Stage 9: Saint-Girons to Bagneres-de-Bigorre, 168.5km, high mountains
This stage picks up where yesterday’s stage left off – the boys have five climbs to get over, four of those cat 1s, and there’s no messing around. The first climb – and the only cat 2 in this stage – kicks off immediately, with the summit coming at 28.5km into the stage. It’s a day when a breakaway is likely to disappear up the road and never be seen again.
Straight after that climb, we have the cat 1 Col de Mente before a brief respite as the peloton rides through the valley on their way to the final 80km of three cat 1s and the final descent into Bagneres-de-Bigorre. The first of that trio is the mighty Peyresourde, a Tour staple. This is a gruelling climb (13.2km at 7%), particularly on a hot day, and will start the winnowing process.
Immediately afterwards, the boys climb the Col de Val Louron-Azet (7.4km at 8.3%) before tackling the last climb of La Hourquette d’Ancizan (9.9km at 7.5%). By themselves, these climbs are challenging but not unbearable, however, all lined up one right after the other before a long and technical descent to the finish makes this stage a challenge for GC contenders, who can ill afford to slip and give up even more time off the back of Chris Froome‘s explosive performance yesterday.
Sky will want to control this stage to consolidate yesterday’s gains but it will be tough to do so. This is a pre-race quote from the organisers: “Our aim as organisers? To complicate the racing strategy and maintain the suspense … We thought it might inspire the likes of … Evans to put together an interesting tactical plan in the hope of destabilising the likely dominance of Sky.”
For sure, we will see those riders with a big deficit on GC whose focus is the polka dot jersey go on the attack today, which Sky won’t mind at all. Riders such as Robert Gesink and Thomas Voeckler are already 17 and 38 minutes down, and consequently will have a licence to shoot off up the road in search of the 45 mountains points on offer. It’s the end of a long nine-day stint, and the odds are the peloton will be happy to let them go and head into the rest day.
Bit of trivia: It was on the descent of today’s first climb, the Col de Portet-d’Aspet, that Fabio Casartelli suffered fatal head injuries after a crash in the 1995 Tour.
Link: Official website
Header picture: The monument to Fabio Casartelli