Stage 6: Le Teil to Mont Aigoual – 191km – Thursday, September 3
Apologies to Admiral Ackbar, but the second uphill stage finish of the Tour de France is nothing like Tuesday’s stage was. It’s a perfect day for a long breakaway…to get caught in the final 30-odd kilometers of climbing by a late-race counterattack from the pack. It’s a perfect day for said late-race move to get swept up in the general classification battle. And it’s a perfect day for anyone to get caught out either by bad legs or being over-bold.
Almost all the climbing in this 191km stage comes right at the end, but it’s far from straightforward. After 160km of flat to rolling terrain, the race starts heading inexorably uphill, with the Category 3 Col de Mourièzes followed quickly by the Category 1 Col de la Lusette, then a short downhill and flat section before roughly 8km of draggy uphill to the finish at Mont Aigoual.
There’s opportunity to be had, but you’ve got to get the move just right. We’ll likely see an early break go clear, helped by the flat terrain and the likely gentle tailwind for much of the race. But they’ll need a healthy time gap to maintain distance to the pack once they reach the Mourièzes. The lead will likely drop significantly on the Lusette, particularly a 2km-long section near the top where the gradient averages 11 percent.
That’s an ideal launching pad for an aggressive, late-race move. But that carries its own risks. Riders may get a gap there, but they’re still 15km from the finish, and have to make sure there’s enough left in the tank for the 8km of grinding-but-less-steep climb to the finish. To make matters more complicated, the route is unknown to most racers; the last time the race visited this section was 33 years ago, before most of today’s peloton was even born. All that means there’s a serious risk that a too-aggressive move will only result in blowing yourself up.
Unless things go very pear-shaped, expect the stage winner to come from a breakaway of some kind. For the GC candidates, Thursday will likely be a day to play defense but watch for opportunities to catch out a rival. Anyone dropped on the Lusette has very little time to re-catch the main contenders group on the short descent and flat section afterward. If they can’t, they may lose a minute or more at the finish, and it’s possible one or more GC aspirants may see their overall hopes evaporate.
Riders to Watch
The early breakaway should be a moderate but manageable size: maybe 5-10 riders, from a mix of WorldTour and wild-card teams. Lotto-Soudal’s Thomas de Gendt has been saving energy for several days now; this is a perfect stage for his patented long-range moves. Coconspirators could include riders like CCC’s Alessandro de Marchi. Depending on the mix and how the pack feels, if they have a big gap at the start of the Lusette that could discourage counterattacks.
If not (say it’s under four minutes), then it’s all fair game. Riders to watch include climbers who are not threats for the overall, like Jesús Herrada of Cofidis or Israel Start-Up Nation’s Ben Hermans. Spare a thought for Julian Alaphilippe, though. The Deceunick-Quick Step rider finished safely in the top 20 in Stage 5 but lost the yellow jersey after commissaires penalized him 20 seconds for accepting a water bottle from a team staffer late in the race, when feeds are illegal. That will undoubtedly tick him off, and Thursday’s profile is perfectly suited to the kind of bold move for which he’s known. It’s not at all out of consideration that he could try to retake the race lead.
When to Watch
This is a day to catch the last hour or so. By the fastest timetable, the riders will crest the Mourièzes right around 10 a.m. EDT. Tune in then to catch the climb of the Lusette and the chess match to the finish at Mont Aigoual.
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