It is time to visit Bellegarde once more and ascend Côte de la Tour a few times too. It is an area where the wind often comes out to play and a finale, where both sprinters and puncheurs can be in the mix. But this year, they have changed the finishing climb. I completely overlooked it in the GC preview.
The new finale
A new finale. The riders approach it from the SW part of the city before taking a sharp left turn with 800 meters left. The width of the road is wider here compared to the Côte de la Tour finish. There is a left turn in a roundabout with 150 meters left. You want to be at the front here, because the race is almost over. Then a flat sprint to the finish.
They are almost equal! Well, according to the numbers the 2023 finish is tougher than the usual one. The steeper section is longer. 400m at 11.5% this year, compared to 200m at 15.6%.
It looks like the wind will come out and play, absolutely fantastic. Now, in France, and not in Australia – the wind speed makes a bigger difference as there are less cover. We have up to 9 m/s.
The first great section is with 92 – 80 km to go, just after they get out of Saint-Gilles. Narrow roads, open landscape but in an area with a lot of vegetation. And the problem is, they head into a massive headwind and the way back.
The next is after the last ascend of Côte de la Tour. With 38 km to go – 30 km to go, a perfect spot arises. Yet again, turning into a headwind afterwards. A shorter one, but 13 km of riding against 9 m/s requires a few riders taking turns.
After the headwind, there are 13.5 km left. They turn back towards Bellegarde. From this point, until 1.5 km out, the riders have a cross-tailwind. It is a mix of completely open fields and from time to time, protection from the wind.
It will be a cold, yet dry, day with good spots for echelons and wind speed of 9 m/s (32 km/h).
* The likelyhood of echelons is skyhigh. Sprinters want it, to drop the puncheurs. Some GC riders want it, to get an advantage.
* Most sprinters can actually challenge on a finish such as this.
* Do not underestimate the diesels. Having a big engine on a day like this is key.
Mads Pedersen – he won here last year, and if the word on the street is true, he is looking sharper than ever. He is fantastic in crosswinds, and Trek-Segafredo has a decent team for it with Hoelgaard, Skuijns and Skjelmose. I am unsure if Mads has to get back, if Skjelmose miss the split. I am here to tell you, Skjelmose will not miss it.
Axel Laurance – Alpecin did a really coup signing him. As they have no GC contender, I imagine they will ride for him. He is a strong rider with a good quick. Alpecin have some great riders to help him, namely De Bondt and Planckaert. He should be right up there with De Lie and Pedersen as main favorites.
Arnaud de Lie – I imagine the Belgian does well when the wind blows. It is pretty much a team set up around him, with very strong engines such as Van Moer, Beullens and De Buyst. He will be one of the favorites for the stage.
Mathieu Burgaudeau – he got top-5 results in the two uphill finishes last year. I expect him to try and do the same. The battle for positioning will be his biggest enemy.
Benjamin Thomas – he will likely not win tomorrow, but I expect him to be in the right group when the split happens. He was in contention for almost every stage last season, I expect him to finish in the top-10 tomorrow.
Benoît Cosnefroy – the colorful rider should have good legs, which makes him one of the favorites for this stage. How well does he do in echelons? I am not sure. The team has the likes of O. Naesen and GvA, which in theory means, he is more than well protected.
Ben Turner – it is difficult to pick from INEOS, who their best man will be. They will be in the mix, as usual when it comes down to echelons. Turner is likely the quickest on a finish like this. Kwiatkowski on a good day could challenge for the podium and Tulett is another rider, who could surprise. I will stick with Turner.
Jake Stewart – did not finish GP Marseille. He is a big rider and usually does well in an uphill sprint. A rider who could surprise is Samuel Watson. One of the better U23 riders taking the jump to WT this year, but he has some good results in uphill finishes. How much support they will have is difficult to say with Pinot in their team too.
Who will win?
A battle between Pedersen, Laurence and De Lie. I will take a win for the Mads Pedersen.