Tour de France 2024 stage nine preview - the gravel stage

The much anticipated gravel stage will present a valuable opportunity for the Classics riders, but potential panic for the GC contenders

Date: Sunday July 7, 2024
Distance: 199km
Start location: Troyes
Finish location: Troyes
Start time: 13:15 CET
Finish time (approx): 17:49 CET

The Tour de France might not visit Paris this year, but they’ll still enjoy the familiar sight of the Seine while in Troyes for both the start and finish of today’s stage, one of the cities to the south-east of the capital that the river also flows through. It will also be the northernmost point of this year’s route, and pretty much as close to Paris as they get. And though Troyes is far from the bustling metropolis that Paris is, it still attracts tourists with its beautifully preserved medieval houses, impressive Gothic cathedral, and wealth of local champagne. And it’s no stranger to the Tour de France, having hosted several stages in the past, most recently in 2017, when Marcel Kittel came from seemingly impossibly far back to take victory in a sprint from Arnaud Démare and André Greipel.

Kittel didn’t have to deal with the gravel roads that make today’s stage unique, not just in the context of this year’s Tour, but any in recent years. Such gravel roads featured briefly at the 2022 Tour when the riders climbed to the unpaved peak of La Super Planche des Belles Filles (at the end of a stage won by Tadej Pogačar), while there have been occasional forays onto cobblestones, but today’s stage poses a whole new kind of challenge. There will be 14 sectors in total, spread out over the course of 199km, some of them uphill. No section lasts especially long, unlike at the Strade Bianche classic that has made these kinds of roads so in vogue, amounting to 32km in total spent on gravel but they come thick and fast enough throughout the day for potential carnage. 

Debate always rages about the suitability of stages like this at Grand Tour. The case against them is twofold: on one hand there is a fear for the riders’ safety, with the risk of crashes so amplified on such rough surfaces. And then there is the dislike of how great the element of chance is, with it being a lottery as to which riders do or don’t sustain mechanicals. Unpaved roads are hotbeds for punctures, as was the case during a stage at the 2022 Tour de France Femmes featuring similar roads in this region, when GC favourites Annemiek van Vleuten, Elisa Longo Borghini, Kasia Niewiadoma and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig were among the many to get held up. While they all made it back into a group of favourites finishing together about 20 riders in size, the cursed day endured by Mavi García, who fell out of GC contention after suffering two separate mechanicals, and even got hit by her own team car, epitomised how badly wrong days like this can go. 

How will stage nine compare with that occasion? There are a lot more sectors than the four that were tackled that day, and barely ever more than 10km go by without another one during the final 100km, suggesting that there might not be such a deadlock in the GC battle. But as the most difficult uphill sectors come in the middle of the stage, it will take an ambitious move from a GC team to commit to making the race hard that early. That said, the tarmacked road between the unpaved sectors, when riders try to recover having gone into the red, might turn out to be just as important — it was in between the penultimate and final sectors that Marlen Reusser made her stage-winning move here two years ago at the Tour de France Femmes, after all. 

Route profile sourced via ASO

Contenders

This stage will be one of the most unpredictable of the Tour, as well as one of the most nervous, with the GC contenders and their teams desperate to make it through to the rest day on Monday unscathed.

Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) has shown in his Strade Bianche victories that he knows how to win over mixed terrain like this but, despite his insatiable appetite for victories, there's as much chance he and his team will play it safe here rather than chase a stage victory.

A victory from any of the other GC contenders seems distinctly unlikely given the treacherous nature of the stage, therefore eyes will be on the Classics specialists for a potential stage victory.

World champion Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Wout van Aert (Visma-Lease a Bike) will be two of the favourites given their prowess in different disciplines, but both have been surprisingly quiet in this Tour so far. Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) too has been out of sorts, but will hope to make an impact at the last chance of this first week.

Former Tour of Flanders winner Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost) will be the best option from the American team, while current and former gravel world champions Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious) and Gianni Vermeersch (Alpecin-Deceuninck) will fancy their chances if they can get an opportunity.

Maxim Van Gils (Lotto-Dstny), Valentin Madouas and Stefan Küng (both Groupama-FDJ), Oliver Naesen (Decathlon-Ag2r La Mondiale), Fred Wright (Bahrain Victorious), and Oier Lazkano (Movistar) are other potential candidates for a stage win.

Stage nine winner prediction 

We think Mathieu van der Poel will win Tour de France stage nine.

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