Not since the 1992 Tour de France has the race managed to include the five mountain ranges of the Vosges, Jura, Pyrénées, Massif Central and the Alps. So naturally, there are five bona fide mountain stages in this year’s Grande Boucle.
Wednesday was the Vosges, in the Haute-Saône département. Today we go to the Jura, an hour’s drive north of Geneva, and stay in the Jura. As the Robert Randolph and the Family Band song goes, ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.
It is fitting that Les Rousses includes part of the Upper Jura Natural Park and Fort des Rousses, a historical fortress that until 1997, was used as a commando training site. For like the ninth stage of the 2013 Tour from Saint-Girons to Bagnères-de-Bigorre won by Irishman Daniel Martin of Quick Step Floors - currently fourth on GC, 25 seconds behind maillot jaune Chris Froome, and seemingly in the form of his life - this is a parcours parfait for an ambush. On that day, July 7, Garmin (now Cannondale-Drapac) and Movistar, perturbed - okay, downright PO’d! - by Team Sky’s dominance the day previous to Ax 3 Domaines, launched a full-on assault from the get-go, completely isolating Froome. Richie Porte - one place behind Martin on GC, 39 seconds in arrears of yellow - who only 24 hours earlier had gone 1-2 with his then Team Sky buddy, was dropped on the second climb of the Col de Menté and chased in vain for over 50 kilometres… losing a cavernous 18 minutes by day’s end.
How times have changed.
Martin has gone from stage hunter to GC protagonist; Porte is his own man as Tour leader at BMC and arguably his bestie’s greatest threat to the mantle; and after a week in the saddle, the top 10 sit within a minute of one another.
Mountain passes & hills
Km 101.5 - Col de la Joux: 6.1 kilometre-long climb at 4.7% - category 3
Km 138.5 - Côte de Viry (748 m): 7.6 kilometre-long climb at 5.2% - category 2
Km 175.5 - Côte de la Combe de Laisia-Les Molunes (1 202 m): 11.7 kilometre-long climb at 6.4% - category 1
Like the fifth stage to La Planche des Belles Filles, we can really only classify this as a medium mountain stage. Though like four days previous, that’s not to say the day won’t be raced à bloc, the French way of saying ‘full-gas’ (the irony being most Frenchies also say full-gas nowadays!) - or there won’t be surprises like we saw from the winner at La Planche, Astana’s Fabio Aru, the Sardinian a tantalising 14 seconds off the lead.
The last time the Tour came to Station des Rousses was 2010, when Sylvain Chavanel, riding his seventeenth Tour this year for Direct Energie, won his second stage in a week and retook the maillot jaune, albeit only for a day. Coincidentally, Chavanel was riding for Belgian team Quick Step (now Quick Step Floors), who in Julian Alaphilippe, Gianluca Brambilla, Fernando Gaviria, Bob Jungels and Yves Lampaert boast a raft of young-guns as, if not more, promising than he at the same age.
Longer though lacking the severity of Planche des Belles Filles, and with a stage involving 4,600 metres’ total elevation Sunday, if the GC favourites come to the top of the final climb of the Côte de la Combe de Laisia-Les Molunes en masse, from which there are still 12 kilometres to the finish at Station des Rousses, the stage is likely to end in a stalemate. “It’s going to be an interesting day,” Simon Yates, current best young rider and seventh overall, 43 seconds behind Froome, said. “I’m not sure if the break will go or if with the time bonuses there, maybe it could be a really hard day. The day after is a monster of a stage, so maybe there will be some guys trying to save themselves for that. It’s hard to judge; we will have to see.”
Porte expressed similar sentiments yesterday in Nuits-Saint-Georges: “Tomorrow is a bit of an unknown, to be honest. It's kind of a finish that we don't normally do in the Tour de France; a 12 kilometre climb and then a bit of a plateau to the finish, so I'm not sure what's going to happen there, so it should be interesting," he said. "This weekend is the first real big shake up. We have climb after climb on Sunday and I think it's going to be a hard weekend for everyone. You just have to see how it will be raced.”
By contrast, those less concerned about losing time, and indeed have already lost time on purpose, will likely have their day in the sun. Think former Tour stage winners Steve Cummings (Dimension Data), Jarlinson Pantano (Trek-Segafredo), Pierre Rolland (Cannondale-Drapac) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), as well as the likes of Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo), Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), and Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Drapac).
Christian Prudhomme, Tour de France race director, says:
“‘Made in Jura’; that's how this stage could be qualified, as it will take place entirely in that area. On this part of the Jura mountain range, the climbs will offer a good opportunity to breakaway riders at their best. Last of the three climbs on the menu, the Côte de la Combe de Laisia Les Molunes, and its summit just 11kms from the finish, will be a perfect scene for the best of them to make a difference.”
Finish line: Route de Prémanon (D25), at the end of a 2km finishing straight (120m by line of sight). Width: 6.50m.
Weather: 29°C and partly sunny at start, 7% precipitation, 53% humidity, wind 6km/h NE; 24°C and partly sunny at finish, 34% precipitation, 57% humidity, wind 9km/h E.