Il Lombardia Race Preview – 2017

Course:

As Autumn begins to set in across Europe, the race of the falling leaves once again signifies the end of the year’s major races, concluding the season’s monuments campaign with Il Lombardia. Starting in Bergamo and travelling 247km to the finish at Como, the day’s racing is expected to be fierce as ever, with plenty of riders in good form after a late surge in promise off the back of the Vuelta a España and World Championships last month. The route itself is based upon 2015’s course, one which delivered Vincenzo Nibali the win on that day, packing much of the toughest climbing into the final third of the day’s racing. Though a couple of recognised ascents are present during the opening 150km, it is not really until the riders reach the Madonna del Ghisallo where life in the saddle gets really difficult. Lasting for 8.6km and averaging a gradient of 6.2%, the rise includes maximum inclines of 14% and should give an early indication of who is contention for the final win. The biggest challenge of the day soon follows, a chance of seeing some big names crack on the Muro di Sormano and its mind numbing gradients which touch 27%; under 2km of gruelling climbing. A relatively extended period without climbing lasts until 226km has been completed, from which point the final fireworks are anticipated to be ignited. The climb to Civiglio is a likely launchpad for an attack, a 4.2km rise which peaks at 14%, with riders reaching the summit and hurtling down to face their final climb of the day; San Fermo della Battaglia (3.3 km, avg. 7.2%). The final kilometres are not technically demanding, though after such a fatiguing affair, even the slightest inclines are bound to be magnified.

 

Il Lombardia Race Preview 2017Il Lombardia Race Preview 2017

Contenders:

Rigoberto Uran has shown to be in brilliant form late in the year and will find the finale of this year’s race suited to his talents. The Colombian looks to have peaked perfectly for this last monument and will enter the race with great confidence of succeeding in his endeavours. Able to stick the pace of the favourites on the steepest sections and possessing a punchy acceleration which few can match, Uran is a major contender on a day where those lacking in condition will be hit hardest.

Vincenzo Nibali shall have flashed a grin when first seeing the course for 2017’s edition of his native monument, the route mirroring the one which previously delivered him the win at this race a couple of years ago. With the demands meeting that of a queen stage at a grand tour, Nibali is certainly equipped with the tools needed to survive, but it is still uncertain whether he is truly poised to put his rivals to the sword once again here. If still in contention after the ascent of Muro di Sormano, then there is a strong possibility he will seek to breakaway solo in the remaining kilometres and replicate his win of 2015.

Adam Yates was not far behind Rigoberto Uran during the week’s Milano – Torino and will believe that a tweaking of tactics could land him a major victory to add to his growing palmarès. He has had to endure an awkward year of racing, but now looks to be edging closer to the kind of form which makes him a true contender on such a tough day of attritional racing. Yates will need to focus on conserving energy for as long as possible, as with terrain which is not perfect for the British rider, he knows that every ounce of power will be required to make one big attack stick right to the line at Como.

Julian Alaphilippe appeared on course for the World Championship title late in the day at Bergen, but the race failed to follow his plan ideally, though Il Lombardia offers an ideal remedy to that misfortune. Another who is likely to favour a late solo move, the Frenchman will benefit from a more conservatively ridden race, allowing him to exploit the tactics of bigger favourites and commit to his move when others are beginning to flag. His performance at the World Championships off the back of the Vuelta a España was particularly encouraging, with expectations high for a good performance as a result.

Bauke Mollema is certainly capable of springing a surprise upon the big name contenders at this year’s Il Lombardia, with a tougher route providing him with some ideal opportunities to try and escape the bunch. The Dutchman has clearly targeted this race with full intentions of animating the proceedings when possible, aiming to pounce near the end of the day with one of his unmarked moves which has previously secured him major honours in the past.

