The Inner Ring | Tour de France Stage 11 Preview

    The world championships of breakaway racing today, expect a lively day’s racing.

    L’ennui: a boring stage. All over France chores that had been postponed were being tackled, piles of washing were being loaded into machines, dishwashers emptied, floors swept and surfaces dusted with the TV on in the background. Kobe Goossens managed to go up the road at one point and collected the day’s combativity prize, if he hadn’t who would have got it, the rider with most bandages?

    The sprint finish was almost boring too but that’s no bad thing, no controversy, no accidents. Instead Alpecin-Deceunink put on a performance like last year including an acceleration from Mathieu van der Poel that even Jasper Philipsen struggled with, but he was ahead and got the win.

    The Route: 211km and 4,350m of vertical gain. A start in Evaux-les-Bains, a small town in the sparsely-populated Creuse départment, apparently backed by the city of Montluçon in the neighbouring Allier department because they got many of the hotels last night.

    The profile almost makes the first 150km look flat but we don’t get over 4,000m of climbing just at the end. Instead the route is rising and falling all the time, and on twisting roads. This has two effects: first terrain for the breakaway to go clear but expect waves of moves; second it’ll sap riders for later.

    The Néronne is a steady climb up a wide road. Despite the name the Pas de Peyrol exists, the pas is not the negative but a “step”, and a big one, it starts steady through almost New Zealand like terrain then rears up and the final 2.5km are consistently between 11-13%, a big change of rhythm, look out for the Virage Bardet here. There’s a flat section across the top that the profile doesn’t show and then a long descent with one or two dangers – Alexandr Vinokourov broke his leg in 2011 here – but otherwise fast.

    The Col du Perthus is listed as 4.4km at 7.9% which would be hard if it was like this. Instead it’s much steeper for most of the way. The profile says it starts with 7% but the 10-12% slopes arrive immediately and it stays this way for the next two kilometres with only a brief flat section in between before rising up all the way to the top. It’s harder than expected and the place where teams can ratchet up the pace to eliminate or test rivals who’ve survived the Pas de Peyrol. The descent is in two parts, the first part is easy and gentle, then there’s a bump uphill and then the second part is steeper and more dangerous part with some sharp turns, the kind where it’s easy to overcook things.

    The Finish: the Col de Font de Cère begins on the big Route Nationale and then with 6km to go they turn onto a small road which climbs to the KoM point among the chalets and ski slopes above Le Lioran on a steady road. The descent is much smaller and has some bumps and tight bends on the way down before they drop back into the ski resort and pick up the main road which gradually bends to the finish. The last 600m rise at 6-7%.

    The Contenders: today’s stage shares many of the roads from 2016 when Greg Van Avermaet won the stage to Le Lioran, this was “golden Greg” in Olympic form who took the stage and the yellow jersey. For an Olympian pick why not Tom Pidcock (Ineos) who will find the climbs and descents suit him although has he done any recon here to profit from the descents?

    Ben Healy (EF) is looking for a breakaway win and this really suits. His team are racing to set up moves and he’s the obvious spear tip although he almost has to go solo for the win; Alberto Bettiol and Neilson Powless are contenders and Richard Carapaz sat up in the finish yesterday, reculer pour mieux sauter?

    Giulio Ciccone (Lidl-Trek) is racing well and suited to the hilly finish, he’s got a good sprint out of a small group too. Likewise Maxim Van Gils (Lotto-Dstny).

    David Gaudu and Romain Grégoire (Groupama-FDJ) probably have their best shot at a stage but so many others today share this too. Cofidis are without a win, Jesus Herrada has won in this region before but the odds are getting longer now. Staying with French teams Kévin Vauquelin (Arkéa-B&B Hotels) finds terrain to suit too.

    The local pick is Romain Bardet (DSM), at least he is from the region but he’s got a stage already and says he’d be as happy to help others win, so Oscar Onley and Frank Van den Broek fit the bill too.

    Oh and Tadej Pogačar (UAE) too because if the breakaway battle goes on for too long then the GC contenders can exploit the terrain later and he’s the obvious pick among them.

    Healy, Ciccone
    Vauquelin, Van Gils, Pidcock, Grégoire
    Pogačar, Carapaz, Onley, Gaudu, Mohorič, Gee, Bardet

    Weather: early rain clearing to leave sunshine and 23°C.

    TV: KM0 is at 11.30am CEST and the finish is forecast for 5.15pm CEST. Tune in for the start to see the battle for the breakaway.

    Postcard from Evaux-les-Bains
    Today’s start is in the small town of Evaux-les-Bains where since Roman times the thermal spring has been enjoyed. Thermalisme is a big deal in France. While many countries celebrate hot spring waters, France institutionalises this with spas offering medical treatment paid for by the state. Last year 450,000 people went for medical treatment in France’s 88 regulated spas.

    The original idea was that drinking or bathing in particular kinds of warm waters – 20°C or more – could be beneficial to the body, waters rich in certain minerals were paired to a pathology. Some of this might be quack medicine, or just the placebo effect after a warm soak or a course of drinks but there is some justification today. Think of osteoporosis benefitting from drinking calcium-rich waters, or skin lesions from eczema being washed in acidic, disinfecting sulphur-rich waters.

    Le thermalisme gets prescribed for a range of treatments, including obesity and depression and the cost can be reimbursed from the French healthcare system. You can imagine it might be cheaper to stay at home and tweak the diet, or for a doctor to prescribe, say, calcium supplements. A French parliamentary report said out loud that the actual medical benefits are doubtful.

    However it’s not a great expense to the French system, typically only the “medical” part relating to the spa waters are billed to the system, with travel, accommodation and food paid by the customer patient. Thermalisme is implicitly backed for the wider benefits. Stays last a regulation three weeks with 18 days of treatment, a grand tour for health. The person is away from their home and placed in a controlled environment where as well as waters, the days are regimented, the food rationed and regular exercise is encouraged. Plenty are bound to leave feeling better than they started.

    So if you’re wondering why little Evaux-les-Bains is on the map today, remember that mid-week a large chunk of the race’s audience consists of seniors who may be eligible for some thermalisme if their joints aches and now have a new place to consider. Indeed with its lithium-rich waters (2.09 mg/l) Evaux is said to help promote relaxation and sleep…


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