Yesterday bought two firsts in the Tour, the first success for a breakaway – a sign that big tests are coming – and the first uphill finish, along with the first serious climbs of this race (Holme Moss was a hard test, but not at long at the Col de la Croix) – and we had a wealth of things to mull over after a fantastic stage and plenty of exchanges amongst the major players.
Biel Kadri made the early break – and what a fight it was to reach it – before then striking on the Croix and making what turned out to be a race winning move – Incidentally, AG2R had also done recons of all three stages in the Vosges beforehand – dropping Chavanel, the now IAM team leader having struck out early at the foot of the climb before Kadri dropped Yates, Terpestra and Adrien Petit and bridged before quickly going on, and with the Peloton still 4.33 back, Kadri, being a superb descender (and climber in his own right) was never likely to be caught, taking the polka dot jersey as well as the stage in a fantastic effort that combined timing and sheer power.
In behind we had more excitement, with Saxo-Tinkoff coming to the fore and hammering it from the moment that the main field hit the Croix, gaining a position and then drilling a position from the very start for Alberto Contador, shelling out everybody but a favourites group and keeping the hammer down over the Grosse Pierre to set up a big showdown up the Gerardmer. Before that, Andrew Talansky lost two minutes and any likely podium chances when he managed to slip off the treacherous descent and had a dropped chain after his crash.
On the climb we had the equivalent of a finish to Fleche Wallone with the kind of climb that we would normally see in the Vuelta or Tirreno Adritico. The pace had been merciless leading upto this point – so much so that Nibali had no lieutenants, an interesting precedent ahead of the next two weeks – and we had an uphill endurance sprint between the main men expected to decide the Tour. Contador was active early and looked comfortable but do did Nibali, who sat in his wheel until the very last metres, when he sprinted to gain three seconds. Richie Porte was the day’s other major winner, having kept with the big two as they sprinted from an elite group which contained Thibaut Pinot, Jean Crtriphe Peraud, Alejandro Valverde, Tejay Van Garderen, Romain Bardet, Bauke Mollema and Rui Costa.
The day’s result was ominous for anyone apart from the top three on the face of things but it’s important to remember that the wall at the finish suits some more than others – we have different kinds of summit finishes to come and 6 high mountain days ahead of us – and that there are any amount of mountain variables that can come into play while conditioning is impossible to know too with the last week being so crucial in deciding grand tours, so be loathe to make serious predications based on anything before Monday, the first high day in the mountains and what an explosive run it is as well.
Today, the second of three stages in the Vosges, has 6 climbs in total, including the first Category 1 climb of this race. The Col de la Schlucht (8.6km at 4.5) is climbed from the start and then we have the Wettenstein (7.7km at 4.1%), Chateaux (4.5km at 6.1%) and Guberschwhir (4.1km at 7.9%) before Le Markstein (10.8km at 5.4%) and the Grand Balon afterwards, only 1.4km but averaging 8.6% and a lucnhpad before an interrupted run down into Mulhouse.
There’s the potential for things to get interesting but with Monday of such great importance an escape is guaranteed a win and probably all the places.
This territory is Vockeler territory, although his lack of form is disconcerting, having been on and off the bunch all week, and from Europcar Pierre Rolland and Cryil Gautier would make more appeal. Rolland, fourth in the Giro but out of the running for this year’s Tour, would want to be targeting the polka dot jersey, but he was dropped on the Grosse Pierre and seems to be lacking the condition – Gautier didn’t hold the wheel of the main favourites on the climb upto Mulhouse yesterday but won’t have that to deal with and seems the strongest of the likely three to make an escape – he also showed up well overall in Paris-Nice with the toughest stages brining out the best in him.
Simon Gerrans and Michael Alabasini are also two men who should be ideally suited by today – the climbs are regular but they’re not super tough affairs and the sprinter will win of the men to come home in a group today.
Arthur Vichot is a fascinating choice. Third in a Paris-Nice that was more made out of classical rolling stages than any actual summit finishes and he won the final stage when outsprinting a group that had come over the feature day, with 4 category 1 and 2 category 2 climbs having lined the route, the last two in close proximity than today’s top peak. 5th and 6th on similarly selective stages as well, the worry is his form since, but FDJ have missed out on most breaks and he’s 15 minutes down on the general classification so there’s no reason for him to be dragged back. Boylesports pay 40’s on him with 5 places and that’s worth chancing.
Peter Sagan is a worthy favourite with so much descending and a flat run into the route, if he makes the break, but he’s a short price for this in general unless that was to happen – this is hard terrain for Cannondale for bring back a break. Biel Kadri is far enough down on the GC that he could try again today, and note that he’d want to be in the break for the king of the mountains points there too, so do consider him again.
1 pt each/way Cyril Gautier (40/1 Boylesports)
1 pt each/way Arthur Vichot (40/1 Boylesports)