Saint-Étienne > Mende 192.3km
The race heads back to Mende, a stage made for the breakaway. The two finishes here in the last 7 years have gone that exact way, with Fraile winning in 2018 and Cummings in 2015, both stages are ones that I remember well. The final climb is very hard, but it’s possible for a non-climber to take the day, if they ride a clever tactical race. Stuyven was incredible close to doing this in 2018, but Fraile caught and then dropped him with just 50m of the climb still to go, the Belgian will be back this year.
Another roasting hot day with temperatures hitting 30 degrees.
The opening 60km is full of nice little kickers to help the break establish, especially as they’ll also be a tailwind.
Côte de la Fage starts with 35km to go, it’s a great chance for the better climbers to slim down the front group and increase their chances of taking the win. The climb takes place on a very narrow road, perfect for anyone who wants to attack. The fist part of the descent continues on narrow road, perfect for those who want to push on over the crest of the climb.
Côte de la Croix Neuve is a brilliant climb for the fans, a horrible one for the riders. Only 3km in length but it averages close to 10% and seems to go on forever. From the crest there is just 1.5km to go, so first over the climb should win, but try telling Steve Cummings that!
As I’ve said many times before, a team with multiple riders in the break will have a great chance of taking the win. The opening 60km of the stage has lots of little lumps and bumps to help the break establish, but it could take a while as everyone knows the morning move will go all the way.
Once it does get away, the race will calm for a while and then burst into action in the final 70km. If you don’t fancy yourself to climb with the best on the brutal ramp at the end of the stage, then you must attack early and try to build an advantage. In the break they’ll be a couple of riders who’ll be head and shoulders above the rest on the climb, which means the cooperation in the break will be poor. Last time we were here Gorka Izagirre attacked with around 70km to go, and he was joined by Slagter and Stuyven. Even in a group of three the riders couldn’t work together, which led Stuyven to go solo with a long way to go. The break is likely to be huge, probably around 20 riders big, getting everyone to work together will be impossible.
That’s why I think this stage will suit the teams fully committed to the break. Bora, Bahrain, QuickStep, EF, and Trek look the most likely to have multiple riders at the front of the race. Turning that into a win isn’t easy, to cross the line first will require great legs, luck, and tactical brilliance.
Back in the peloton, the bunch will have a rest day until the final climb, expect to see the biggest gap to the break in the whole race. Once on the climb, the riders will fire their bullets, I would expect Pogačar and Vingegaard to get a gap on the climb, but I don’t think the best two will be able to gap each other, and Thomas will come back to them on the descent.
The other thing to watch out for are the cheeky chappies sitting around 10th place on GC, who will look to take some free time in the GC battle. I’m looking at Mas and Lutsenko, who are 9:32 and 10:33 down respectively, this is chance to take a big jump back up the standings, potentially bringing them back into the fight for the podium.
Bora – the team with the most options for this type of stage. Their best shots at the win will be Schachmann, Kämna, Konrad and Großschartner, it all depends on who makes the break. All four of these guys can cope with the final climb and most of them have a fast sprint too, they are perfect for this type of stage. If they can get two or three of them in the break, the stage win will belong to them.
QuickStep – it’s good to see Bagioli improving as the race goes on, he’s an important part of the team in a stage like this. He can now join Cattaneo and Honoré in hunting down the stage win, which provides the squad with three strong options. I’ve been impressed by Cattaneo in recent stages, even though things haven’t fallen into place for him. In a breakaway stage like this, it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on QuickStep.
Bahrain – they’ve got nothing to show from this race, which is a big surprise considering how strong they’ve been all year. Most impressive so far have been Sánchez and Wright, but it shouldn’t be long before Teuns, Mohorič and Tratnik start to hit some serious form. They almost got it right in Megève, but it wasn’t to be, but this is another great chance for them to get off the mark in this race.
EF – Cort and Bettiol are their best finishers for this type of stage, but Powless and Rutsch could also go a long way depending on who they are with. The team have enjoyed a fine race, with Cort taking the KOM jersey for several stages and then getting the win in Megève, they can now race with freedom until Paris. Powless doesn’t mind the steep stuff, remember back to his brilliant win in San Sebastian.
Lotto Soudal – it’s not been a great race for the Belgians, they’ve struggled to challenge for wins. Looking to put that right will be Gilbert, Wellens, and Kron, but the pressure is starting to mount. Personally, I’d love to see Gilbert do something in this stage, it would be great to see him taking the win and reminding everyone of just how talented he is. As time goes on, it can be easy to forget just how amazingly talented this man is. In cycling terms, I grew up watching him dominate for many years, he’s someone I have a huge amount of admiration for.
Trek-Segafredo – as I’ve mentioned already, Stuyven went very close to here in 2018, he’s still looking to crack his duck in this race. The problem for a rider like Jasper is that each Tour de France only has 2 or 3 stages that he can realistically win, and even then, some of those stages are very hard for him. Take this stage for example, the final climb isn’t to his liking, but it’s still a stage he could win, depending on the race situation. Given his palmarès, he’s one of the best riders in the current peloton not to have a Tour de France stage win to his name. He showed on the cobbles that his form is good, he just needs a little luck. The team also have Mollema, Ciccone and Simmons for a stage like this, getting multiple riders in the move will be key in allowing Jasper to attack from distance and try to take the win.
Jumbo-Visma – will they allow some freedom to their domestiques? I hope so. Benoot, Laporte, Kuss, Kruijswijk could all win this stage, but it depends on team tactics. As we have a few quiet days for the GC riders, I hope to see the Jumbo Bees fly. Will it be another day for Van Aert? If he makes the break, it really will kill the cooperation.
Dylan Van Baarle – probably the best option for Ineos, he looked nice and strong in Megève. As the race goes on, and others get tired, Van Baarle will grow stronger. This will be a stage he’s marked in the road book; motivation will be high as he looks to take his first grand tour stage win.
Matteo Jorgenson – another who impressed in Megève, you all know I’m a big fan of the young American. This is a good-looking stage for him, especially if he gets some of his big teammates in the move with him. The form is good, the legs are good, this could be his big day.
Nick Schultz – without doubt, he was the best in Megève, but didn’t come away with the win. He’ll use that disappointment as extra motivation for this stage, but he’ll know that he’ll be one of the marked men in the break.
Valentin Madouas – he’s been riding very well in the mountains, supporting David Gaudu deep into the stages, but this should be a day for him. He sits 14th on GC, nearly 18 minutes down on Vingegaard, but if he makes the break and it gets a huge gap, we could see him in the top 10 by the end of the day. The punchy finish is perfect for him.
The winner will come from a team who has numbers in the break but predicting that is incredibly difficult. Okay, I’ll go with Bora and a win for Max Schachmann.
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