Outcome:

1st Rigoberto Uran 2nd Vincenzo Nibali 3rd Bauke Mollema

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La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage Preview

La Vuelta a España 2017 – Stage 14 Preview

Course:

Though yesterday was billed as a day for the sprinters, other than the blisteringly on form Matteo Trentin who took the win, it failed to be the conclusion which we were anticipating. Regardless, that quasi-sprint was a brief reminder of the fast men being present at La Vuelta, as Stage 14 immediately returns to the mountains with a summit finish. Beginning in Écija and finishing atop Sierra de la Pandera, the day clocks in at 175km and is essentially climbing for the entire duration. Rising gently from the starting line, the first recognised climb is encountered after 76km of racing in the shape of the Category 3 Puerto el Mojón, an 8.8km challenge which averages a gradient of 3.7%. After the subsequent descent, the peloton will face an extended period of rolling terrain, finally reaching the next significant ascent around the 144km marker. The Category 2 Alto Valdepeñas de Jaen is similar to its predecessor at 8.5km and averaging 4.8%, though it is what follows so soon after which makes it crucial. The Category 1 Sierra de La Pandera totals 12km from bottom to top and possesses an average gradient of 7.3% on paper, though the reality is that of a climb which is irregular throughout. Tipping upwards to beyond 10% in the opening couple of kilometres, the climb momentarily softens, before swinging between 5% – 13% en route to the summit. It drops down just before the finish line, though the last push to the chequered flag will be against a reasonable incline.

La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage 14

Contenders:

Romain Bardet is here to collect stage wins and should find the final third of today as having the sort of terrain which brings his skills to the fore. With little in the way of flat roads, a few rapid descents and climbs which repeatedly kick between gradients; the Frenchman is a clear frontrunner today. His previous effort several days ago was encouraging, suggesting he has not suffered too greatly from arriving here off the back of Le Tour de France and is still posing a genuine danger to the rest on these tough finales.

Darwin Atapuma was the main accomplice in Romain Bardet’s attack earlier in the race, the two combining well together late on and there is no reason to suggest why Atapuma may not find himself in that position once again. Evidently feeling good at La Vuelta, he will be confident of making a breakaway early on, though might now be more aware that he shall need to avoid going head to head with riders of Bardet’s calibre for the stage win.

Rui Costa has not been as active as perhaps expected, but the realisation that a convincing general classification placing was not possible, should now provide him with the freedom to try and follow the key moves on Stage 14. Though not a pure climber, he is very successful when it comes to placing himself in the best possible situation to win from and there is every chance that he may already have too great an advantage to catch once on the final climb. He can certainly sprint well after a tough day, so with a final kilometre which dips down and then up again to only a few degrees, he might be the best bet to win from an elite group.

Pello Bilbao will be hoping to make the cut today, his form bubbling under particularly well at the moment and he will not wish for this to be wasted amongst the peloton all day. Though duties to his team and team leader Fabio Aru could prove impossible to escape, the natural selection process of the final climb could see him as their best placed rider regardless. Bilbao exited the rest day looking sharp and stands a good chance of making it count for something if given the freedom to try.

Joe Dombrowski could be amongst those who choose to try their luck from a long range breakaway, though this perhaps is not tough enough to really get the best from him. The lithe limbed climber is still without a grand tour stage win surprisingly, though that is no true reflection upon his capabilities for these mountain stages. If he can find himself in a well drilled and strong move, then the American might finally strike it lucky.

Others to look for include Adam YatesRafal Majka, Igor AntonJulian Alaphilippe and Sergio Pardilla.

Outcome:

1st Romain Bardet 2nd Pello Bilbao 3rd Joe Dombrowski

Le Tour de France 2017

Le Tour de France 2017 – Stage 18 Preview

Course:

A similar story and cast of protagonists is expected on Stage 18, as those with eyes upon the maillot jaune realise that time is running out to seize it before they find themselves charging through Paris for another year. Starting in Briançon and finishing atop the iconic climb of Col d’Izoard, the day totals 179.5km and should see the final melee from the most talented climbers at this year’s Tour de France. After a tame start to proceedings, the riders tackle the Côte des Demoiselles Coiffèes to ease the legs into the day, lasting 3.9km and wielding an average gradient of 5.2%. From here the road begins to subtly build upwards and directs the peloton to the base of the Category 1 Col de Vars (9.3km, avg 7.5%), which becomes much harder as the incline reaches double digits near the summit.

What is likely to prove an explosive descent then follow, plunging back down into the valley, a downhill chase which may prove too technical for some riders to follow the attacks upon. Everything then appears poised to be decided by the climb up Col d’Izoard, a task of 14.1km in length, with a somewhat misleading average gradient of 7.3%. Life is not too difficult as the riders ascend the opening 7km of the Col d’Izoard, though it is the second half which lays the foundations of a brutal war of attrition, fuelled by want of the yellow jersey. The latter half begins with a kick of 10% and then fails to do more than modestly drop below that for the rest of the way to the summit. A small dip in terrain occurs at Casse Déserte, though it is tortuous relief, as what follows leads to the constant grind of 10% in the final kilometre to the summit. The effort taken to win Stage 18 will prove monumental, but the effort to win Le Tour could prove greater still.

