Perhaps the most recognisable mark of Christian Prudhomme’s reign as Tour director has been the inclusion of very short, intense final mountain stages. One has to go back to 2010 to find a final mountain stage that was over 160km. The aim, says Thierry Gouvenou, is “total suspense right up until the very end of the race.” Given that Chris Froome was a team-mate or two from losing the yellow jersey on Alpe d’Huez last year, it’s unsurprising there is similar jeopardy built into this year’s race.
This year, the mountains end as they start: with a tricky descent. Just as at Lac de Payolle, this final stage into Morzine makes a virtue of a technical descent off the Joux-Plane, which hasn’t been used in the Tour since 2006. Back then it was the set for Floyd Landis’s testosterone-fuelled rampage through the Alps – no one can deny ASO has a black sense of humour.
If the green jersey competition is tight, the more able climbers among the sprinters may try and crest the Aravis ahead of their rivals. By now it’s gamble or die for pursuants in the GC, so there’s value for them in trying to get team-mates up the road to lend a hand on the way up the Joux-Plane. But this deep into the race, who has those kind of resources left? The Joux-Plane’s opening touches almost 10 per cent before levelling off for the next 5km. However, the following 6km lurches up again and provides the perfect setting for a late ambush. The parcours crosses a false flat to the Col du Ranfolly and the technical descent begins. But it will only really be in play if the yellow jersey is cast as the chaser; it’s not that technical that a downhill attack from the yellow jersey would be anything other than valedictory.
Robert Millar: Four cols in 140 kilometres equals fireworks for the GC and complete misery if you are in the gruppetto. Aravis and the Colombière aren’t too bad if things stay sensible but the Ramaz is hard at any speed and it’s where the first serious attacks will come. The final climb of the Joux-Plane was one I never ever mastered. Training or racing it always hurt me and then there’s the dodgy descent into Morzine. Survival will be the word of the day.