One of the key features of this year’s Tour has been the organisers hunt through France for some of the steepest roads, rather than just settling for the highest. The theory is that this gives us much more exciting racing, especially in the post-EPO era, where you’re more likely to see sustainable attacks on short, savage ramps than you are on a long and consistent ones.
And so yesterday was determined by the climb near the finish. Perhaps not quite as dramatically as La Planche des Belle Filles did last week, but Mont Saint Clair dramatically reduced the peloton and gave Cadel Evans the chance to set Bradley Wiggins to the test on another climb, one that Wiggins passed admirably. Behind the dramatics at the front, a peloton that had already been split by crosswinds was being further reduced by the steepness of the climb, which drastically reduced the field of sprinters for the finish. There were a couple of surprises at the end – first, seeing the yellow jersey lead out the sprint for a team mate with an incredible burst of speed and secondly, that Andre Greipel had made it over the climb while Goss and Cavendish hadn’t. He got to match Peter Sagan by taking his third win of the Tour, though Sagan now seems to have a stranglehold on the green jersey, unless circumstances completely remove him from a couple of sprints.
Despite the attacks on the final climb and BMC’s work to split the peloton in the winds, there were no changes amongst the leaders, and now there are just a handful of stages left that might change the overall positions. The transition is over, and we’re into the Pyrenees as we enter the final week.
The day starts in the foothills after climbing to the Col du Portel, then heads over two category 1 climbs before a descent and run-in to Foix. The length of the run-in at the end makes it unlikely that any of the leaders is going to put any time into their rivals, as unless they can get into a big group, they’ll be chased and caught on the run-in. However, the second climb of the day on the Mur de Peguere gets very steep at the top and while breaking off from a group might not work, it’s a place where someone who cracks and drops off from the main group is likely to lose a lot of time that they won’t make back up on the descent. Lots of teams will be remembering how Wiggins cracked on the similarly steep climb of the Angliru in last year’s Vuelta and may be seeking to do the same again.
It’s a good day for a breakaway to take the stage and try to hold out across the two big climbs, though the Perguere will likely shatter them apart too, and they’ll need to regroup to stay out ahead on the run-in. It could be a day for a rider like Sylvain Chavanel to shine – someone who’s been looking for glory for the past two weeks but found none as yet, and is far enough down in the overall classification to be allowed to get away. Pierre Rolland is too highly placed to be allowed to get away, but look for him to try and grab some King of the Mountains points as he battles with Kessiakoff.