Here’s the thing. Alpe d’Huez is overrated. That’s an axiom, of course it’s overrated. Barring the history, which I don’t go in for, particularly, there are probably dozens of equally good climbs in a very small radius that are equally as good. And no, the history doesn’t make the stage harder or the racing better. That’s not the point. Being overrated doesn’t stop something from being pretty bloody good. Pretty bloody good is exactly what the last fifteen kilometres of this stage should be.
Now, I’m not going to get all militant about attacking on this stage — in fact I’d be closer to imploring people not to do it, even if they could. They can’t, by the way. I had real hopes for Movistar but none of their riders is going to make this race their own and none of the other teams have the strength in depth. There’s also the course:
Will describes the course in this the thread beginning with the below tweet far better than I ever could.
1/ A few thoughts on the route for tomorrow's giant Tour de France stage feature Col de la Madeleine, Col de la Croix de Fer, and Alpe d'Huez. pic: Thor lusting after my shoes while climbing Madeleine: pic.twitter.com/duMjmue5Gy— cyclingchallenge (@cyclingalps) July 18, 2018
I prefer talking about racing, anyway. That’s a course that says “we want the peloton to go onto Alpe d’Huez tired, but we want the peloton to go onto Alpe d’Huez.” The long, less steep mountains and the kilometres of flat road mean that multiple team mates would be required for a long-range GC attacker. And Sky, undisputed rulers of this race in the mountains, know this. They also want to burn as few domestiques as possible. So, Rowe will do the Madelaine, Moscon will do the Croix de Fer and they’ll hit Bourg d’Oisans with six guys in the peloton. I can’t fault that strategy, of course — they’d be mad not to do it. The break, however, would be mad not to take advantage. On the earlier climbs so far in this Tour de France, the breakaway has managed to gain time on the GC riders as Rowe toils on terrain to which he is not suited. Today would have been a breakaway victory no different to stage ten had not Valverde attacked and sent Sky into, in the words of Pierre Latour, a “panic.” It is a testament to Sky’s strength and unflappability that that display constitutes a panic, but that’s neither here nor there. Point is, they will have nothing to panic about and the break will be given enough rope to hang the drunkest fan on the mountain and still win the stage. Remember, a GC threat hasn’t won on the Alpe since Carlos Sastre.
And I think that’s the most ringing endorsement of the breakaway I’ve ever written in a preview. Funny how at the Giro the talk was “are stage wins now too valuable to give to breakaways?” and now at the Tour the breakaways are looking likely in every mountain stage. Anyway, one thing for which my endorsements are always ringing is Amy’s beverage of the day — Marie et Vincent Tricot Trois Bonhommes Rouge
From the importer: Born in Anjou, Vincent left the Loire and attended Oenology School in Beaujolais in the early 1990’s. After graduating he stayed in the region and apprenticed in Brouilly from winemaker Patrick Coton. Around this time he met Marcel Lapierre and several other winemakers who were beginning to attract attention to their non-interventionist style of winemaking. Vincent was moved by their wines and quickly decided that this was the path for him. In 2002, after travelling the world, he moved with his wife and their 2 daughters to the village of Orcet in Auvergne. They purchased 4.5ha of organic vines and planted an additional 6 ha. Vincent had learned that the region had one of the largest concentrations of pre-phylloxera vines in France and was eager for such a rare opportunity to work with. They Currently grow Gamay, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc and hope to plant more vines in the coming years.
So before I get to who’ll win the stage, let’s have a look at the GC battle. It should only really become such in the last five kilometres of the stage, as Sky should control it before then before quickly realising that they have the two guys best-placed to attack. At that point I reckon it’ll be a race between the two guys to see who can attack first, with nobody wanting to find themselves in Froome’s situation today. This may be the second-most passive-aggressive L’Alpe d’Huez stage in history, as they pretend to be teammates while actually racing all-out. It does look like the two Sky men are the only ones who can come out on top from the GC group — Dumoulin climbed well on La Rosière, but that is a much easier mountain. I am expecting Froome to come in a few seconds ahead of Thomas this time, both shall be alone.
As for the stage, picking breakaway riders is fun. I’m limiting myself to four. Franco Pellizotti is the first. Bahrain-Merida have liked to have a go at the break and it is his turn. However, I feel he may be outclimbed. Guillaume Martin is one man who can do this, and though AG2R may want him out of the break due to his close position to Latour for the white jersey, they may not have the resources to stop him. Tanel Kangert is more likely to get into the break. My pick for the stage is Daniel Felipe Martinez. Now, I don’t like picking him because I think he is the go-to hipster pick of cycling previewers but he stayed in the peloton for an impressively long time today for me to sit up straight and note him down. Some climbing success for EF to sweeten the bitter pill of Urán’s trials, then. And hopefully the last time he’s a hipster pick.