Albertville > Col du Granon 151.5km
A monumental day in the fight for the yellow jersey. We have four iconic climbs and a leader’s team starting to creak under the pressure of COVID. UAE will rue not getting Kämna into yellow, this isn’t a stage they can control. Throw in the high altitude climbs and we’re hopefully in for a legendary Tour de France mountain stage.
Roasting hot and hardly any wind. Once up at over 2000m, things are a little more bearable.
First up are the beautiful hairpins of Lacets de Montvernier. The break should go here.
Then it’s the Télégraphe.
Immediately followed by the Galibier, which climbs up to 2600m above sea level. A beautiful descent follows, one for the TV audiences, before we bounce into the final climb of the day.
Col Granon is the final climb of the day, and what a beauty. It’s not one I know; I was only 8 when it was last used in the Tour de France. It is 11.2km at 8.8% and ends at nearly 2400m above sea level. I expect big gaps between the best riders.
The good news for UAE is the stage is only 150km, this gives them hope. If you are a climber who wants in the break, you get the big lads in your team to hold it all together until Lacets, then you make your move. The problem is this leaves just 100km left in the stage, which is controllable if a GC team wants to set up a stage win, but for me it’s still the right tactic to employ.
UAE are now in big trouble, through no fault of their own. Laengen and Bennett are out with COVID, Majka is positive but able to continue, but there is a real worry he’ll start to develop symptoms. Hirschi is struggling, he’s clearly not fully recovered from his own bout of COVID during the Tour de Suisse. Soler is also struggling, that basically leaves Bjerg and McNulty. This is a horrendous position for Pogačar to find himself, you cannot win the yellow jersey without a team. They cannot control the start of the stage, a huge break could well establish featuring threats on GC, one that they don’t have the men to chase down. In true Tour de France fashion, they’ll pray that someone comes to their rescue and rides to protect 10th on GC, the rest of us hope this doesn’t happen.
But how will the rest of the teams approach this stage? Ineos and Jumbo-Visma are the ones everyone will look at, as they have multiple options still high on GC. The tactic is clear, get satellite riders up the road, this opens the door for a long-range attack, one that will smoke out the rest of the UAE domestiques, leaving Pogačar all by himself with a long way still to go in the stage. Ineos will hope they manage to get Pidcock in the morning break, this is a huge chance for him to take yellow. He sits just 1:46 down on yellow, and he’s someone they can afford to take a risk with, as he’s not a genuine contender for the win at this point in his career. If he burns a lot of matches failing to make the break, it’s not something anyone will worry about, he’s the trump card for me today.
Then we have Jumbo-Visma. Roglič sits 2:52 behind Pogačar, we all know this is a stage where he can get back into the fight for yellow. If they can get Kuss, Benoot or Kruijswijk in the break, it allows Roglič to attack on the Galibier, the scene of his first Tour win back in 2017. We could see an alliance between Ineos and Jumbo-Visma, they know that together they have a far better chance of cracking Pogačar.
What about the Pogačar? If he comes out of this stage with the stage win and yellow jersey, the race still isn’t over, if the gaps are small. Today’s stage will take a huge effort by his team, and with an enormous day to come tomorrow, they’ll be on their knees. This is the other option for Jumbo-Visma, use today to wear down the domestiques, before striking tomorrow. I can write about potential scenarios all day long, but let’s be honest, no one has a clue how this stage is going to pan out, I just hope it’s as good as I hope.
Tadej Pogačar – the heat, the high altitude, the long climbs, the huge amount of energy used up earlier in the race, the lack of teammates, everything is pointing to him cracking today. However, this is not a normal rider, this is one of the best riders we’ve ever seen. He’s going to be isolated, but knowing him, he’ll respond by attacking. A long-range attack on the Galibier is right up his street, an all or nothing type of move. With his teammates dropping out or looking sick, he needs to strike a huge blow today, he needs to attack and take a big chunk of time on all his rivals. Fail to do that, and he is looking vulnerable for the stages to come.
Jonas Vingegaard – his role is clear, try to follow Pogačar. Don’t expect Jonas to be asked to attack, that is for other riders to do, he needs to conserve his energy and follow the yellow jersey. Once we get on the Granon, then he can decide if Pogačar has wasted enough energy. Finishing on the same time as him today would be a significant achievement, setting up a huge day tomorrow.
Primož Roglič – I’m hoping the race situation allows him to attack on the Galibier. He’s far enough down on GC to get a little freedom, but not much. I remember his win here back in 2017, a day he dropped Contador en route to a huge moment in his career. Fingers crossed he’s not in pain and can ride with freedom.
Enric Mas – we’re now getting into his stages; he’ll sense a chance of moving higher up the GC today. The Spaniard is ultra-consistent, but rarely wins.
Nairo Quintana – this is his playground; the high altitude is where he performs best. I doubt he’ll wait for the Granon, Nairo should be attacking from far out, putting pressure on his rivals.
Geraint Thomas – I’m interested to see how he rides this stage; he’s looking back to his very best, and maybe even a little better. It’s unlikely he’ll beat Pogačar, Vingegaard and Roglič, but you just never know.
Thibaut Pinot – breakaway hopeful number 1.
Tom Pidcock – breakaway hopeful number 2.
Michael Woods – breakaway hopeful number 3.
Jakob Fuglsang – breakaway hopeful number 4.
The shit is going to hit the fan and UAE are going to crumble, they simply don’t have enough fit riders for a stage like this. A big break will escape, featuring satellite riders, then Primož Roglič will get across and take the stage win.