Tour de France Stage 6 Preview: The First Summit Finish & A Crucial Test
After five days devoted to sprinters and breakaways, the overall contenders will take center stage on Thursday for the first time in the 2019 Tour. Stage 6, in the heart of France’s Vosges region, is relatively short at 160.5K. But it features seven categorised climbs, including an early Category 1 ascent that starts just 29K into the route, and a summit finish on La Planche des Belles Filles.
With so many climbs, expect to see a relatively large breakaway go clear somewhere around the intermediate sprint point, at 29K in Linthal. Riders targeting the polka dot jersey will find rich pickings for points. We’d be unsurprised to see current KoM leader Tim Wellens on the move for the third day in a row.
But chances are relatively low that a breakaway will survive to the finish. La Planche first appeared in the race in 2012, when Chris Froome emerged as the stage winner and introduced himself to Tour fans. In that year, as in 2014 and 2017, it’s been a crucial early-race test for overall contenders. It’s short by Tour standards – just 7K – but steep, with multiple sustained sections of 9.5 percent and ramping up to a leg-breaking 24 percent gradient at the summit.
Time gaps here aren’t usually major, but judging by past results, the top five finishers on the day will include the eventual Tour winner. What’s more, in every finish involving La Planche so far, at least one rider with designs on the overall podium has a bad enough day that his hopes get demolished.
Riders to Watch
As the current man in polka dots, Wellens will almost certainly get in the early break, possibly joined by Stage 5’s most aggressive rider, Toms Skujins. It will also attract opportunists from teams targeting stage wins or the KoM competition, like Jesus Herrada of Cofidis. You might even see race leader Julian Alaphilippe, since he’s not rated as an overall contender.
But the winner will likely be a rider with GC aspirations. Egan Bernal is the fashionable pick, but don’t count out Thibaut Pinot or Alejandro Valverde, both of whom have done well on this climb in the past. As for riders guarding against a bad day, Jakob Fuglsang has struggled on La Planche before. Thursday will be a crucial early test of his legs – and his recovery from that Stage 1 crash.