Pau > Laruns 163km
The fifth stage marks the start of the battle for yellow. We have a day with two big climbs, Col de Soudet and Col de Marie Blanque, before descending to Laruns for the finish, which is where Marc Hirschi had his heart broken by Tadej Pogačar back in 2020. The distance between the top of the final climb and the finish means we might not get a winner from the GC group, but as it’s the first mountain stage, the GC teams could well be keen on making a point.
Cloudy, 23 degrees.
Col de Soudet is the first HC climb of the race, a big day for those wanting to fight for the KOM jersey.
Col de Marie Blanque has a horrible final 4km, always red! Super steep, super hard.
Will we get a fight for the break? Some will see this as a chance of taking yellow, a once in a lifetime opportunity, it can’t be passed up. There’s an unclassified climb of 2km at 5.8% after 11km of racing, this gives a small chance for those who can climb to jump in the move, but it won’t be easy. Most of the riders in the bunch will lose a lot of time in this stage, making it one of the last opportunities for a lesser-known rider to take the yellow jersey, hopefully this means we see a big fight in the opening kilometres. Take Valentin Madouas for example, he sits 3:48 behind Adam Yates on GC, a successful breakaway would see him move into yellow. Alternatively, he could try and limit his losses in this stage, with a shot at the break on Thursday.
Once the break does go, the peloton will likely take Col de Soudet at tempo, before smashing up Col de Marie Blanque, which is a serious climb with the final 4km averaging 11.5%. With 18.5km to go from the crest, things can come back together, it all depends on who’s at the front and what the cooperation is like. The other tease is the bonus seconds at the top of this climb but setting your team to work all day for Pogačar to take the 8 seconds would be foolish.
All eyes will be on UAE and Jumbo-Visma, do they want to set up a GC day? The flat finish isn’t great for Vingegaard, he knows that Pogačar has a faster sprint, so it’s unlikely they’ll be pulling until we get a mountaintop finish. UAE have shown that they are keen on riding like crazy and setting up stage wins for Pogačar. It’s been fascinating to see how much energy he’s been willing to invest in the first week of the race, it goes against what the cycling rule book says. I get the feeling he’s taking this approach as he’s a little worried that he won’t be at his very best in the final week, due to his recovery from injury. If he can get ahead of Vingegaard, it will allow him to ride defensively in that final week, which would give him a great chance of holding onto the yellow jersey.
However, Pogačar has not been able to put Vingegaard into difficulty yet, in fact, he’s looked comfortable following his attacks. The problem that Vingegaard could have is the presence of Adam Yates. Jumbo-Visma will be worried about the distance between the final climb and finish. If UAE have both at the front, Vingegaard will come under big pressure as they look to attack him and force him into chasing. To ensure this doesn’t happen, Vingegaard needs to attack for the first time in this race, he needs to distance Adam Yates. In the opening two stages Vingegaard refused to work with Pogačar, but that will all change in this stage. To stop Adam Yates from coming back to the front and handing UAE the numerical advantage, Vingegaard will likely work with Pogačar, even if that means Pogačar winning the stage. The issue for Vingegaard is if Adam Yates isn’t too far behind, then we could see Pogačar refusing to work for just about the first time in his career. It’s going to be an intriguing battle.
This plan is depending on Vingegaard and Pogačar matching each other on the final climb, and distancing everyone else. From what I’ve seen in this race, I think this is likely to happen. The two riders seem evenly matched, and much stronger than everyone else, but we’ve yet to have a proper climb.
If the UAE plan is to take bonus seconds and a stage win, the break won’t survive, but it is a day where lots of riders will try to make the jump. Bjerg and Laengen are likely to do the lion’s share of the work, but I would be amazed if they survived Col de Soudet, which leaves a lot of work for the others to do, especially as Adam Yates is also protected. The first mountain stage usually goes the way of the peloton, but it cannot be guaranteed.
One more thing, watch for Jumbo-Visma doing their usual and trying to get a rider in the break. This will mean UAE will chase hard and use up vital energy, and if it works correctly, it will potentially mean a rider to help Vingegaard once over the final climb. This is a tactic they pulled off time after time in last year’s edition, I think we’ll see them trying to use it again.
Tadej Pogačar – he’ll start as the favourite to win the stage, thanks to his sprint. He’ll want his team to make this a hard stage, then he can launch on Marie Blanque and hopefully collect the 8 seconds at the top and the 10 for the stage win, but he won’t have it all his own way. When he launched his big attack on Saturday, Vingegaard was able to cover it, dropping him and going solo would require watts we’ve not seen from Pogačar yet in this race. He would love to be able to do so, but he’ll also be relatively happy winning the stage and collecting bonus seconds to further stretch his advantage over his big rival.
Jonas Vingegaard – as I’ve already said, I think we’ll see him attack for the first time in this stage. Jumbo-Visma will be fully aware that UAE could have a numerical advantage on the run for home, Vingegaard needs to put a big enough gap into Adam Yates so that Pogačar is happy to work, as it’s unlikely Kelderman will be in the same group as Adam Yates. Winning this stage will be very difficult for the Dane, he needs to drop Pogačar to make that happen, but taking time on everyone else would still be a good day for him.
Adam Yates – can he pull off the same trick twice? He’s climbing well just now, but Marie Blanque is a very difficult climb and he’ll struggle to follow the moves of the top two. He’ll hope he can get back to the front on the descent, but that all depends on what is happening at the front.
Victor Lafay – the man of the moment. Surprised everyone by being able to follow Pogačar and Vingegaard on Saturday, then goes and wins on Sunday, he must be in dreamland just now. The good news for Lafay is the steep gradients on Marie Blanque, this is something he loves, but he can struggle on longer climbs. I don’t think he’ll be able to follow the top 2, but he shouldn’t be too far behind.
Simon Yates – despite a lack of racing before Saturday, he’s started the race in great shape. He’s another who’s likely to be gapped on the final climb but could come back if things slow down up front.
Ruben Guerreiro – breakaway hopeful number 1.
Valentin Madouas – breakaway hopeful number 2.
Neilson Powless – breakaway hopeful number 3.
Matej Mohorič – breakaway hopeful number 4.
Rui Costa – breakaway hopeful number 5.
I think we’ll see the win coming from the GC group.
Tadej Pogačar to win a two-up sprint against Jonas Vingegaard.