The opening nine days will have seemed like minor scraps compared to the leg breaking profile which faces the peloton today. Five categorised climbs in most stages would be ruthless, but with a finish upon La Planche Des Belles Filles to top them off, Stage 10 is going to reveal the tour’s real contenders come the end. Those who have not managed to partake in the breakaways over the previous two days will form another kamikaze attempt for early King of The Mountains points, despite the slim chance of staying away until the end. Teams riding for General Classification will simply control the pack over Col du Platzervasel and Col d’Orderen in anticipation of an explosive finish once La Planche Des Belles Filles comes to the forefront of their minds’.
Col des Chevrères is a climb which Prudhomme included in an attempt to instigate early duels between the favourites without having stepped foot into neither the Alps nor Pyrenees; possibly witnessing a tentative attack due to being within spitting distance of La Planche Des Belles Filles. 10.5km long and possessing a maximum gradient of 20%, it’s easy to appreciate Thierry Gouvenou’s comparison with the Angliru.
It is no overstatement to suggest that riders could lose the Tour by the time they finish atop La Planche Des Belles Filles tomorrow afternoon. The climb is an agonising mix of sustained climbing, steep gradients (which reach 20%) and deceptive false flats. Those wishing to take the win here will need immense tactical nous in order to calculate when to attack, who to attack and how hard.
Those who have shipped time in the previous week could try to gain time back here or readjust their GC ambitions towards stage wins instead. Though Astana, Tinkoff and Sky will do their upmost to ensure nobody gets too far ahead who could be considered a threat. It seemed like Alberto Contador sensed a certain level of weakness when finishing Stage 8 and will look to exploit any such findings in the final run-in tomorrow. Vincenzo Nibali will be glad that the burden of the yellow jersey was lifted from him by Tony Gallopin and will only need to equal Contador’s, rather than worry about every possible attack from his main rival. Let us not forget that the last time Le Tour went up La Planche Des Belles Filles, Nibali finished 4th only 7 seconds back. Richie Porte went surprisingly well up the steep finale of Stage 8’s Gérardmer La Mauselaine, but is much better suited to the sustain gradients of today; possibly being a dark horse for the stage win.
Tomorrow is of course Bastille Day in France, Gallopin has achieved the French dream of having the yellow jersey draped upon national shoulders, but they will want more. Pierre Rolland was within a minute of Chris Froome when he won on this final climb in 2012 and is also in need of making more time up; that is if his GC claims are serious. Thibaut Pinot and Tony Gallopin also achieved high placings on the day and were out of the pack yesterday looking lively so could threaten. The former is very handy when the climb upwards is not followed by the down and the latter may be more consumed by damage limitation while in yellow. Tommy Voeckler will be filled with national pride as per usual, so expect some sort of against-the-odds attack by him too.
Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Tejay Van Garderen, Bauke Mollema and Andrew Talansky all need to make up time soon if they wish to keep much hope of finishing in the Top Ten, let alone challenging for a podium place. Rein Taaramae would suit a breakaway on a day such as this, but his form is one of the hardest things to judge in professional cycling so a bet may not be wise. Garmin and NetApp still seem to be teetering on upsetting the favourites with a shock win, but just have not committed enough to such an idea yet. With Leopold Konig and Andrew Talansky still focused heavily upon general classification, their team-mates could still be too heavily tethered to the leaders for a real chance at today.
Overall, tomorrow will see the real contenders emerge as others see their ambitions shipwrecked before the first rest day. Those who perform convincingly tomorrow will be the ones to contest the yellow jersey in the Alps and Pyrenees this year. As it stands, we are only estimating the form and talent of riders so far; once tomorrow is finished we will have an idea of who will win the tour and he may just be king of La Planche Des Belles Filles.