13/06 - Stage 9 - Gérardmer to Mulhouse - 170 km

This is another very good stage for a breakaway to make it all the way. The GC riders will hope for a quiet day in the saddle before Monday’s big mountain stage.

The route
Starting out in Gérardmer, the peloton starts climbing right away. The 8.6 km towards the top of Col de la Schlucht aren’t very tough with an average gradient of just 4.5 %. Knowing that the breakaway stands a good chance today, we can expect a fast and furious start up the climb. After reaching the top, the riders stay on a false flat part for more than 10 km before they start descending. From here on, it’s constantly up and down the following 110 km.

• Col du Wettstein (7.7 km at 4.1 %)
• Côte des Cinq Châteaux (4.5 km at 6.1 %)
• Côte de Gueberschwihr (4.1 km at 7.9 %)
• Le Markstein (10.8 km at 5.4 %)
• Grand Ballon (1.4 km at 8.6 %)

After 150 km in the mountains, the last 20 km towards the finishing line in Mulhouse are flat. From Cernay, the breakaway will need a three minutes gap if they want to make it all the way. I don’t think this will be a problem.

As you can see by holding your mouse over the finish area on the profile, the run-in is a bit technical. The weather forecast shows rain, meaning the roundabouts will be very dangerous territory as we have already seen numerous times in this race. Hopefully, everybody will stay upright. Despite a wide bend with about 600 meters to go, the last kilometer is pretty much straight out.

This stage looks a lot like the one Michael Rasmussen won in 2005 with a start in Gérardmer and a finish in Mulhouse. That day, the Danish climber soloed away, winning in front of Chris Moreau and Jens Voigt. Stuart O’Grady won the peloton’s sprint.

The contenders
In a stage like this one, you can’t really talk about favorites. However, naturally, there are riders with a better chance than others: riders who know how to make it into the right breakaway. Europcar is full of aggressive riders ready to attack. The two prime picks are Pierre Rolland and Thomas Voeckler. Both could be targeting the polka dot jersey. The French team missed the winning break on stage 8 and they must be eager to take revenge today. Cyril Gautier is another strong candidate from Europcar. The tiny climber finished stage 8 in front of prominent riders like Michal Kwiatkowski, Jakob Fuglsang and Chris Horner. Gautier is also quite fast on the line should this end in a sprint.

According to the bookmakers, Simon Yates was the favorite amongst the five escapees on stage 8. Unfortunately, the young Brit lacked a little on the climbs and GreenEdge is still without a win in this year’s Tour de France. This might change today. On paper, this stage is perfect for riders like Simon Gerrans and Michael Albasini. Both have proven capable of winning from a break and even if this stage ends in a sprint, both Gerrans and Albasini are fast enough to win.

Another rider who’s more than capable of winning a sprint is Peter Sagan. At least in theory. Despite making top5 in six of the first seven stages, Sagan is still winless in this Tour. Marcel Kittel started to sprint for the intermediate sprint points on stage 8. Peter Sagan already has a big gap on the German and today he will be able to increase this gap. With almost 45 km to go from the top of the last climb, the GC riders won’t be testing each other today. It’s all about saving energy for Monday’s big mountain stage. Therefore, I don’t think Peter Sagan will have any problems sticking to the main group today. He might even try to join the morning breakaway as we have seen him do in the past. Sagan is not only a good sprinter, he’s also an excellent downhill. Probably the best one in the peloton. If he loses time on the final climb, he will be able to rejoin the group on the long descent. Even if a breakaway makes it all the way, it probably won’t be more than 10 riders. This means there will still be points up for grab on the finishing line.

For other strong breakaway candidates look to riders like Jan Bakelants, Simon Spilak, Alessandro De Marchi, Matteo Montaguti, Tom Dumoulin, Jens Voigt, Tony Martin, Rudy Molard and Heinrich Haussler who won a similar Tour de France stage in 2009.

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