 

Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage 18 Preview

Contenders:

Chris Froome may well end up winning this year’s race without ever having looked particularly threatening, a victory which looks likely to become his most defensively ridden grand tour thus far. He knows that an individual time trial still awaits in Marseille, making this more of a ‘do or die’ situation for his rivals than himself. All of the questions regarding his condition entering the race were answered with claims of aiming to strike his form perfectly for these final mountain stages; making today the perfect time to showcase this if true. Normally by now in the Tour de France we have seen Chris Froome decimate his opposition with neatly orchestrated attacks of immense power and timing, yet the evidence is scarce to suggest he is in that sort of shape at present. Regardless, if the game plan truly is to put everything on the line today, then a full strength Chris Froome is bound to prove impossible to follow for his rivals.

Romain Bardet once again emerged as the most attacking rider from within the clutch of favourites who have a realistic chance of winning the race overall. As mentioned previously, the Frenchman relishes these tough Alpine stages and will consider much of this to be playing out within touching distance of his home region. Given the panache and swashbuckling tendencies he has, there is little doubt that Bardet will invest everything into winning Stage 18 and potentially Le Tour de France in the process. His team are strong on this type of terrain and have already proven capable of making life difficult for Team Sky when attempting to set Bardet up to gain time on his rivals. Though the Frenchman might not have enough to gain a race winning time gap upon Chris Froome, he is certainly talented enough to be first over the final 10% rise to the finish line.

Rigoberto Uran is the dark horse lurking in the shadows during this final week of racing, calculating best when to strike and potentially steal the yellow jersey from beneath the noses of both Chris Froome and Romain Bardet. Yesterday saw him collect a clutch of bonus seconds and move up to second place on the overall classification, though it is the savage final kilometres of today’s contest which will determine how serious his chances of taking yellow really are. Thus far his most aggressive riding has often come on days where a descent has led into the finishing line, more often staying safe in the group of frontrunners and allowing the prominent favourites to tear strips off one another. This might indicate that Uran is anxious of entering into a full head to head battle in the mountains, or may have simply focused upon staying as fresh as possible for this decisive day. He is the one most likely to benefit from any cat and mouse games being played by Froome and Bardet late in the day, as the closer he can attack to the line, the better his chances are of utilising his explosive power to great effect.

Mikel Landa would be a real contender for the yellow jersey if allowed to enter himself into the contest by Team Sky, yet has to commit his efforts into protecting the lead of captain Chris Froome instead. His form is no longer in question, as it is apparent how strong he is compared to the other major contenders right now, potentially being able to ride himself onto the podium if all goes well during Stage 18. Chris Froome is fully aware of Landa’s form and ambitions, perhaps agreeing to work as a double act to distance their rivals and earn the Basque climber a richly deserved stage victory in thanks of his loyalty.

Dan Martin is the only rider who could prove strong enough to stay in contention and thus dominant any potential sprint from an elite group of riders. There is no doubt that Martin will feel aggrieved by his misfortune at this race, having lost time as a result of Richie Porte’s costly crash and his own team’s miscalculations during Stage 16’s brutal crosswinds. A podium place would have been within his grasp had things gone to plan, so now he must hope that a stage win is still achievable and will have a greater degree of freedom to push onwards in the final kilometres as the general classification battle rages on behind him.

Other names worth considering are Alberto ContadorSerge PauwelsEsteban ChavesDarwin AtapumaDaniel Navarro and Alessandro De Marchi.

Outcome:

1st Romain Bardet 2nd Rigoberto Uran 3rd Chris Froome

Le Tour de France 2017

Le Tour de France 2017 – Stage 17 Preview

Course:

After forecasting another correct outcome at this year’s Tour de France to make it eight wins from sixteen stages thus far for Spokenforks, life gets trickier to predict as the peloton head into a pair of gruelling mountain stages. The first is a 183km passage from La Mure to Serre Chevalierfeaturing three of the most historic ascents from Tour de France history and ending with a fierce descent into the finish line. Beginning almost immediately uphill for the second day in a row, the riders start by pedalling towards the summit of the Category 2 Col d’Ormon, something of a warm up during its 5.1km duration which could soon see some struggle on its average gradient of 6.7%. A short drop back downhill will send the pack racing through the day’s intermediate sprint point, leaving them at the foot of the HC Col de la Croix de Fer, an imposing 24km long climb which continually breaks rhythm. This will make it hard for some to pace it correctly, especially if AG2R La Mondiale choose to attack Chris Froome once again, aiming to reduce his supporting riders ahead of the next two ascents.

Having survived the draining Col de la Croix de Fer and navigated safely back into the valley, the frontrunners will then be required to begin the Category 1 Col du Télégraphe. Shorter at 11.9km from top to bottom than its predecessor, though with a steeper average gradient of 7.1%, its a relatively even climb which offers extremely brief respite ahead of the concluding climb of Stage 17. The Col du Galibier is a HC challenge, opening with slopes manageable enough to lure riders anxiously waiting to attack into making a mistake, as it only gets tougher as the bunch near the summit; 17.7km long in total and an average of 6.9%. A long downhill leads all the way into Serre Chevalier, technical enough to turn the screw on rivals to begin with, though it is likely that gaps will begin to close once the descent becomes easier nearer town. A subtle drag leads up to the finish line, so it may prove ideal territory for a puncheur or even a general classification favourite to take the win.

Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage 17 Preview

Contenders:

Mikel Landa would normally be a name well worth considering for victory today, but with duties to his Team Sky leader keeping him on a tight leash, it is unlikely that the Basque rider will be allowed to attack and distance his captain in the process. He is clearly in fantastic form at the moment and evidently believes he is capable of winning the overall competition, expressing his disinterest at the potential of returning to another grand tour tethered to Chris Froome. The ascent of the Col du Galibier looks perfect for him to spring an attack from, sailing away downhill and potentially rolling any fellow escapees in a dash for the line. Should Chris Froome prove to have another bad day in the mountains; will Team Sky choose to send Mikel Landa back to help him and risk losing two riders on the general classification, or potentially give the talented lieutenant a chance to win this year’s Tour de France.

Romain Bardet will be on what many consider to be home soil for today and tomorrow, assessing how best he and his AG2R La Mondiale teammates can deal damage to Chris Froome before the individual time trial in Marseille. The Frenchman possesses the only team with the firepower capable of isolating the current maillot jaune and will be acutely aware that risking everything on tomorrow’s summit finish atop the Col d’Izoard could prove a miscalculation. The double header of Col du Télégraphe into Col du Galibier is where Bardet is most likely to make his move, attacking over the final summit and forcing a potentially lone Chris Froome to chase him down the concluding ascent. A stronger rise to the line would have made victory more likely, but if he times his offensive manoeuvres perfectly, then Bardet may well be on course for stage honours and a yellow jersey.

Dan Martin unexpectedly lost time in the crosswinds yesterday, despite finding himself well placed alongside giants Alexander Kristoff and André Greipel, compounded by the fact his Quick – Step teammates failed to live up to expectations as masters of such conditions. With their focus seemingly upon an unrealistic win for Marcel Kittel, the Irishman is now forced on the attack and will be appreciative of the stage which has been offered to him. With its long downhill run into the finish and the probability of him being the fastest present in an elite group of riders, this is a brilliant chance for Martin to collect a richly deserved stage win at this year’s race. However, the greatest concern is whether he can survive the onslaught of major climbs, especially if Romain Bardet signals his men to light the race up once again. Regardless, Martin seemed confident of returning to full fitness after his crash as the race enters its final week and will view this as an all or nothing day in the saddle.

Rigoberto Uran faces the greatest test of his surprise tilt at the yellow jersey during these next two days, as we await to discover how great a threat the Colombian may prove as the race approaches the crucial time trial in Marseille. Since his consecutive runner-up placings at the Giro d’Italia a few years ago, Uran has never appeared to be as strong as he once was in grand tours, thus this small renaissance of a much liked member of the peloton has the makings of banana skin for Chris Froome. Regardless, for now he must focus upon the task of Stage 17, one which suits his attributes well enough to hint at another potential stage win. Much like Dan Martin, his best hope is to stick within part of a small group of elite riders and hope to beat them all with the sort of acceleration which snatched victory by the millimetre on Stage 9.

Warren Barguil looks assured of standing atop the podium in Paris with the polka dot jersey upon his shoulders, yet he could still be lured out in pursuit another stage win today. With so many points on offer, Barguil could choose to hammer home his advantage by joining the early move of the day and aim to stay at the front of affairs right the way into Serre Chevalier. His form as been blistering during the race thus far, contributing to the goals of Michael Matthews equally as he has worked in pursuit of his own campaign in the mountains. The Frenchman may also instead wish to invest one final effort into a potential victory atop the Col d’Izoard tomorrow, though there is little to suggest he cannot win today if he chooses to attack.

Others who may hope to succeed from the early breakaway or attack over the summit of the final climb are Simon YatesAlberto ContadorTony GallopinPrimoz Roglic and Thomas De Gendt.

Outcome:

1st Romain Bardet 2nd Warren Barguil 3rd Mikel Landa

Le Tour de France 2017

Le Tour de France 2017 – Stage 13 Preview

Course:

Bastille Day often delivers displays of swashbuckling attacking from native riders at Le Tour de France, so an incredibly short 101km Stage 13 from Saint-Girons to Foix should only serve to act as a pressure cooker to accelerate the selection process. A trio of Category 1 ascents define the day, beginning with the Col de Latrape after only 25.5km of racing; lasting 5.6km with an average gradient of 7.3%. A brief passage down the other side of the climb leads to the opening sections of Col d’Agnes, a longer task at 10km from bottom to top, sustaining 8.2% for its duration. The subsequent descent could prove a useful springboard for attacks, swooping down to Massat and beginning the final climb of Stage 13 in the shape of the Mur de Péguère. Considered to be divided into two parts, the 9.3km challenge sees the first two thirds contested at gradients around the 7% mark, but the real leg breaking sections come in the concluding kilometres en route to the summit. Predominantly in double-digit figures for the final moments, sections even begin to rise closer to 20% during this hectic conclusion to the last climb of the day. With a long descent all the way into the finish at Foix, the battle for the day’s victory could prove to be more tactical than physical, with the last 30km expected to be played out by a group waiting for one another to pounce.

Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage 13 Preview

Contenders:

Dan Martin was impressive once again at this year’s race during yesterday’s finale, doing extremely well to stay with the major general classification riders, only coming up short of the win in the few hundred metres before the line. If he can sustain this level of condition for another day in the mountains, then the long descent down to Foix has the potential to bring the race back together and allow the big names to decide the outcome; from which Martin would be hard to match in a sprint.

Rigoberto Uran offers a similar story to that of Irishman Dan Martin, though has certainly proven to be a greater surprise amongst the group of yellow jersey hopefuls, after failing to show much of the form which previously secured him podium placings at the Giro d’Italia. A proficient descender, Uran will look to bridge over to any frontrunners on the final downhill section and hope to secure another stage victory by beating the opposition in a sprint once more.

Romain Bardet took his third career stage victory at Le Tour de France yesterday and proved to be another correct prediction by Spokenforks during 2017’s race. Though unlikely for him to win back to back days, this course should offer him the chance to apply some pressure to the likes of Fabio Aru and Chris Froome, doing so with his brilliant downhill riding in the final 30km of the day. Struggling to match those with a more convincing burst of speed for a finish like today’s in Croix, Bardet would need to arrive solo in order to chalk up his fourth win at his home grand tour it seems.

Chris Froome is expected to be out for revenge on Stage 13, yet it more likely to utilise his teammates to act as a foil and defend his current position on the general classification by neutralising the stage early on. Regardless, he has recently proven to be one of the most competent descenders in the leading group and could call upon this skill to distance his rivals en route to gaining some time back. He is also capable of producing a reasonably fast sprint when required, so will be one to watch if the yellow jersey group are first into Foix.

Warren Barguil should perform strongly on Stage 13 in order to defend his hold upon the polka dot jersey and could go one step further by securing a famous French win on Bastille Day at the end of it all. He has been strong thus far and has only been distanced by the likes of Chris Froome when having already spent his efforts pursuing King of the Mountains points earlier in the day. A two time stage winner at La Vuelta a España, he previously took victory by pushing hard on a long downhill road into the finish line, similar to what we may expect to see today.

Other names to watch for are Mikel LandaPierre Latour, Jarlinson PantanoTiesj Benoot and Serge Pauwels.

