Le Tour 2019 - Stage 6


Somewhat obvious that today’s stage would be termed mountains — that’s exactly what it was all about as the action took place in the Vosges Mountain range., finishing up the incredibly steep (and perhaps even a little daft) La Planche des Belles Filles.

Why was it daft? Maybe it wasn’t, maybe it’s just a huge spectacle. If the previous finish to La Planche des Belles Filles wasn’t steep enough, the organisers added on an additional 900 m of hard packed gravel which for the last 300 m was over 20%. For certain, there are a ton of climbs that steep all over the world (especially in the UK), atop a mountain? With gravel? On a road that previously didn’t exist? Weirdly though, it was the spectacle of the finish line helpers having to push riders out of the way so that they didn’t ‘clog up’ the finish line that was, in my mind, somewhat bizarre. Anyway, I digress.

There was an early break that was away for the majority of the day - on the final two climbs of the seven featured today, riders from the break started to come back, and to be honest it did look like the Movistar very reduced peloton would reel in the rest of the break. But, no, two riders Dylan Teuns and Giulio Ciccone stayed away with Teuns emphatically taking the stage (definitely not gifted) and Ciccone taking over the race lead.

In yesterday’s blog I hinted that I had nagging doubt about G’s form, but he rode the best of the GC riders and Team Ineos to gain a few seconds on everyone else. What was perhaps more surprising (for me at least) was watching Alaphilippe attacking on the final slopes to the line (which is when G countered him). I may have mentioned before, but I think that Alaphilippe is potentially a GC rider in the making.

It’s obvious to see that there are now some tired looking riders at the race. Six continuous days of racing, at the biggest race in the world takes its toll - mentally and physically. Todays stage would have also been extremely fatiguing — even for the riders in the gruppetto. That’s because of the physics involved with climbing, and climbing steep hills. To keep moving forward (rather than toppling over) you’re going to have to have some velocity — you can’t be riding at 1 km/hr (well maybe you could if you had really low mtb gears but I suspect even that would be very difficult, and you’d end up outside of the time cut). So, the speed they need to generate will have meant that they’d need to put in a decent level of power — likely, higher than if the final mountain had been more normal in gradient.

At the front of the race, the intensity would have been infernal. During the earlier climbs of the day there would have been a strong wearing down process, meaning that some riders could now be on empty. For the front runners, while I don’t have power data, it’s possible to estimate that the front group of GC riders probably would have averaged 6 W/kg for the entire climb. At the end of a 160 km racing over 4.5 hours. Of course there would have been peaks (and accordingly some troughs) to deal with the varying grades, the gravel, and the corners. When I think about my own level of riding that sort of power (6W/kg) is something I can only maintain for a couple of minutes, at sea level. For sure, the pros are (way!) younger than me, but that’s six days in, at the end of a serious mountain stage, and at altitude. There’s going to be some tired legs in the peloton tomorrow. I suspect if Thomas de Gendt attempts another break (even though he was away today) tomorrow, there won’t be many interested in chasing after him (or whoever goes in the break).

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Richard Stern