The second weekend of the 2021 Tour de France is here, but there will be no time off for the racers, as they arrive at the first true mountains of the Tour. The riders will climb over 3,500 metres, taking in three first-category climbs along the way.
The final kilometres, featuring the Col de Romme and Col de la Colombière before a descent into the finish in Le Grand-Bornand, mirror stage 10 of the 2018 Tour de France. That stage was won by Julian Alaphilippe.
Stage 7 was dominated by an early breakaway which featured the yellow jersey Mathieu van der Poel and Wout Van Aert. UAE Team Emirates were forced to control the tempo behind, but ahead Matej Mohorič attacked on the Signal d'Uchon and soloed to the line to win his first Tour de France stage. The victory means Mohorič has completed the Grand Tour set with a stage at all three Grand Tours on his palmarès.
Stage 8 profile
Stage 8 begins on the foot of the Forêt d'Échallon, a 5km climb which averages 6.6%. The climb is uncategorised so there are no KOM points available at the top, though this speaks volumes of the more challenging climbs to come. However, the climb provides a platform for the breakaway to form, so any breakaway candidates must be ready to attack from the off.
An intermediate sprint occurs in Frangy at kilometre 45. With a difficult start to the stage, Peter Sagan, Michael Matthews and Sonny Colbrelli may see this as an opportunity to join the breakaway to gain ground in the green jersey competition.
The first categorised ascent arrives shortly after in the Côte de Copponex, and the Côte de Menthonnex-en-Bornes swiftly follows. The two ascents are third and fourth category respectively and act as a warm-up for the punishing climbs that follow.
The Côte de Mont-Saxonnex begins with just over 50km of the stage remaining. The ascent is the first first category climb of the 2021 Tour de France. Although it is only 5.7km — not long for a first category — it averages a leg-sapping 8.3%.
The riders will then descend directly into the foot of the Col de Romme, which at 8.8km is the longest climb of the Tour so far. The ascent averages 8.9%. At these percentages, the climb cannot be underestimated by any of the GC favourites. With another first category ascent to follow immediately, any overall contenders that are dropped here will lose the Tour de France.
The Col de la Colombière follows — an ascent which is synonymous with the Tour de France. The Colombière has been used eight times since 2000, most recently in 2018. At 7.5km and 8.5% on average, it isn’t the most strenuous climb of the day on paper. However, with little respite between the two aforementioned first category climbs, the riders' legs will be burning at the foot of the Colombière, let alone the top.
Once the Col de la Colombière is crested, 14.7km remain until the stage finish in Le Grand-Bornand. The riders will descend into the ski resort and enter the north side of town. The road kicks uphill in the final kilometre as the riders navigate their way through town, crossing the river before the stage finish.
Image credit: PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP via Getty Images
Julian Alaphilippe will have fond memories of Le Grand-Bornand after he won his first Tour de France stage there in 2018. Alaphilippe joined the breakaway that day and attacked with around 30 kilometres remaining, crossing the Col de Romme solo before navigating the ascent of the Col de la Colombière and the descent into Le Grand-Bornand alone too. Alaphilippe could perhaps challenge for the stage again this year, though sitting just 40 seconds behind Tadej Pogačar and seventh place in the GC, he won’t be allowed in the breakaway which makes things more challenging for him.
Another rider that joined Alaphilippe in the breakaway was Greg Van Avermaet, who held the yellow jersey at the time. The Belgian saw joining the breakaway as his only opportunity to hold the yellow jersey and he successfully defended yellow on that occasion.
The question arises: will Matheu van der Poel employ the same tactic? The Alpecin-Fenix rider isn’t an overall contender, so may be allowed some leeway in the breakaway, which was proven on stage 7 when he joined the breakaway despite wearing the leader's jersey — a rare sight at a Grand Tour. He joined a Tour de Suisse breakaway whilst leading the race just a few weeks ago too. Even if he does escape up the road early on, the challenging Col de Romme and Col de la Colombière may put pay to his chances of protecting the jersey. However, after MvDP delivered a sublime time-trial on stage 5 to protect the yellow jersey — a discipline he's not known for — we aren’t willing to put anything past him.
The mid-length, steep mountains would usually suit Primož Roglič more than many of the GC contenders. However, Roglič' GC ambitions are all but over after he cracked on the Signal d'Uchon and lost just under four minutes to the other favourites.
If Jumbo-Visma are to finish on the podium of the Tour de France, they must now turn their attention to Jonas Vingegaard and Wout van Aert. Van Aert forced his way into the stage 7 breakaway which now moves the Belgian time-trial champion to second in the GC. Crucially, Van Aert now has a three-minute buffer to Tadej Pogačar. Van Aert is likely to leak time in the mountains, but is no pushover in the high ground which he showed on the Prati di Tivo at Tirreno-Adriatico this season.
Jonas Vingegaard displayed fine form to finish second at the Itzulia Basque Country Tour earlier this season. The Dane was third in the time-trial a few days ago which shows he’s in fine form. If Jumbo-Visma are to defeat Pogačar, which they did at the Basque Country Tour, they must attack him from all angles. Vingegaard is their best option if they choose to be aggresive.
Tadej Pogačar is one of the strongest on the climbs and is also one of the quickest finishers among the GC favourites. If the GC riders enter Le Grand Bornand together, he could win it in a sprint.
Movistar haven't enjoyed a particularly successful start to the Tour de France; their best placed rider in the GC is Enric Mas in 15th whereas Miguel Ángel López is already almost nine minutes down and 31st overall. However, both riders can fly in the mountains. They must be aggressive here to turn the tide in their favour.
Other riders to watch from the GC favourites group include David Gaudu, Pierre Latour and Wilco Kelderman.
Although Alepcin-Fenix hold the yellow jersey, it is unlikely that they'll ride on the front of the peloton in the mountains to defend it. This could mean the stage is difficult to control and give the breakaway a chance of recording back to back stage victories.
Before the Tour de France departed from Brest, Nairo Quintana stated that he would try to win a stage rather than race for a GC place. He is now almost 20 minutes back meaning he'll have the freedom to join the breakaway.
Other riders that could be dangerous from an early breakaway include Dan Martin and Mike Woods of Israel Start-Up, Tao Geoghegan Hart, Carlos Verona, Jesús Herrada and Alejandro Valverde.
The breakaway snatched stage victory from the peloton when the Tour de France finished in Le Grand-Bornand back in 2018, and we think they'll be successful again this year. We are backing Mike Woods to win stage 8 of the Tour de France. The Canadian lost any chance of challenging in the GC when he crashed on the opening stage, but that could be a blessing in disguise. Now, Woods is free to move up the road and take stage victory from the breakaway.
Cover image: ASO/ Charly Lopez