If they lack the altitude of the Alps and the mystique of the Pyrenees the Vosges have plenty of offer. Today’s stage is a showcase for the small mountain range, crossing six passes before stinging finish at the Planche des Belles Filles. It’s 14 July, Bastille Day, the French national holiday so expect giant crowds and beaucoup d’attaques. It’s live on TV from start to finish.
Stage 9 Wrap
This year’s Tour de France only had one time trial stage until Tony Martin decided otherwise. The stage had a wild start as everal moves went clear only to get brought back. Then Martin was away with Alessandro de Marchi. Their moved seemed unlikely, just two riders when a third of the peloton fancied its chances. They were pursued by a counter-attack with close to 30 riders including five Europcar riders. These chasers got within 22 seconds to Martin and de Marchi but no closer. Europcar had too many riders in the chase as it meant the rest of the break counted on the car rental team to give drive the break. Try as they might they couldn’t bring back Martin and De Marchi who looked like they were riding a criterium, a busy pedalling style and carving every corner. The group behind was so big their odds of success would slashed if they were caught. At the finish Martin’s lead could be measured in kilometres rather than seconds and the larger the units the better as this was an enormous ride. It wasn’t thrilling or packed with suspense and that’s the point: everyone tried to go up the road and Tony Martin simply rode away.
Tony Gallopin is in yellow. At ease in the classics and useful in the medium mountains his glory is deserved. He’s got a good sprint and could well take a stage later in the race. Gallopin’s glory is ideal for Astana as they don’t have to defend the jersey but could find Vincenzo Nibali is back in yellow by the end of the day. When the Tour finished on the Planche des Belles Filles in 2012 Gallopin was only 1.44 down; clearly he’s motivated to go faster today but he’s also got the fatigue in his legs and there are many mountains to climb. The Route
Km 30.5 - Col du Firstplan (722 m), 8.3 kilometre-long climb at 5.4% - category 2
Km 54.5 - Petit Ballon (1 163 m), 9.3 kilometre-long climb at 8.1% - category 1
Km 71.5 - Col du Platzerwasel (1 193 m), 7.1 kilometre-long climb at 8.4% - category 1
Km 103.5 - Col d’Oderen (884 m), 6.7 kilometre-long climb at 6.1% - category 2
Km 125.5 - Col des Croix, 3.2 kilometre-long climb at 6.2% - category 3
Km 143.5 - Col des Chevrères (914 m), 3.5 kilometre-long climb at 9.5% - category 1
Km 161.5 - La Planche des Belles Filles (1 035 m), 5.9 kilometre-long climb at 8.5% - category 1
Just 161.5km but packed with climbing. There’s 20km on the plains toward Colmar and an awkward start, this is a day for the climbers but anyone wanting to get in the breakaway will have to work the 11 sprocket from the start. The appropriately named Firstplan starts the climbing. It’s a secondary road but wide and accessible. Next up is the Petit Ballon, climbed for the first time ever in the Tour and they’re using the toughest road up, it’s narrow with varying gradients. The descent is winding on some small roads and then onto the Platzerwasel via a wide road which continues for the long descent to the Lac de Kruth and then the steady climbs of the Col d’Oderen and the Col des Croix.
