TDF Stage 5: Vittel to La Planche Des Belles Filles

At 113.5 KM, an eight-rider break is off the front by 2:57 with the peloton in hot pursuit. One reason for their determination is because the break includes Bossen-Haggen – how did they let him get in there? He’s only 16 seconds off the yellow jersey! – Phillipe Gilbert, and Thomas Voeckler. It’s Voeckler’s last race – he retires at the end of this season – he made his name as a young rider by taking the yellow jersey on a long break and holding it for days so he may want to go out the same way. And it’s Gilbert’s birthday and he’s hoping for birthday luck.

The riders at the front of the peloton are lined up single-file by team, with one team behind the next. BMC is on the front, expending their domestiques because they are hoping that Richie Porte can gain some time back from Froome. Froome’s team, Team Sky, is just behind BMC.

Strategy

This stage has a mountain-top finish, which means that today’s strategy is at the GC-contender level, not at sprint-level. The only sprint points will be at the intermediate sprint; so the sprinters will compete for those and then settle back.

Tactics

53.5 miles and they’re almost exactly where they were at 113.5 miles. Sometimes these flatter stages don’t have much going on earlier.

50.2 miles and the gap is down to 1:51 but by 49.8 miles, it’s back up to 2:04. Why? Because the breakaway had gone through the feed-zone, which slowed them down. Then the peloton went through the feed zone, which slowed them down. The leaders are riding at around 41 MPH, peloton at around 20 MPH, but that slowness is feed-zone slowness. Once they get the food tucked away in their pockets, they’ll pick up speed again.

At 35.6 miles, the sprinters are fighting for the intermediate sprint points. With the mountain-top finish and the GC riders coming out to play, the sprinters’ strategy is to take as many intermendiate sprint-points as possible, since they won’t get any at the finish.

When the breakaway hit the cat 3 climb about 30 miles from the finish, they split, with a couple of riders going back into the pack, a small group continuing as a break and one guy going off the front of the break to try to take the mountain-points.

28.7 miles, the front six are back together again, and the other two breakaway riders are back in the peloton. One of those two grabbed a jersey-full of water-bottles before he drifted back into the pack so he could replenish his teammates.

19.5 miles and the peloton is still down 1:57.

5.4 miles. Two riders from the break are out front, followed by 3 more riders – including Voeckler – 15 seconds back, then 1 more 39 seconds back from the leader, then the peloton 1:21 back from the leader – and the green jersey has slipped to the back of the pack.

It’s typical for the sprinters to drop back once they’ve finished an intermediate sprint in a mountain-stage. They tend to be larger, heavier, guys, and it’s hard for them to go uphill (although, if there is a downhill, which there really isn’t today, their weight can help them catch back up). The trailing riders will need to either cross the line within a certain time limit or find a large enough group (called an Autobuus) that the entire group qualifies for an extension. It’s not hard to form an Autobus on a tough hill because the domestiques will drift back as they’re expended and join up.

BMC exhausted themselves too early and now Sky is on the front of the peloton – are they trying to keep the jersey for Thomas or for Froome? Movistar is coming up beside them, racing for Nairo Quintana. On the lower slopes, the whole team is riding in a train but with an average gradient around 8% and a maximum of 20%, the domestiques will quickly peel off, and it will be mano a mano by the leaders. The question is – does Thomas lead Froome out then peel off and hope that Fromme can take the yellow? Or will they stay together and try to keep Thomas in the yellow.

The chase group just dropped back to the peloton, leaving 2 riders off the front with just a 25 second lead. Sky’s domestiques are on the front leading Thomas and Froome in pursuit. The peloton can see the break. This is a dangerous point for the peloton because once you catch a breakaway, another launches. And a Direct Energy rider rides out of the peloton and clears the field – the question is, do they chase him down or not? He’s not a GC contender but he could take the stage win.

By the time I finished writing that, the Direct Energy rider was back in the pack and so were the two riders in the break – and the polka-dot jersey has dropped off the back of the peloton. Sky puts the hammer down on the rest of the field. And they haven’t even hit the 20% gradient yet!

3.4 miles – there’s three Sky riders on the front, then Froome and Thomas. Then BMC is lined up for Porte. Just behind Porte are other GC contenders including Quintana, Contador and Aru.

1.6 miles – Sky is down to one domestique, Thomas, and Froome. Aru jumps out in front. Sky continues riding at pace. Aru is 52 seconds down in the GC and he Quintana may be able to take some time back in a gap plus the time bonus.

1.3 miles – Aru has 29 seconds and continues gaining. Now Simon Yates moves forward. He’s not going for GC but if he can get 20 seconds ahead, he can get the white jersey tonight. The last Sky domestique has dropped off and Geraint is riding for Froome.

1 mile and Froome takes off, quickly followed by Porte, Quintana, and Yates.

.9 miles and Quintana cracks, quickly followed by Contador.

The four of them are racing after Aru, but you can see them in the background. 1 KM and Aru is in the 20% gradient. Contador surges forward.

Porte makes a move pulling out of the group, Aru is still in front, racing and praying. Froome surges past Porte.

The Finish

Aru takes the win. Everyone else surges over the hill, and Dan Martin takes second quickly followed by Froome, Quintana, and then Thomas and Contador.

Now Froome has the yellow jersey, Aru’s cat 1 win gave him enough points to take the polka-dot jersey – and he’s only 14 seconds down in the yellow-jersey race. Simon Yates earns the white jersey with a 24-second lead. No change in the green jersey – Arnaud Dumare.

I would say the big winner today is Aru.

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