Day three in the Pyrenees
STAGE NINE: Saint Gaudens – Tarbes
Sunday, July 12
WHAT’S THE COURSE LIKE?
Stage nine is relatively short at 160.5km but includes the Col d’Aspin and the legendary Col du Tourmalet. Unfortunately it ends with a long descent and 50km of flat roads rather than a testing mountain top finish, which means the stage will almost certainly have little effect on the overall standings.
The roads from Saint Gaudens climbs sightly until the Aspin starts after 48km. It is a category one climb, lasting 12km with an average gradient of 6.4%. The hardest section is after 7km when the gradient hits 9.5% for a testing kilometre.
The Tourmalet begins after 73.5km at an altitude of 837m and climbs up to a dizzy height of 2115m. The summit is like a lunar landscape and it is an eerie place as Cycling Weekly discovered one year when we drove over the summit at midnight in the light of a full moon.
The descent is treacherous at the top but becomes easier lower down and launches the riders towards Lourdes and Julian before Tarbes.
Stage 9 map and profile>>
WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN?
If only the stage had finished on the Tourmalet, or at least in the La Mongie ski resort, lower down the climb, we would have seen another round in the Armstrong-Contador fight for leadership in the Astana team.
The flat finish and then the flat stages across central France mean we will probably have to wait for the Alps and next Sunday’s mountain finish at Verbiers.
After a hectic first hour of early attacks, a break will probably form on the Aspin and if it includes riders out of the overall standings, will likely stay away. David Moncoutie (Cofidis) missed out on Saturday, so watch him go for it on Sunday.
Nocentini bravely defended the yellow jersey on Saturday but could really struggle on the Col du Tourmalet and not get back on the descent, meaning that Contador could take the yellow jersey and further deepen the crisis between him and Armstrong. However, Johan Bruyneel admitted on Saturday that Astana are playing a long game and focusing on winning in Paris, rather than wearing the yellow jersey for as long as possible. That means Nocentini could stay in yellow for at least a week.
The battle for the intermediate sprints will probably be more entertaining than the stage.
The first sprint is in Sarrancolin after 41.5km, before the Col d’|Aspin, while the second and third are after 125.5km and 139km. Cavendish is now 11 points behind Hushovd and it will be interesting to see if he and Columbia go for the 6, 4 and 2 points on offer in the sprint. He may wisely decide to wait for the sprint stages, knowing he is faster than Hushovd when the big points are on offer.
MEN TO WATCH
Rinaldo Nocentini – The Italian will be fighting for another day of yellow jersey glory but will likely falter on the Tourmalet.
Brice Feillu – The young Frenchman will be desperate to take back the lead in the king of the mountains competition so that he can enjoy the spotlight in the second week of the Tour.
Thor Hushovd – The mighty Thor now has the responsibility of the green jersey and will have to watch out for Cavendish in the first sprint.
Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador – They will be watching each other closely and the whole world will be watching them.
CW’S TIP TO WIN
Sandy Casar (Francaise des Jeux) went for it on Saturday, so it has to be David Moncoutie’s turn on Sunday. Euskaltel will also be chasing a win on the last stage in the Pyrenees. Igor Anton could be a good bet each way.
WHO’S WEARING THE JERSEYS?
Yellow – Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R)
Green – Thor Hushovd (Cervelo)
Polka-dot – Christophe Kern (Cofidis)
White – Tony Martin (Columbia)
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