maybe he’s been carefully managing his efforts in the aim of peaking now and holding it through the Tour. The little Colombian should love the final climb, he is the purist of climbers. A big result here will certainly help boost his confidence ahead of the Tour, and possibly convince Movistar that he should be their leader.
Wout Poels – arriving at the race as a support rider for Froome, it’s very difficult to then change to the leader. Poels is a rider who usually peaks in the third week of the Tour, I would be amazed if his current form was good enough to win this stage.
Steven Kruijswijk – like many riders, his main aim is the Tour de France, he’s not 100% yet. The good thing is, almost all the other GC contenders are at the same current level, giving big Stevie a chance. A tremendous climber, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him win.
Dan Martin – was brilliant here in 2018, I wonder if he’ll produce a repeat performance this year. It’s not been a great season for him, but this is an opportunity to put things right. His TT has left him a little down on the others, which could buy him a little freedom in the finale of the stage.
Michal Kwiatkowski – breakaway hopeful number 1.
Nicolas Edet – breakaway hopeful number 2.
Pierre Rolland – breakaway hopeful number 3.
David Gaudu – breakaway hopeful number 4.
Without a dominant team, this is another good chance for the break to take the win. Looking at those down on GC, the name of David Gaudu sticks out. I think the young man will take the win, with the main GC riders finishing close to each other.
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