Suffer-fest Tour turns pain dial up with “monster stage”

STATION DES ROUSSES, France — After 1,400 kilometres (nearly 900 miles) in eight days of racing, the suffer-fest Tour de France now turns the pain dial up a notch or five. How does scaling half the height of Everest in one day sound?

That’s the monstrous challenge lurking on Sunday for the 193 already tired and sunbaked riders who have made it this far.

For the moment, when race leader Chris Froome looks over his shoulder, he sees a gaggle of challengers hot on his heels. Just 61 seconds separate him from 10th-placed Rafal Majka of Poland. More dangerous contenders are closer still to the three-time Tour champion.

All that will likely change on the succession of seven climbs in eastern France’s Jura mountains on Sunday — three of them so tough they defy categorization on cycling’s sliding scale of climbing toughness. “A monster stage” is how Froome described it, predicting the race standings will “get blown to pieces.”

Total elevation, when all the ascents are added together: 4,600 metres (15,000 feet). That’s just shy of the height of western Europe’s highest peak, Mont Blanc, and about belly button-height on Everest.

The last “hors categorie” climb, Mont du Chat, may be named after a cat but looks on Tour maps like a lion’s fang. With an average 10 per cent gradient, and even steeper than that in parts, it will push riders already exhausted by the previous six climbs to the very limit. Hearts pounding, legs burning, they will have no time to recover from its hairpin bends before plunging into more fast, twisting bends on the descent. Clear heads and quick reactions are a must: Not easy when body and brain are screaming for rest.

“That climb is savage,” Froome said. “I imagine it’s going to blow the general classification right open.”

Complicating matters: Saturday’s stage, also in the Jura mountains, was far from easy.

Froome’s teammates at Sky had to ride hard to make sure that riders who rode off at the front of the race, chasing the stage victory, didn’t get too far ahead and take the overall lead away from him. The question now is whether Sky will pay for the effort on Sunday and run out of juice on the 181.5-kilometre (112-mile) Stage 9 from Nantua to Chambery in the Alps, arguably the most grueling of this Tour’s 21 stages.

“It was good to see them pull on the front,” said Australian Richie Porte of the rival BMC team, who is 39 seconds behind Froome overall, in fifth place. “I hope there’s some tired legs among them tomorrow.”

Grinding away from pursuers on a small mountain road more suited to goats than riders, Lilian Calmejane won Stage 8 to the Rousses ski station, for his first victory in his first Tour.

Calmejane, riding for French team Direct Energie, fought cramp after breaking away on the final climb and hung on, tongue lolling, for victory in only the second visit by the Tour to the Rousses, with its cross-country ski trails through dense forests.

It was the second win at this Tour for a French rider, after Arnaud Demare’s on Stage 4.

Froome rode in 50 seconds after Calmejane — plenty close enough to retain the yellow jersey — in a group with all of the other top contenders for overall victory in Paris on July 23.

Froome’s day wasn’t without incident: On a downhill, right-hand bend after the second of three rated climbs on the 187.5 kilometre (116-mile) stage from Dole, the Briton went into roadside gravel instead of cornering. Froome stayed on his bike and quickly recovered. But teammate Geraint Thomas went over roadside barriers. Thomas quickly rejoined the race, and Froome said his teammate was uninjured.

The corner “sprang up on us a little bit,” Froome said. “One moment you’re in control, the next thing you’re in a ditch.”

Calmejane held off Dutch rider Robert Gesink, hot on his heels, on the final climb and rolling finish. Cramping from his effort, Calmejane had to slow and rise off his saddle to stretch his legs in the final section and then gritted his teeth and pedaled onward to the line.

“I gave myself a huge fright,” Calmejane said of his cramps. “It would have been so sad to lose the stage like that.”

Gesink, of the Netherlands’ Lotto-Jumbo team, rode in 37 seconds after Calmejane. French rider Guillaume Martin placed third on the stage, another 13 seconds back.

By being the first rider to scale the day’s last climb, Calmejane enjoyed the added bonus of picking up enough points to take the polka-dot jersey — awarded for points collected on climbs — off the shoulders of Italian Fabio Aru.

“Winning alone like that is incredible,” said Calmejane, who also won a stage at his first Grand Tour, the Spanish Vuelta, last year. “It’s everything I dreamed of.”


Just Posted

Accused murderer’s story questioned

Jason Klaus spends day being cross-examined by lawyer for co-accused Joshua Frank

Red Deer Royals extend fundraising deadline for St. Joseph fieldhouse project

Fundraising chair says it’s a tough slog raising money in this economy

Red Deer seeks public input on coming changes to sign bylaw

A half-kilometre buffer zone could separate billboards in Red Deer under proposed… Continue reading

Innisfail man injured in home invasion

Police say the injury was non life-threatening

Credentials questioned man at Remembrance Day services

Veterans are crying foul after an alleged faker posed as a former… Continue reading

VIDEO: Red Deerians taste what the city has to offer

Red Deerians sampled some of the finest foods Central Alberta restaurants have… Continue reading

Volunteer with victim services in Red Deer

Learn more at info session on Nov. 27

Updated: Missing Sylvan Lake women found

Women were reported missing earlier this week

Liberals propose billions for affordable housing, including individual benefits

A Liberal government fond of promising help for those working hard to… Continue reading

Alberta Party sees growth in Central Alberta

Greg Clark addressed health care needs addressed in Red Deer

Ponoka council freezes Ponoka Fire Department spending

All discretionary spending frozen until full budget numbers are presented

WATCH: Ponoka’s Festival of Trees sees continued support

Three days of celebration and fundraising held at the Calnash Ag Event Centre

Creationist will speak at home-schooling convention in Red Deer

Ken Ham has debated Bill Nye on the Earth’s origins

Most Read

Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month