Time for the second of three Alpine stages, and unlike the last one this will have to break up at some point. As everyone will tell you, this was given a dry run in the Dauphiné, a stage won by Pello Bilbao from the early break with Geraint Thomas, now somewhat intriguingly, the best of the GC men. On that day, there was no GC attacking before the final climb, but that need not hold for this stage. No, for this stage, there is a key word, and that key word is risk. Let’s go into why.
This is, self-evidently, the stage profile, and in theory, it could barely be more ideal for a long-range attack. It is only one hundred and eight kilometres, meaning that a move far from the finish is more viable, and just as importantly there is no area of flat valley roads. The importance of this has never been more visible than today, on the Plateau des Glières. Luke Rowe should never have been able to do that whole climb on the front of the Tour de France. He could, however, for the simple reason that he knew nobody wanted to attack due to the lack of climbing between the top of the Plateau and the Col de Romme. This allowed the climb to be tackled at a slow pace — basically wasted (now, a finish at the end of the gravel section would be something to watch. So would the furore when the guy who was going to win got a puncture). Here, no climb is going to be wasted, and I have to think that Sky are not going to be allowed to take the climbs at whatever speed they choose. The best way to stop this, of course, is in the name of this preview. This stage is designed for attacks. Not only because of the shortness or the lack of flats, but just take a look at the final climb for a second:
I’m going to make a prediction that’s not bold at all: If by four and a half kilometres from the finish, the lead group has not split up, it will not split up. Even if (and it’s not a guarantee) the peloton comes to the climb of La Rosière in a condition to be recognised as a peloton, any and all moves to dislodge rivals have to - have to - be made between eight-and-a-half and five kilometres to go. Otherwise the gradient won’t be steep enough to make any kind of a difference. This is the stage’s version of a failsafe for attacking racing. If nothing else works, the last eight kilometres simply have to be full of attacking racing, by design. It’s almost like they foresaw the exact situation we’re in currently. The Tour’s in need of some exciting racing after the race situation made a complete hash of a promising stage ten. This is a stage they can’t fuck up. Surely. Surely. [That paragraph features in my article about Movistar’s aspirations tomorrow also, here. I feel it’s relevant to both.]
Always relevant is Amy’s drink of the day — Dolin Blanc vermouth
A curveball. From the producer: Dolin is the one and only inventor of the vermouth of Chambéry. The reason for which Dolin legitimately states that it is the inventor of Vermouth de Chambéry, a particularly significant annotation that has never been contradicted nor challenged by any party, is based on the civil judgement delivered by the Court of Chambéry on 15 January 1929.
So as for the stage winner, I’ve said my piece about Movistar but I don’t think their ranks contain the stage winner. Warren Barguil is the bookies’ major favourite. Like Barguil’s move to Fortuneo, I’m sure it makes sense, I just wouldn’t do it myself. Not only I am worried he’ll be tired after his run at the “Least-convincing attack ever” competition, I just think that expecting the break to make it is not always a profitable endeavour in this field. I do think Movistar will push. AG2R would if they could. Even Bahrain. More importantly, the fundamental difference between stage ten and eleven is that Sky know they need to actively discourage attacks. Much of stage ten did that. Stage eleven does not. They will keep the pace much higher and the peloton will be much less comfortable. Thus, Barguil will have to get into the right GC rider-containing group and prove the strongest out of it, as he did on stage thirteen last year. Not impossible, but as fraught with difficulty as massaging Lawson Craddock.
I could mention guys all day (I’ve heard Damiano Caruso, he’s not a bad break pick), but that’s utterly pointless. My pick is Adam Yates. He’s looking very strong. He can tack on to any group that gets away. I think he’ll get away from them on the final climb.