After the Pyrenees, the second act of the GC opens when the peloton rolls out of Montpellier. Destination: Mont Ventoux.
Bastille Day will add another layer of expectation to the race. The easterly direction of travel across the Rhône Valley leaves the peloton at risk of a buffeting. The race takes the classic approach via Bedoin, 22km before the summit. The action kicks off when the race reaches the hairpin bend at Saint-Ésteve where the race disappears into the forest. For nearly 10km the road pitches up at nearly 10 per cent and it will atomise the peloton. The drafting effect all but disappears on the steep but inconsistent gradient and the race becomes a battle of engines. When the road emerges at Chalet Reynard it’s into the landscape for which the climb is famous: the exposed white limestone for the final 6km. The gradients pitch up to about 10 per cent in the final 1.5km from the Tom Simpson memorial onwards. It’s the context that lends Mont Ventoux, the hardest climb in France, extra teeth this year. The day after is the crucial Ardèche TT and the route planner Thierry Gouvenou is banking on riders paying for the effort they put in here. The problem is that Ventoux is so hard, dosing one’s effort is an academic exercise.
Two things could happen: the GC riders are forced into a huge fight on the slopes of Ventoux, or they treat the approach as conservatively as they can and allow a big break to get away and contest the finish. The big teams’ logic could be that it’s better to let the Ventoux and the yellow jersey pass for now and start clawing back the deficit in the Ardèche and the succession of climbs in the Alps. But whatever the strategy, it’s Ventoux on Bastille Day. It’s going to be a crucial day.
Bernard Thevenet: Ventoux is long, hot and hard, and you get two possibilities on a stage like this. Either a break goes away and you get two races, a fight between the break and a fight for the GC riders, or they’ll chase the break down. Ventoux is such a mythical climb so everybody wants to win there. It’s the kind of climb where a rider can win the Tour, although it’s more likely several will lose it here. When I won here, in 1972, we came up the other side, from Malaucène.