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Tour Stage 9: Nowhere to Hide

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Nantua - Chambéry (181.5 km)

Mont Du Chat? Tim de Waele/Corbis via Getty Images

Is this the queen stage of the Tour de France? With forty-six hundred vertical metres, three hors categorie climbs, all of which are steeper than anything we're accustomed to seeing on the Tour de France, and a rest day to follow, it certainly puts in a claim to be. It's the race's second and final day in the Jura after yesterday's full-on charge to Station des Rousses.

Carte

Profil de l’étape

Could this stage be any crueller? It starts with the Col de Bérentin, seven kilometres at seven per cent, which will send the sprinters out the back immediately. There's a little bit of time to regroup afterwards, perhaps, but then it's straight into a couple of absolutely monster climbs, the Col de la Biche and the Grand Colombier, ten kilometres at nine per cent and nine kilometres at ten per cent, respectively, but both go much, much steeper, on narrow, tricky roads which must, remember, be descended as well. From kilometre fifty until kilometre one hundred and ten, the peloton will be in constant danger of breaking into pieces, uphill and down. At kilometre one hundred and ten, the group will surely be tiny, although it should swell quickly in the valley before the Mont du Chat itself.

I hadn't even mentioned the Mont du Chat. Here it is.

It's longer than that graphic would have you believe, it's wooded and shadowed, and it is consistently, horribly steep. There's nowhere on this climb to conserve, nowhere to rest, nowhere to relax. Everywhere is a place to attack and everywhere is a place to get dropped. Then comes the descent, which is fast, twisty and riveting to watch. It was previewed in the Dauphiné, where Richie Porte was given a real scare by Froome's superior descending.

Even that isn't the final challenge, with thirteen kilometres of flat to follow the descent, and likely no more than three or four riders to share the work on it. I'm in two minds as to whether it will improve the stage, with tactical games playing out in a fast run-in, or be detrimental to it as groups come back together and the GC doesn't split up.

AmyBC’s Wine of the Day – Les Grangeons de l'Albarine Mondeuse Le Chateau 2014

From the producer:
Les Grangeons de l'Albarine Wine estate is composed nowadays of an approx. 5 acres vineyards, located on different sites of Bugey area. The main location is Argis south facing slopes, divided in two different terroirs: Le Chateau, and Paradis, cultivated with three grapes varities: Altesse (also known as Roussette) and Chardonnay for whites, and Mondeuse for reds.

Did you know?

AG2R have their service course at Chambéry and Romain Bardet knows these climbs well. It's also home to Samuel Dumoulin.

Nantua is a big location for the Tour de l'Ain. And fish sauce. Not much else, however. Okay, time to get to the cycling.

What’s at stake?

By the end of this stage, we're going to know for an absolute certainty who cannot win the Tour. The yellow jersey may change hands or it may not, but whoever ends up in the front group, and it will not be many people, will have proved themselves capable of a podium finish in this Tour, with very few harder stages to come.

Who’s going to win?

It's the done thing to say that a break can win stages like this, but it's my opinion that that won't happen. BMC have been very willing to chase down any breakaway and the difficulty of the climbs means that only a group of the best climbers could hold out any hope of staying away on the mountains which they must face. They and Sky will likely ensure that the GC men will be the first into Chambéry.

Once there, only very few riders can realistically win this stage. In the Dauphiné, four got to the line together. They were Jakob Fuglsang, Fabio Aru, Richie Porte and Chris Froome. Fuglsang's form has not improved since, but the other three should manage to get to the line together. But who can join them? Only Dan Martin and Romain Bardet are real dangers to do so, it seems.

Chris Froome wins the first big mountain stage of the Tour de France. It's kind of his thing, if you haven't noticed, so it's hardly unreasonable to expect him to do it again. We saw him take risks on the self-same descent in the Dauphiné, it makes sense that he would do so tomorrow. He'd be well-suited, even, to making an attack stick on the flat part after the climb. If Martin finishes in the front group, he'll probably win the stage, but it's my belief that the Mont du Chat will be just slightly too much for him. Froome can probably beat Porte and Aru in a sprint if he has to, he's the best descender out of the group, the best on the flat, and possibly the best on the climb as well. He's my pick to win tomorrow.