Chris Froome, Richie Porte and the rest of Team Sky destroyed the peloton on the first Pyrenees stage. Many will say that the Tour is already over and if Team Sky keep it up like this, many will be right. Movistar and Team Saxo-Tinkoff need put on pressure early on the next mountains stages if they want to shake Team Sky. Probably already on Stage 9.
This is short stage of just 168.5 km but with five hard climbs on the menu, it will be anything but easy. The riders targeting the Polka Dot Jersey will have this stage red-circled in their road books and with a downhill finish, it’s tailor-made for a breakaway.
The two first climbs are steep and I think a solid breakaway of 10+ riders will get away already on Col de Portet d'Aspet. The intermediate sprint is located after 73 km and I wouldn’t be surprised if Peter Sagan tries to join the morning breakaway in order to extend his lead in the Green Jersey even more. Sagan took it easy on Stage 8 and in Tour de Suisse he showed to be one of the strongest riders on the steepest climb of the race. Sagan has been training hard in the mountains this year and even though I doubt he will win this stage, he’s definitely one to keep an eye on.
With 95 km to go the, riders face the longest climb of today’s stage. Col de Peyresourde is 13.2 km and has an average gradient of 7 % with steep parts towards the top. There are still 78.5 km to the finishing line from the top of Peyresourde and even though it would be great to see, I doubt any of the favorites will take a chance. Team Sky will set the pace on the next climb too but on La Hourquette d'Ancizan the fireworks should begin. This is only the second time in the history of the Tour the riders will have to overcome La Hourquette d'Ancizan. In 2011, it was the third last climb on the stage finishing on Luz-Ardiden but this time it will be more crucial for the results.
The 9.9 km towards the top have an average gradient of 7.5 % and it’s very steep in the beginning. It won’t be easy to take Team Sky by surprise but if Quintana, Valverde or Contador attack from the start, it will definitely spice up the race. Reaching the top of La Hourquette d'Ancizan, the first part of the descent is technical. After a few kilometers the road kicks up a little and from here on the descent is very fast towards the line. It won’t be easy to stay away alone and if you arrive in a reduced group, you have to pay close attention to the finish.
There is a 90° left turn with just 150 meters to go after crossing the water and you need to be first man into this corner if you want to win the stage.
|The final three climbs of the stage. Click for larger view.|
Looking at the profile for this stage, especially one name comes to mind; Thomas Voeckler. The French animateur tried an early attack on Stage 8 but didn’t have the legs to finish it. Voeckler has been suffering in the heat the last couple of days but if he’s ready, this is a dream stage for him. Few in the peloton are as good as Thomas Voeckler on the downhill sections and few know how to hit the right breakaway like him. Europcar are targeting the Polka Dot Jersey and this if you want to win it, you need to be in front on Stage 9.
I believe a breakaway will make it on this stage but if not, Alejandro Valverde seems to be the favorite. Valverde is in great shape and he has a strong team to protect him. He’s good on the descents and he’s very fast on the line. I think Valverde will have at least two teammates with him arriving at the finish and that should be enough to set him up for the sprint. Dani Moreno is another candidate but it all depends on how Purito is feeling. If he has another bad day on the climbs, Moreno will be locked. If not, we should see a good fight between Valverde and Moreno.
I already mentioned Peter Sagan and as my joker earlier but let’s pick two. Mikel Nieve and Igor Antón both did well on Stage 8 and I will continue picking a Basque rider as my joker. Both Nieve and Antón are just 3 minutes after Chris Froome in the overall classification and I doubt Team Sky will let them get away. The Izagirre brothers, Ion and Gorka, on the other hand are way down in the GC. Both are strong uphill and especially Gorka Izagirre is also very good on the descents. All teams know this is day where a breakaway can make it, and in the Pyrenees, Euskaltel will be extra motivated to show the orange colors. Gorka Izagirre did go down in the big crash on Stage 5 but he still managed to finish 21st the following day. If he’s ready, this is a very good stage for him.
Other strong riders like Thomas De Gendt, Sylvain Chavanel, Damiano Cunego and Michael Albasini all know how to hit the right breakaway but I can’t pick all of them so I’ll stick to the riders already mentioned.
Favorites: Thomas Voeckler & Alejandro ValverdeJokers: Peter Sagan & Gorka Izagirre
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Just like during the Giro d’Italia this year, I once again have the chance to bring you daily “Fly Through” previews from Global Cycling Network. Here is Stage 9: