Stage 9: Vielha Val d'Aran - Andorre Arcalis, 184.5 km
The Tour goes into Andorra for the biggest of the Pyrenean stages.
What's It About?
Continuing on this bumper Pyrenean weekend. After the four big climbs on stage 8, we have five here, and some of those who survived yesterday may be found out on the summit finish. Froome's attack on the descent today was neat, but with a chance to attack on his favourite terrain, this is where the Sky train gets in gear to try to put the race out of sight. However, they may not find it too easy. Arcalis has been used twice in the Tour, most recently in 2009, when all attacks were mopped up until Contador put in a jump for twenty seconds under the Flamme Rouge, with all the other contenders coming in together. However, that stage was easier that tomorrow's. The opposite is true for the other time Arcalis was used to finish on, to end a seven-hour marathon in 1997. Jan Ullrich took a minute from Pantani, and the field split a bit, but that was 1997, where no one could challenge Ullrich. Stages of the Vuelta have finished here as well, occassionally finishing in a selective sprint between favourites.
AmyBC's Food and Wine Pairings
Wine: Recaredo Brut Nature Gran Reserva Cava 2006
From the Josep Mata Capellades founded Cavas Recaredo in 1924, naming the domaine in honor of his father, Recaredo Mata Figueres. Josep Mata Capellades built the cellars in his house, in the historic centre of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia. Parts of the cellars are now over 80 years old and have been conserved in their original form. Recaredo is a pioneer in the production of totally dry cavas, in working with oak barrels and in longer-aged cavas. Cavas Recaredo is currently managed by Josep and Antoni Mata Casanovas, the sons of its founder, with Ton Mata actively involved and representing the succeeding generation
Food: Bayonne Ham: I admit it, Andorra was tricky. So how about some ham?
Bayonne Ham or Jambon de Bayonne is a cured ham that takes its name from the ancient port city of Bayonne in the far South West of France, a city located in both the cultural regions of Basque Country and Gascony.
If you look at the map, you'll see that we're in mountainous terrain today, and none of it is in France.
The profile will show yet another "shark's teeth" day:
It will also show one important facet of the stage — it starts with an immediate climb, which will shell half the peloton, warm up the vocal chords of whoever it is that calls "grupetto" these days, and put nine Team Sky riders on the front. While the Côte de la Comella is officially only five kilometres, there is leg-sapping climbing all the way from the bottom of the Port del Cantó.
Here's the business end of the stage, with the steep Côte de la Comella being followed by the steeper Col de Beixalis, before the somewhat less steep Arcalis. It's ten kilometres at seven per cent, making it only the twelfth hardest climb of the race, according to our resident expert. Hell, the Aspin is fourteenth, and we saw what damage that caused. It'll be up to the riders to make the race on the earlier climbs if we're to see too much of a battle here.
Riders to Watch
This stage isn't quite as unpredictable as stage 8. While the summit finish could conceivably be a more difficult one, it's still a summit finish, and Nairo Quintana will want to make up for the twenty seconds he didn't expect to lose yesterday. Will Sky dictate the tempo again? If Movistar do it, they'll only tire themselves out, and leave Sky with even more men to shepherd Froome up Arcalis. However, if Movistar really do want to force the pace, they may commit a few men to the front.
We have to assume that Froome is going to try something today. He's clearly up for anything that will put time into Quintana before he rides himself in, and why break with a tradition that has worked so well for him in the past? In an ideal world for Froome, Sky would set the tempo the whole way, there would be no attacks until around eight kilometres to go, when Froome would jet off to win by over a minute over Sergio Henao, get a knighthood and have Pinarello approved as official supplier to the Queen.
Can Nairo stop that happening? Well, he certainly didn't look perturbed by any of Froome's prods on the Peyresourde, so that's something. However, he does tend to ride himself in to the Tour, and even if he is going much better than last year, this is where he and everyone else has gone down to Froome before.
Richie Porte was closest to Froome when he disappeared somewhere on the Col de Soudet last year, and he was able to respond on stage eight, with that puncture on stage two the only thing keeping him out of the top ten. He's a great climber, especially early on in races, so we need to look out for him.
Alejandro Valverde also oughtn't be discounted — he looked fine on stage eight, and if indeed the stage is less selective and comes down to a sprint between the top five or six, you can bet your bottom dollar he'll be there. As will Daniel Martin, who is reaching new heights in the mountains, and won the sprint for second today. He followed Froome and Quintana with no difficulty (and no team).
I suppose a break could also take it, if Sky malfunction somehow. Navarro could be in it, Rosa could be in it, one of the Izzys could be, Buchmann could be...take your pick.
Pick to Win
I'm going for the peloton to take this one, and I've seen nothing to tell me that Chris Froome won't do it again.