Stage 9: Nantua - Chambery
When the 2017 Tour de France route was unveiled, the main criticism was that the big summit finishes had been missed. The Col d'Izoard apart, there was no Alpe d'Huez and no Ventoux. But the route planners may be on to something here. In recent years, the strongest teams have suffocated the race on the big summit finishes. These stages have become tactically unexciting. However, some of the best racing now is happening when there's a climb at the start, even if the riders hate it. The start of this stage is a wonderful chance for a team willing to risk unpopularity to blow up the race – there's a category 2 climb straight out of Nantua, no descent, then a third cat climb, and again, no descent for another five kilometers. Be ready for the sight at the start of 190 or so riders on rollers, warming up for the fast start.
This is the hardest stage of the 2017 Tour. After that tough start, there are three HC climbs, the Biche, Grand Colombier and Mont du Chat, all averaging at least 9 per cent. The one obstacle to open racing is the long valley between the Grand Colombier and the Mont du Chat. Even if the favourites leave everything to the last climb, weaknesses will be exposed on the Mont du Chat, which is renowned for being one of the toughest mountains ever used in the Tour.
The scenery of the Jura is picture postcard perfect and beautifully forested, rather than epic in the same way as the high Alps, and the highest the peloton will go today is 1,504m on the Mont du Chat, which is well over a kilometre lower than the high point of the Tour on the Col du Galibier, but the combination of route, beauty and toughness means that if you are going to watch any single stage of the Tour, it should be this one.
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Phil Anderson says
"The peloton will ride into the second week of La Grande Boucle with legs tested by the relentless undulations and pace of the race through Germany and Belgium. The first fractures in form will start to appear in teams not on form while the main contenders must put their race faces on as this stage could dictate the outcome of Le Tour.
"Reverting to my own conspiracy theory on the ASO and Chris Froome's plan for him to win his fourth Tour, this stage is a classic in waiting for the Froomster. Historically he lays the cards out on the table on the first day in the mountains leaving the field in tatters. It's a GC day with seven climbs, three of which are Hors Categorie followed by the first rest day.
"BMC, Movistar and Sky will be approaching the foot of the first climb at full tilt, drag racing up the climbs then trying to re-assemble in each valley before the next repeat. Unlike Groundhog Day the riders won't get a second chance, minutes will be lost and the field will be in tatters, the contest reduced to just a few by the time they reach the Grand Colombier. A tough first half with long straight segments at close to 20% should reduce the field to the main contenders before the final climb of Mont du Chat. This will be a slug-fest, cheap undercuts like Froome's attack on Richie in the Dauphine the order of the day. I believe stage 9 will shape this year's Tour."
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