Then comes the Col des Chevrères to rhyme with severe. The penultimate climb of the day is listed as 3.5km long but the road starts climbing for 6km before on a narrow approach to the village of Miellin. After the gradient ratchets up and the road gets very narrow. To describe it as a wall would be generous for walls make you think of regular shapes. The descent’s not a mirror-image, after a short narrow section it picks up a wider road and an easier gradient as the race dips to Plancher-Les-Mines and the road drags gently up to the start of the final climb, a softer descent and initial rise than stage profile above suggests. The Finish
A sharp right turn and the road soars. The climb is only 5.9km long and averages 8.5% which is steep enough. The reality is that the climb has some micro downhill stretches so when the road rises it’s often much steeper. That little red section on the profile above contains a short descent. After a long steep ramp to the first hairpin, things then ease with a variety of steep inclines and flatter sections. The finish sees the road get progressively steeper, culminating in final 300 metres where the road bends round to the line at 14% and a section at 20% to the line. The Scenario The Planche des Belles Filles has been used once before the stage in 2012 was very different, as flat a run in as geography allowed before the final climb. Today has as much climbing as the region permits. Consequently the format will be different and it’s likely an early break will go and get some space. Behind Lotto-Belisol are supposed to chase in order to defend Gallopin’s lead but it’s a tricky balance, not to work too much as he might lose it anyway and the need to save a rider or two to help Jurgen Van den Broeck’s GC ambitions. However the close we get to the finish the more Astana, Tinkoff-Saxo, BMC Racing, Sky and others will push to the front of the peloton and force the pace. It’s critical they place their leaders in the right place for the Col des Chevrères with 30km to go. The fight for position means the pace goes up and it’ll eat into any breakaway. Should a group stay away to the foot of the final climb they’ll need at least two minutes in order to stay clear. It’s likely time gaps at the finish are small, this is a very hard stage but the big names will likely wait for end. Today’s time gaps will be small but they’ll provide big lessons for the rest of the race. The Contenders
Alberto Contador is the prime pick. If he wants to take back time on Vincenzo Nibali now is the time to start. The irregular nature of the climb suits his climbing style where he’s happy with accelerations and riding out of the saddle. He’ll probably leave it late but this should only increase his chance of winning the stage because he won’t be left to stew of the front. Vincenzo Nibali is next, he need only follow Contador and if there’s little advantage in wheelsucking it means he just has to sit tight and react to events at his own pace. When the race came here in 2012 he was right with Froome, Wiggins and Evans. Thibaut Pinot lives just down the road and often trains on this climb. He really wanted to win here when the race came in 2012 but it didn’t happen and now he returns with the form to do this. A win is still a big ask but he’s in good shape and a top climber. If he can get to the foot of the final with the others then he can expect a strong finish. Fellow Frenchie Romain Bardet stands a good chance too, don’t forget he was second on Tejay van Garderen in the Queen Stage of the Volta a Catalunya earlier this year.
We saw Richie Porte on Stage 8, perhaps he could have matched Contador and Nibali if he wasn’t a further back when they went and he’s been training for longer efforts. What of Alejandro Valverde? Movistar’s leader has had a quiet first week and like a big cat in the wild maybe he’s staying out of sight and waiting for his time to pounce. As well as avoiding the limelight he’s not appeared in the medical bulletins either.
Normally Andrew Talansky would get a good tip but his accident-prone start means he’s a bit sore and it could still trouble him, if he’s recovered then expect a strong finish. The same for Tejay van Garderen, eighth above Gérardmer with crash damage and a sharp climb that didn’t even suit him, Thomas Voeckler gets a mention but for romantic reasons? It’s the 14 July, he can deliver big wins and had a rest of sorts yesterday after attacking but being caught. But again maybe he’s not the force he once was. Better breakaway picks include Joaquim Rodriguez, Brice Feillu, Leopold König, Yuri Trofimov, Sébastien Reichenbach and Janier Acevedo, all climbers. We could add Arthur Vichot as he’s a local but he could be on duty to help fellow régional Pinot. Finally talking of locals, Simon Yates might try again today. He’s a Brit of course but twin Adam spent a season racing in this area and Simon knows the roads too. He’s likely to leave the race before the end and so he’ll take what chances come. But this might be asking too much, after all the others in Saturday’s breakaway were already modelling their tactics on him such is his reputation.
Thibaut Pinot, Richie Porte, Tejay van Garderen
Alejandro Valverde, Romain Bardet, Andrew Talansky
Mollema, Voeckler, Feillu Weather: cool and cloudy with the chance of rain at the start. It’s then expected to dry out during the day. A top temperature of 16°C. TV: live from start to finish. The stage begins at 1.00pm Euro time with a 30 minute procession and then KM0 and the racing begins at 1.30pm. The finish is planned for 5.45pm.