Stage 9: Vielha Val d'Aran - Andorre Arcalis
Modern management theory, in the touchy-feely post-millenial era, dictates that criticism alone is not motivating. We are encouraged to sandwich the malodorous filling of the negative between slices of positivity, the better for self-improvement and self-esteem. However, viewed through this prism, stage 9 of the 2016 Tour de France is the equivalent of the full hairdryer from Alex Ferguson. It’s got a very, very hard beginning, a very, very hard middle, and a very, very hard finish.
Arcalis is a relative newcomer among the summit finishes of the Tour. It’s twice appeared in the race, in 1997 and 2009. While it’s not the most atmospheric climb – nor does it have the character of an Alpe d’Huez or a Ventoux – it does bring out breakthrough performances in Tour contenders. In ’97, Jan Ullrich gave a monstrous demonstration of what, in hindsight, might be considered the answer to the question, ‘What happens if you give a prodigious physical talent copious performance-enhancing products?’ and single-handedly won the Tour on this one climb. In 2009, it could be argued, Bradley Wiggins discovered himself as a Tour contender. He started the climb as a good time triallist, who’d reached the mountains close to the race lead by dint of a solid efforts in the individual and team time trials. He finished it as a future Tour winner, having ridden up in the company of Armstrong, Schleck, Nibali et al.
This will be a crucial day for the 2016 Tour, also. Four significant climbs, plus a summit finish on which surprises are often sprung, makes it the perfect place for an ambush. Or, more likely, and going against the grain of history on this climb, shock and awe tactics from the usual suspects.
Robbie McEwen: We rode up here in the 1997 Tour, when Jan Ullrich smashed it. Arcalis isn’t actually that hard of a climb - it’s very long but it’s not in the same league as Zoncolan or Mont Ventoux. The plan for the non-GC guys on a day like today is pray that the break goes early and they let it go. Get over the first climb with the group, and then you’re safe - it’s a 160km time trial to the finish. These stages are a real grind, and you’re at the mercy of the climbers.
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