Outcome:

1st Warren Barguil 2nd Rigoberto Uran 3rd Dan Martin

Le Tour de France 2017

Le Tour de France 2017 – Stage 12 Preview

Course:

Leaving the eternally synonymous Tour de France town of Pau, the course of Stage 12 is a testing affair which does not conclude until after 214.5km of racing en route to the finale atop Peyradgudes. A long day in the saddle, the onslaught of climbs which feature today have the potential to force cracks to appear amongst those with eyes upon the general classification at this year’s race. After a couple of moderate ascents, the Category 1 Col de Menté appears on the radar to initiate the real battle for the day, lasting a total of 6.9km and averaging a gradient of 8.1% to really test the legs of the frontrunners. The bunch will then plunge into the valley, before then turning onto the opening the slopes of the Category HC Port de Balès (11.7km, avg 7.7%)The climb is often seen to switch between gradients, making it tough to find a rhythm for for the riders, though much of the focus will be upon the following technical descent. The finale is signalled by the Category 1 Col de Peyresourde, an awkward climb which lasts 9.7km and averages a gradient of 7.8%, though much of the day’s anxiety will be upon the final few kilometres. The Category 2 rise to Peyragudes touches a gradient of double figures and could see some riders lose time if they crack late in the day.

Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage 12 Preview

 Contenders:

Chris Froome has often chosen to hammer home his advantage during grand tours at the earliest opportunity possible, making it likely that he shall be one of the key protagonists once again. His form is improving without doubt, and previous performance upon this concluding climb hint at Froome’s ability to bury the opposition with ease. If the day’s result does end up being decided by a group of elite riders, then it seems most likely that the defending yellow jersey winner will be the strongest man remaining.

Romain Bardet is likely to utilise the day’s descents in order to apply pressure to his major rivals, though will also be aware that the final rise to the finish is within his capabilities also. The Frenchman took a tumble yesterday, though appears to be in a good condition regardless, hoping to making one of the few summit finishes of this year’s Tour de France count for something with so much still at stake.

Dan Martin was extremely unlucky to be brought down as a result of Richie Porte’s crash a couple of days ago and will be strongly motivated to make his current form count for something, hopefully with a strong performance today. The Irishman has the acceleration required to beat the majority of big name climbers in the final metres and will be a rider who nobody wishes to carry all the way to the summit finish.

Fabio Aru knows how strong his form is right now, but needs the ideal situation in order to make a serious impact upon this year’s Tour de FranceIf others within the main group decide to hesitate during the final kilometres, then the reigning Italian road race champion will have a brilliant opportunity to secure a richly deserved stage win at last. His aggressive nature and love for steep gradients lends itself well to the rigours of today, perhaps emerging as the main threat to Chris Froome in the final kilometres.

Thibaut Pinot had intended to be on the hunt for stage wins and potentially the polka dot jersey, however, things have not gone to plan at all for the Frenchman. It seems a huge ask for him to suddenly muster the form required to challenge for a day such as this, but the nature of a home grand tour can stir the emotions enough to produce a sensational effort. With ambitions to ride himself into stage winning shape, Pinot may be getting stronger from this point of the race onwards and will be favourite to join the breakaway

Others to consider include Serge PauwelsWarren BarguilPierre RollandTiesj Benoot and Rigoberto Uran.

Outcome:

1st Romain Bardet 2nd Dan Martin 3rd Chris Froome

Le Tour de France 2017

Le Tour de France 2017 – Stage 9 Preview

Course:

Those wishing to sustain a serious campaign upon the general classification will need to ignite their ambitions with serious determination on Stage 9’s gruelling course. Starting in Nantua, the day begins immediately uphill and completes two categorised climbs within the first 11km of racing. A total of 181.5km will be traversed en route to Chambéry and a brutal trio of HC climbs will provide the first true insight as to who is struggling to find their best in the mountains this year.

First of the three major ascents to be ridden is the HC Col de la Biche, a 10.5km long climb which sustains a draining 9% average gradient, though features steeper sections along the way. The subsequent descent offers no true recovery opportunity, leading immediately to the base of the HC Grand Colombier, a historic feature of Le Tour de France for many years, the riders will be familiar with its average gradient of 9.9% and total 8.5km distance. A rapid descent then places the bunch back down into the valley, taking in the day’s intermediate sprint and the Category 4 Côte de Jongieux, before the showdown on the day’s concluding climb.

