Start location: Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat
Finish location: Puy de Dôme
Start time: 13:30 CEST
Finish time (approx): 18:05 CEST
So much time has passed since the Tour de France last visited the once-regular climb of Puy de Dôme that it has become something of a relic epitomising cycling’s past. Although a regular host of stage finishes prior to 1988, the narrow road that circles up to the summit of the extinct volcano, which was made even narrower by the construction of a railway line alongside it, had until rendered it unfeasible for the demands of a modern Tour de France to climb up it. As memories of the exploits of past victors here like Federico Bahamontes, Felice Gimondi, Luis Ocaña, Lucien Van Impe and Joop Zoetemelk have receded into the past, so has its reputation grown more and more mythical.
So its inclusion in the Tour for the first time in 35 years has been met by delight from the sport’s romantics and history buffs, celebrating it as a link to the sport’s past that can sometimes seem very distant in the modern, professionalised era.
Of all the many legendary battles that have taken place on these slopes, the one between Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor in 1964 is the most famous. Immortalised by an iconic photo picturing the two riders climbing side-by-side so close as to be almost touching, the duel saw Poulidor take some time, but not enough, from Anquetil who later claimed that he was purposefully riding alongside his great rival as a bluff, and would probably have cracked completely had Poulidor been bolder in attacking. The result helped solidify Poulidor’s status as ‘the eternal second’, as well as endearing him to the French public, and stage nine pays homage to a man who remains possibly the nation’s favourite ever cyclist. It starts in his hometown of Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat, and travels to Puy de Dôme via the kind of rural, sparsely populated French countryside associated with the humble, old-fashioned, salt-of-the-earth type that ‘PouPou’ was seen to exemplify.
Stage nine profile sourced via ASO
So can the Puy de Dôme live up to the hype? On one hand, coming at the end of the first week means it's featured much too early to replicate the kind of climatic battles in the GC contest of yore. Also, this won’t be a complete mountain stage. The terrain here in the Massif Central is undulating and hilly rather than mountainous, with only a few of category three and four climbs plus some tricky uncategorised rises to take on before the much-anticipated final climb.
However, the Puy de Dôme remains worthy of its reputation. Riders new to the climb might not think so at first, when it climbs at a testing but not unmanageable gradient of around 7.5% for the first 5km, then dips to plateau for the next 3km. But upon climbing the volcano itself, the climb suddenly gets very serious, and averages in the double digits for the final 4km to the top. It’s arguably the hardest summit finish of the whole race, and the gaps that open up between the favourites could end up being decisive in determining who wins the yellow jersey.
The famed slopes of the Puy de Dôme will likely host a general classification battle between some of the key favourites to win yellow. Its long distance and 7.7% average gradient make the climb well suited to the current yellow jersey wearer, Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma), who has proven his climbing abilities multiple times so far this race, notably on stage five to Laurens when he managed to drop Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates). However, the following stage, Pogačar turned the tables on Jumbo-Visma and put time into Vingegaard on the way to winning stage six of the race. The two riders are evenly matched and it seems to vary day by day regarding who is the strongest on long climbs – it could be another battle between them both today.
However, we can also expect to see a big fight for the breakaway given the fact that there are no notable climbs on route to the Puy de Dôme making it prime terrain for a group to pull out a big gap over the peloton. If the time difference is big enough by the foot of the Puy de Dôme, there is a chance that the breakaway riders will be able to remain in front and battle for victory. Thibaut Pinot of Groupama-FDJ is one rider who we can expect to be keen to get himself in the break of the day, he would delight French climbs with a win on this mythical stage. Lidl-Trek’s Giulio Ciccone is another rider who could have his eye on getting in the move today – he proved his form when he finished second on stage five to Laruns. Dylan Teuns of Israel-Premier Tech could also want to get in the break on stage nine, he’s proven his form with a top-10 on stage two already and could stay away if he gets a buffer ahead of the final climb. Felix Gall of AG2R Citroën Team is another rider who got himself in the move on stage five and will hope to do the same today.
Polka dot jersey wearer Nielson Powless is an option for EF Education-EasyPost today – he is known to perform well from the breakaway and will also be keen to scoop up more points. Mattias Skjelmose of Lidl-Trek is a rider who has been targeting the general classification but could also be given some leeway to have a shot at a stage win today. Marc Soler of UAE Team Emirates might be given the opportunity to go for victory today if he does not need to stay with Pogačar, while Ruben Guereiro of Movistar is another outside bet from the breakaway.
We think that today will be a showdown between the general classification riders and believe that Tadej Pogačar will be keen to put more time into Jonas Vingegaard. On his way to doing this, we think that the UAE Team Emirates rider will pick up the stage win too.