The final day in the Jura mountains brings us the ‘Princess’ Stage of the Tour and if any rider is feeling iffy, they best stay in bed or climb into the broom wagon after kilometre 0. Half of all HC climbs in the race appear today giving a total of 4600 metres of climbing, and with the rest day looming tomorrow, we expect to see a few big efforts from GC riders wanting to reel back some lost time.
The rollers will be taking a pounding pre-stage, as we begin on an incline for the first 11km which takes in the cat 2 Côte des Neyrolles, a 3.2 kilometres climb at 7.2%, and then the road keeps on going up until they reach the summit of the cat 3 Col de Bérentin after 4.1km, but with only an average of 4.25%. Expect to see some riders with serious KOM ambitions try to force an early break, whilst also watching the sprinters start to suffer early doors and roll backwards!
After this initial slap to the face, the riders descend for 19kms until they reach the foot of the short cat 3 Cote de Franclens, a mere lump compared to what is about to come along. The Col de la Biche looms after 50kms, the first of the three HC climbs today. It’s an eye-watering 10.5km of fun with an average of 9%, the only riders pushing the pace up here will be those in the break looking for KOM points as the GC men will be conserving their legs for what’s still to come.
The road goes down and then immediately up again to ride up the Grand Colombier. The climb was featured twice during stage 15 in 2016 when the race visited the Jura mountains and it’s being tackled from its tougher side today. Shorter than the Col de la Biche at 8.5 kilometres, but the gradients are more severe peaking at 22% after 3kms and averages at just under 10% for the whole climb.
Expect to start seeing some GC favourites slip off the back if they aren’t feeling the vibe or like the pace! The descent could also be the scene of some riders trying to pull out a gap.
After the Grand Colombier, we reach a re-run of stage 6 of this year’s Critérium du Dauphine as the race rides through Culoz. These are flat roads, which will come as a relief for the riders (unless they are having to chase down a break). After this comes the meagre Côte de Jongieux, a cat 4 which won’t make a dent at 3.9 km and averaging at 4.2%.
After this comes the showstopper or the final straw for some riders! The Mont du Chat is one of the hardest climbs in France and we saw the race blown to bits when it was climbed during the Dauphine. It’s the shortest of the three HC climbs at 8.7, but averages a huge 10.3% and is relentless right to the summit. The time gaps between the GC riders will be significant after this, and as the old commentators favourite goes, the race won’t be won here, but it could well be lost. The following descent is pretty hair-raising and skilled descenders could eat up any gap that exists between them and a breakaway.
After this the riders face a final 12kms of flattish roads, taking them through the end point of stage 6 of the Dauphine, which saw Fuglsang out sprint Porte, Froome and Aru.
So we are left with the big question: will the winner come from the break or will it be the GC men fighting it out for the win.
The sheer amount of climbing involved will make it hard for one team to hit the front early and force a gap, so it’s likely that a break will get away early. The challenge for any break will be when the race reaches the Biche and, the explosive pace is replaced with grinding out a steady rhythm. This is where we could see the race start to come back together, but the profile of the Colombier and Chat will make it very difficult. The GC men will be weary of trying anything until they reach the Chat, so if the break has a couple of strong riders in it then a decent gap could be made prior to the final climb of the day. Then it’s all about how they handle the final descent. If they reach the foot of this with a couple of minutes in their favour, then the day is theirs.
Based on this theory here are our breakaway hopefuls to look out for, based on our success of yesterday these are all sure to feature (!)
Pierre Rolland (-15:00 mins)
Steve Cummings (-56:42 mins)
Thibaut Pinot (-24:48 mins)
Tiesj Benoot (-15:08 mins)
Oliver Naeson (-23:08 mins)
Jesus Herrada (-35:40 mins)
Tony Martin (-57:43 mins)
Jarlinson Pantano (-14:54 mins)
We went for Cummings and Rolland yesterday, with the Brit arguably more suited and both failed to appear in the break. Cummings is the first name on any tipsters breakaway teamsheet, so he gets a second chance from us! Rolland has stated that he’s going for stage wins and with the lack of high mountain stages he might try his luck here and also try and take back the KOM jersey for Cannondale.
Pinot also has his eye on the polka dots and it was clear from the first few stages that he wasn’t here for the GC, which was suspected prior to the race. He was brilliant at the Giro and will want to add to his two Tour stages wins here.
Benoot and Naeson both finish within the top 15 on stage 6 of the Dauphine and have also in the past shown that they can hack it uphill. However, the amount of climbing on offer today could be a bridge too far for both men. They are both incredibly strong riders during the spring classics and will be a plus for any breakaway trying to force a gap early on and can both pack a sprint at the end, if they make it!
Herrada featured in the breakaway to Alpe d’Huez on stage 7 of the Dauphine, ultimately finishing 3rd. Depending on the Movistar team tactics he could be used to go up the road early on in case he’s needed later in the race or be allowed to challenge for the win himself.
The HC climbs are long and brutish, you need a big engine to stay in the break, let alone try and drive the pace. Step forward Tony Martin – no intro needed. We’ve seen him in mountain breaks before and he’ll want to make up for missing out on stage 1.
Pantano had a ball in the Jura Mountains last year on stage 15, climbing like a goat and descending like a demon as he eventually took the stage win. Team tactics could decide if he’s allowed to go for it again, but if he is, watch out!