A brutal day for riders today, as one of the longest days of this year’s Tour de France also took in some of the hardest climbing. On a stage that saw a change in the Yellow Jersey, Emanuel Buchmann was the first BORA-hansgrohe rider to finish, just losing touch with the GC riders as the race hits its brutal final climbs, the young German rider showing a lot of promise on a relentlessly tough stage.
Six climbs today, and only one of these being categorised as easier than second category – and three hard ascents in the final 40km, with one of these being the Hors Catégorie Port de Balès, and all of this on the third longest stage of the Tour. After the flat days since the first rest day, this 214.5km parcours was going to be a shock to the system, but if the GC riders could stay in contention until the final kilometres, they were going to be in with a chance to make an impact on the overall standings.
After a few attempts at a break once the race left the neutralised area, a large group managed to make its way up the road. Some of this number had their eye on the sprint points available early in the day, while others would have ambitions on the stage win, but regardless of their motives, this group was working together well and managed to build a lead that edged its way towards five minutes, topping out at 6:10 before the race hit the bigger climbs of the day and the pace slowed considerably. The GC riders would have their eye on the Port de Balès, both as an indicator of their rivals’ form, but also to watch out for any attacks that might need reeling in. Staying with the peloton even as the roads became steeper, BORA-hansgrohe’s Emanuel Buchmann was working hard on what was going to be a brutal run to the finish.
As the altitude rose, the visibility levels fell, as if to make sure the peloton knew that they were coming into the hardest parts of the stage, and as a few attacks began to test the bunch, the riders going for the overall prize had to make the decision on whether to chase these down or to stay put and hope to make time elsewhere. As the break began to really fall apart, there was just one rider off the front with 35km to go, and the chasers seemed eager not to let them take the stage today, the escapee’s lead dropping dramatically – a mix of their fatigue and the ever increasing pace in the peloton – before the catch was made. The GC riders fought it out amongst themselves on a grinding run to the finish line, where some of the slopes hit as much as 20%.
Finishing the day in 23rd position, Emanuel had worked hard to stay with the GC riders, just losing touch on the final climbs of the day. “Although I didn’t make it to the breakaway, I was able to stay with the GC favourites for a good part of the stage. However, on the HC climb up Port de Balès, they had established a pace that I felt would be over my limit. As a result, I decided to follow my own tempo, but without losing too much time in the GC. I am slowly gaining confidence and I will try again when the opportunity arises.”
BORA-hansgrohe Team Coach, Patxi Vila, knew just how hard the day was, particularly the closing stages. “Our first goal today was to put Emanuel Buchmann and Pawel Poljanski in the initial breakaway. They tried hard, but unfortunately they didn’t make it. The truth is that with a flat first half of the stage, the escape included some fast riders and it would have been very difficult for Emu and Pawel to follow the pace. In that aspect, our first objective of the stage wasn’t achieved. With regard to Emu’s race afterwards, he chose to ride at his own rhythm, not spending too much energy. He wasn’t able to follow the GC group, but in the end he finished where I had expected him to finish. I feel quite confident that he has the energy and legs to try his chances again tomorrow in the breakaway.”
From one of the longest days to one of the shortest days. When it comes to the Tour de France, this is by no means a sign that the day is going to be easy – especially when the French riders will be looking to take the win on Bastille Day. A shorter parcours means riders will be giving it their all from the very start, while the three first category climbs will put the hurt in the riders’ legs. The final climb comes 27km from the end of the stage before a long, fast downhill to the finish in Foix – which means the victory might not go to the best climber, but instead to the best descender.