Mont du Chat is a particularly brutal HC challenge, lasting for 8.7km and tasking the peloton with ascending a mind numbing average gradient of 10.3%; ramps of 15% are also present on the way to the summit. There is no chance of hiding poor form on Stage 9 after such attritional climbing, as even the descent from the final climb of the day is an equalling gruelling affair, with tight hairpin bends being negotiated through dense tree lines. The frontrunners at the end of it all will have approximately 14km to stay at the head of affairs in order to contest the win in Chambéry at the end of the day.


Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage 9 Preview

Contenders:

Romain Bardet knows that he will have to make these outrageously tough days in the mountains count for something early on at this year’s Tour de France, as having to close any substantial lead which Chris Froome may establish heading into the first rest day will be the start of a huge challenge. There is a feeling amongst the riders that Froome is perhaps not as strong as expected in this opening week, hoping instead to peak for the final run of Pyrenean stages instead. This should be an opportunity too great to resist if true and Romain Bardet is the best equipped rider to take advantage of it. He enjoys these steep climbs, but most crucially, is not afraid of descending at eye watering speeds in pursuit of victory. If he attacks over the top of the Mont du Chat, then he could end up soloing all the way to victory in Chambéry.

Dan Martin will expect to be one of the fastest riders present in an elite group which forms as a result of the day’s final climb. Without the eternal thorn in the Irishman’s side at the race now (Alejandro Valverde), he can focus on saving himself for the final run into the finish line, where a strong sprinting performance from him is unlikely to be matched by those who have also made the cut. However, that in itself is the greatest issue for Martin, as an explosive race may jettison him before the final ascent due to the ferocity of the general classification battle.

Fabio Aru cannot be ignored on a stage like today’s, the reigning Italian road race champion having a real penchant for these horrendously steep climbs and could choose to combine them with his aggressive style of racing in order to put immense pressure on the likes of Chris Froome and Richie Porte. He seems the one most likely to not stick to the generally agreed race plan amongst the major names, potentially going on the offensive earlier than many anticipate to see who is most interested in following.

Thibaut Pinot should prove an enthusiastic presence on Stage 9, as the Frenchman will need a strong showing if he is to have a realistic chance of obtaining the polka dot jersey or a stage win at this year’s race. Having arrived off the back of a tough Giro d’Italia, his form has perhaps dipped, though Pinot has never raced particularly strongly in the opening uphill stages of Le Tour de France in recent years. If he does not prove to be overly fatigued, then this should arrive at the ideal time for him to stretch his legs and push on for a jersey and stage double.

Rigoberto Uran has the turn of pace required to win from a small group after the strains and stresses of Stage 9, but needs to be on his toes in order to ensure he manages to join the race winning move. Surprisingly quiet during yesterday’s infinite exchanges and skirmishes to shape the breakaway, Uran has perhaps chosen to keep his powder dry especially for today instead. He is no longer the climber which once delivered him podium placings at the Giro d’Italia, though is capable of producing his best when a chance like this appears on his radar. The tactic for Uran shall be to join the right move, conserve as much energy as possible and look to regroup over the Mont du Chat and finish his rivals off in a sprint to the line.

Chris Froome needs to put down a marker soon, as rumblings persist that he is not quite on his best form right now. There shall be no need for him to be the aggressor today, allowing him to challenge his rivals to light the race up if the wish to take the maillot jaune from upon his shoulders. However, we have seen previously that he likes to prove a point at the earliest opportunity possible, meaning it would come as no surprise to see him attack on the final climb in order to contend for the stage win.

Richie Porte and BMC are almost anxious at the prospect of not being able to land a blow on Chris Froome already, despite there being very few opportunities to achieve precisely that in the opening week. Perhaps not as strong as expected entering the race, Porte has the credentials to challenge for the win and cause a stir amongst the general classification, but needs to ride clever to achieve this. A great time trial rider, he should know how to pace his efforts through the day’s major climbs, before once again calling upon these talents to solo his way to victory in the final 14km of flat terrain.

Others worth considering are Pierre RollandPrimoz RoglicJarlinson Pantano  and Louis Meintjes.

Outcome:

1st Romain Bardet 2nd Fabio Aru 3rd Chris Froome