Mâcon — Bellegarde-sur-Valserine (120.9mi / 194.5km)
Wednesday 11 July
After two days in the medium mountains followed by a long time trial, the riders will welcome Tuesday’s rest day — but they’ll pay for it today as the Tour hits the first high mountains. The 194.5km route departs from Mâcon, and riders will see their first beyond-category climb in the Grand Colombier, 131km into the stage. It’s the first time the Tour has summited the peak used occasionally in the Critérium du Dauphiné. The Cat. 3 up the Col de Richemond follows before a 20km descent to Bellegarde-sur-Valserine.
Only the elite climbers and GC contenders will remain in contention atop the 17.4km Grand Colombier, so expect a small group heading up the final climb together. Stage 5 of the Dauphiné in June gave a preview, when Cadel Evans and Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) and Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) were among a small group to attack overall leader Bradley Wiggins and his Sky teammates on the descent. Wiggins only caught the escapees just before the summit of the Richemond and defended his overall lead. Who learned more from this exchange — Evans, Nibali, Wiggins or perhaps their rivals who were watching on television?
“Le Grand Colombier is an interesting stage but there are many more in which we can catch the favorites off their guard and not necessarily in the descents,” said Nibali before the Tour. “I don’t do specific training for the descents, it comes as second nature to me. If the race circmstances permit, I will try to attack for sure.”
With a long descent to follow the Richemond, it’s most likely that the real GC contenders will see little differences made on time today, but big truths about their strengths and weaknesses will show themselves.
While any serious GC riders will have a very difficult time escaping the grip of the leaders, look for a rider or two that lost big time in the TT to try to jump in with a long breakaway and gain back some critical time. RadioShack-Nissan’s Fränk Schleck is a strong possibility here; he’s been showing great form in the mountains, and played a similar tactic in the Tour de Suisse that ultimately proved unsuccessful.
This stage has the perfect makeup for a breakaway winner. Ag2r La Mondiale’s local Maxime Bouet called the descent of the Grand Colombier “twisting, fast and quite dangerous.” With the GC showing big gaps by now, there will be plenty of riders well off on time that are capable of going to the line in Bellegarde-sur-Valserine. The stage is somewhat reminiscent of stage 11 of the 2005 Tour, when Alexander Vinokourov escaped over the Col de la Madeleine and beat Santiago Botero in a two-up sprint in Briançon after a descent from the Galibier. Vinokourov (Astana) is targeting a stage win in his final Tour and perhaps he will give another go in the Alps. The French would be beside themselves if the ever-attacking Jérémy Roy (FDJ-BigMat) could land the win that eluded him on multiple occasions in 2011.
Maçon has seen the Tour on four previous occasions, including two decisive time trials. In 1991, Miguel Indurain secured the first of his five Tour titles by beating Gianni Bugno and Greg LeMond. And in 2002, Lance Armstrong also maintained his advantage in the last TT here. Bellegarde-sur-Valserine, situated about 20km from the Swiss border, is a first-time host city.