Tour de France Stage 8 Preview: The GC Battle Heads to the Alps
Stage 8 – Oyonnax to le Grand Bornand – 150.8km – Saturday, July 3rd
After Friday’s gruelling, 250km affair that saw racing go à bloc from the start, the 2021 Tour de France riders get no rest on the weekend. Instead, the race enters the high mountains for the first time with this 150.8km stage that goes into the heart of the Alps.
The day starts out with an uncategorised ascent right from the start in Oyonnax, which should spring the day’s breakaway. While 100km shorter than the previous day, this will be a crucial test for all GC contenders due to the mix of big climbs and a descent to the finish. Like Friday, the breakaway could be fuelled by a large number of riders; and the uphill start will favour attackers over the chase.
Eventually, things will calm down a bit as the riders traverse the Haute-Savoie region on the way to the big climbs. Those really get going around 100km in, with the Category 1 Côte de Mont-Saxonneaux. But the big test will be the pairing of the Category 1 Col de Romme and the Col de la Colombière, one of the most famous Tour climbs. Because the pack approaches the Colombière from a saddle off the Romme, it’s not as long as other approaches. But together, they make up 18km of climbing total, with only a short, 4km descent between the two climbs (there are a few technical spots on that descent, so watch for gaps or crashes).
Things get steepest at the top of the Colombière, where the final 2.5km of ascent average almost 10 percent gradient. The descent to the village of le Grand Bornand is not overly steep or technical, but there are some switchbacks. It’s a good day for a breakaway to survive to the finish, but it also will make for some watchful riding for the GC contenders, as defensive-minded riders try to neutralise those gambling on an attack.
Whatever might be happening with the break, the most likely scenario for the favourites is a late attack on the Colombière to get a gap, which a good descender should be able to hold to the finish. This will be the first big test of defending champion Tadej Pogačar’s team. With Mathieu van der Poel all but certain to lose the race lead, MvdP’s Alpecin-Fenix team won’t be a significant factor in controlling the chase (in fact, they may pursue a similar strategy to Friday, placing riders in the break instead). That will hand the role to Pogačar’s UAE-Emirates team to do the work, as they did Friday. If rivals like Ineos and Jumbo-Visma race smart and patiently, there could be opportunities to put Pogačar on the defensive.
Riders to Watch
The last time the race finished in le Grand Bornand, in 2018, it was Julian Alaphilippe who emerged victorious from the breakaway. He’s an obvious threat for the win. Other likely breakaway protagonists could include Israel Start-Up Nation, which sort of inexplicably missed Friday’s big move (again, the best shot comes from Dan Martin and Michael Woods). Teams like BikeExchange (perhaps Lucas Hamilton), Bahrain-Victorious (Wout Poels and Pello Bilbao), and Astana (Jakob Fuglsang and Alex Aranbaru) could also figure. Among the GC riders, we’d look to someone like Ineos’ Richard Carapaz as the most likely attacker, as he was on Friday. Carapaz is a good climber and descender, has a solid tactical sense for the race, and has to be aggressive if he wants to improve his position in the standings. He could find an ally in EF Education-Nippo’s Rigoberto Uran.
When to Tune In
Most of the action in this stage will happen right at the beginning and in the last 30 or so kilometres. With the primary focus being the last few kilometres of the Colombière climb and the descent, expect the pack to ride tempo over the Romme. If you start your stream at the summit of the Romme, you’ll catch the descent, the climb of the Colombière, and the drop to the finish in le Grand Bornand. But Friday’s stage is a reminder that spicy racing can lead to faster times, so keep an eye on the pace to make sure you don’t start your stream too late.