Tour de France 2023 stage five preview - the first taste of the mountains

The mountains come into view during today's stage with the peloton tackling the Pyrenees' Col de Soudet 

Distance: 162.7km
Start location: Pau
Finish location: Laruns
Start time: 13:05 CEST
Finish time (approx): 17:21 CEST

Two days prior to this stage, the peloton passed from Spain into France via one of the few flat routes across the border, up near the coast of the Bay of Biscay. For the most part, the two nations are separated by the formidable natural barrier of the Pyrenees, which has historically proven to be a dividing line between the two European superpowers, that makes invasion from one into the other difficult and has thus helped each protect itself from the other. The logic of cycle racing is very different from that of warfare, and rather than advance further northwards having circumvented the Pyrenees, the Tour instead ventures south-westwards back into the mountain range, for the first proper day of climbing of the 2023 Tour de France

The riders will set off from Pau, the town that has been visited by the Tour more than any other town save for Bordeaux and, of course, Paris. The views from here of the Pyrenees are truly stunning, described by the nineteenth century writer Alphonse de Lamartineas as having ‘the most beautiful on earth’, and are particularly striking when seen from the purpose-built Boulevard des Pyrenees. But Pau hasn’t been chosen for its panoramic vistas, but rather its proximity to the mountains, and the riders will apprehend them with trepidation rather than pleasure, in the knowledge that they’ll be climbing some of those imposing looking peaks in just a few hours. 


Stage five profile sourced via ASO

First up is the Col de Soudet, which, over 15km long and with an average gradient of 7.2%, will be the first proper mountain of this year’s race. Ranked hors category, it will make for a rude awakening for a peloton that has up until now not tackled anything higher than a category two, but they are unlikely to ride up it at an especially taxing pace, given that it's crested with 85km still to ride before the finish. At least, the peloton won’t be climbing it in a hurry; for riders in the breakaway (likely to be made up of climbers who have intentionally or unintentionally lost several minutes already in the Basque hills), it provides a chance both to take an early lead in the king of the mountains competition, and grow a big enough lead over the peloton to give themselves a chance of a stage victory.

After a lengthy valley road interrupted only by the category three Col d'Ichère comes the Col de Marie Blanque, and it’s here where the GC action is likely to kick off. That was the case on an almost identical stage of the 2020 Tour, when Tadej Pogačar attacked multiple times on the steep double-digit gradients that make up the second half of this 7.7km climb to go clear with just Primož Roglič, Egan Bernal and Mikel Landa for company. The 11km descent and 7km flat run-in to the finish in Laruns did not deter him that year, and the fact he managed to both win the stage (his first ever at the Tour) and gain almost a minute over some of his main GC rivals will bolster any prospective yellow jersey contenders contemplating an attack today.


This stage presents a good chance for a breakaway to win, especially as UAE Team Emirates may consider ceding the yellow jersey. But it'll be complicated for any break, and we could even see an early battle between the GC contenders.

Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost), currently in the polka dot jersey, will be determined to secure valuable points on the climbs. With the team’s main GC contender, Richard Carapaz, out of the race due to an earlier crash, the American team will aim to hold onto the mountains jersey for as long as possible. Two-time Tour stage winner Magnus Cort could also be an option for the pink-clad team, if he can get into the breakaway. 

For the Ineos Grenadiers, Daniel Martínez could be a rider looking to make the break. With the team lacking a main GC contender this year, they are focussing on stage wins. Matej Mohorič (Bahrain-Victorious), the breakaway king in the 2021 Tour de France, will aim to replicate his success. He’s already claimed victory this year on the final stage of the Tour of Slovenia. 

AG2R Citroën rider Felix Gall has shown strength leading up to the Tour, securing his first pro stage win at the Tour de Suisse in a solo effort with a profile similar to this stage. His teammate Benoît Cosnefroy will also be a rider to watch for the breakaway. From Movistar, who lost their GC leader Enric Mas on stage one, Gregor Mühlberger or Gorka Izagirre could prove good breakaway options. 

A Frenchman looking to secure a stage win on his home turf, and therefore be encouraged to get in the break, will be Warren Barguil (Arkéa Samsic). The 31-year-old has two stage wins to his name which he won in 2017, the same year he won the KoM jersey. Although he has had limited success in the Tour since then, he showcased his podium abilities in the Giro d’Italia on a stage with a similar profile, finishing third. Fellow Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal-Quick-Step) could be a rider to watch, as will Pierre Latour (TotalEnergies).


We think the breakaway will stay away, and polka dot clad Neilson Powless will secure the stage win. The American has been in the break most stages and after a slower paced day on stage four, he'll have the power to take it to the line. 

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