14/06 - Stage 10 - Mulhouse to La Planche des Belles Filles - 161.5 km

Saturday’s steep finish was just an appetizer. Today we will see the first big fight between the GC riders. It will be very interesting to see who comes out on top.

The route
With no less than seven hard climbs on the menu, this is a very difficult stage. The last two days have been tough on the rides and everybody’s legs are hurting. Col du Firstplan is the first climb of the day. It starts after 20 km and has an average gradient of 5.4 %. It doesn’t sound like much but I’m sure we will see many riders dropping off at this point already. It’s an important day for the riders targeting the KOM jersey and we will see many attacks right from the beginning.

• Col du Firstplan (8.3 km at 5.4 %)
• Petit Ballon (9.3 km at 8.1 %)
• Col du Platzerwasel (7.1 km at 8.4 %)
• Col d'Oderen (6.7 km at 6.1 %)
• Col des Croix (3.2 km at 6.2 %)
• Col des Chevrères (3.5 km at 9.5 %)
• La Planche des Belles Filles (5.9 km at 8.5 %)

Astana finally managed to let go of the yellow jersey, meaning they won’t have to sacrifice riders early on in the stage. Alberto Contador is the best climber in this Tour de France and he has a good chance of winning this stage. Therefore, I think we will see Tinkoff-Saxo as the first of the GC teams taking control in the peloton. Unless, of course, they decide to put a rider in the morning breakaway.

As you can see by holding your mouse over the final two climbs on the profile, it’s two very steep ascents. In 2012, when the Tour finished on La Planche des Belles Filles the last time, the stage was relatively easy. This time, the riders take on the final climb after the very demanding ascent on Col des Chevrères, meaning many will already be in the red zone. If you are having a bad today, your GC dreams could very well be over already before the Alps and the Pyrenees.

The finish
The ascent up to La Planche des Belles Filles is only 5.9 km long. The length isn’t very scary but the gradients definitely are. It starts out very steeply with parts of 13 % and from here on, there is no place to catch your breath. Only with about 500 meters to go, the climb evens out as the riders reach the car park. This would be a great place to put the finishing line. However, instead, the race organizers have made a short and steep path going up even further. These last 250 meters kick up with over 20 %. This is where Chris Froome put in his attack when he won in 2012. You can watch the finish by clicking here.

The big duel
Even though this is an important day for the riders targeting the polka dot jersey, I think the GC riders will end up fighting for the win today. Tuesday is a rest day, meaning you don’t need to worry about having enough energy for tomorrow’s stage.

To me, the prime pick is Alberto Contador. After losing time on the paves, Contador now needs to attack every time he has opportunity to do so. On stage 5, he proved to be just as strong uphill as expected. However, a communication error caused him not to gain more time on Vincenzo Nibali than the three seconds he got. Contador thought all the escapees had been caught and was therefore expecting to sprint for the stage win. This is why he constantly looked at Nibali, instead just continuing his attack with 1 km to go. In 2012, the best climber in the race won on La Planche des Belles Filles. I think Alberto Contador will make this happen again this year. In Michael Rogers and Nicolas Roche, Contador has two very strong helpers today. Don’t forget that Roche and Rogers finished 11th and 14th on this stage in 2012.

Another rider who did well in 2012 is Janez Brajkovic. The Astana rider was set to do the Tour de France this year but crashed out of the Giro d’Italia and had to give up his spot on the team. Sunday evening, I talked with Brajkovic after he finished 13th overall in Tour of Austria. He told me that it’s crucial to be in front on the last descent in order to not lose positions when the climb starts. The La Planche des Belles Filles is steep but it’s still possible to keep a good rhythm. “If Contador drops Vincenzo, it’s going to be on the final ramp [with 250 meters to go]”, Brajkovic predicts.

As Janez Brajkovic says it’s very important to start the climb at the front in order to not waste any energy moving past riders who are getting dropped. Therefore, I think we will see a furious fight for positions already as the peloton starts to take on Col des Chevrères. This means we can expect both Astana and Tinkoff-Saxo to put on their best Team Sky-imitation trying to take the front early and dictate the pace. It will be very interesting to see which team comes out the strongest.

I wouldn’t be surprised if only 15-20 were left at the front as they start on La Planche des Belles Filles. Most likely, Michael Rogers or Nicolas Roche will take the front, setting a high pace, which should result in riders dropping off the back instantly. When there are only 7-10 riders left, I expect Alberto Contador to attack. He needs to gain as much time as possible today and he can’t afford to wait too long. On the other hand, Vincenzo Nibali also knows he can’t let Contador get away too early. This will increase the Spaniard motivation and make him stronger and able to gain more time. Nibali has to put everything into catching Contador the first time he attacks. It won’t be easy but if Nibali manages to catch Contador a couple of times, he might be able to demotivate him a little.

In 2012, Vincenzo Nibali finished 4th on this climb. Bradley Wiggins wanted a fast monotone pace, which suited Nibali perfectly. I’m sure this won’t be the case this year. Contador’s approach on climbs is the exact opposite of Wiggins’s. He thrives on constant changes of rhythm with his lethal attacks. Personally, I would be very surprised if Alberto Contador didn’t try to attack before the final ramp.

The other contenders
Before this preview gets too long, let’s take a look at some of the other contenders for this stage. I don’t think a breakaway will make it, but if it does, Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez has got to be the prime pick. After 8 days of sitting in the back of the peloton, Purito finally popped up near the front on stage 9. He’s clearly targeting the KOM competition now and today is a great day to score points. Purito may not be on top of his game just yet, but he’s definitely strong enough to make it into the break. The final steep ramp suits Purito perfectly. If he’s part of the winning break, he will be very difficult to beat.

It’s Bastille Day in France today, meaning we should keep an eye on the French riders. The atmosphere is already amazing with Tony Gallopin in the yellow jersey. It will be interesting to see if he can keep it today. In 2012, Gallopin did very well on La Planche des Belles Filles, finishing 19th just 1:37 min after Nibali. Today’s profile is much harder and after a long day in the break on stage 8, it won’t be easy for Tony Gallopin to stay in yellow. It all depends on when the GC riders start attacking.

For other breakaway candidates look to riders like Christophe Riblon, Rein Taaramae, Simon Yates, Sebastian Reichenbach and, once again, the whole Europcar team. Pierre Rolland didn’t manage to win stage 8 but he did bring himself right back into the GC mix again. In 2012, Rolland stayed with the best riders until Chris Froome hit the front with 2 km to go. On Bastille Day, I’m confident we will see Rolland try to attack and take the win.

Thibaut Pinot is another French rider I expect to try something today. He knows this final climb very well and he has proven to be in excellent shape right now. Pinot lives nearby and after missing out in 2012, I’m sure he will be extra motivated to do well today. Also, pay attention to Leopold König. He went down on stage 8 when Talansky crashed in front of him and is out of the GC. König has quickly changed focus and is now aiming at a stage win in the mountains. On Wednesday’s rest day, Team Net-App Endura will present their new name sponsor for next year. It would be a wonderful way to announce this with a stage win the bag.

Regarding the top GC favorites, I think Richie Porte will prove to be the strongest one after Contador and Nibali. Actually, I think Porte will try put in a couple of attacks today. After Porte, I see the hierarchy in the following order: Alejandro Valverde, Tejay Van Garderen, Rui Costa, Bauke Mollema, Andrew Talansky, Jurgen van den Broeck and the Ag2r duo Jean-Christophe Peraud and Romain Bardet.

For live coverage of the stage, go to steephill.tv.