This stage was always going to be a difficult one to predict as form could be varying and with 6-man teams, it isn't necessarily easy to control a mountain stage unless you have some near World Tour strength ala Jack Haig at last year's Giro della Valle d'Aosta working for Rob Power.
The race took off in fairly dreary weather at a rip-roaring average speed of over 50 km/h for the first hour. The breakaway for the day got away early and it was surprising but understandable how it was allowed to even get away. The group included some GC hitters such as Chris Anker Sørensen, Brice Feillu, Lennard Hofstede, Aurelien Paret-Peintre, Julien Antomarchi, Jesus del Pino & Jhonathan Narvaez along with other strong riders like Romain Campistrous, Alexis Guerin, Pat Lane, Pascal Eenkhoorn & local boy Remy Rochas. There were no pretenders in the breakaway with two former Grand Tour stage winners (and both on the same team) and a handful of young prodigies. The big losers in terms of the breakaway? Axeon-Hagens Berman & BMC Development.
The breakaway kept a gap between 2 to 3 minutes through the first half of the race and other than the the two KOM climbs, which were won by Paret-Peintre and Narvaez, the race was fairly quiet. Well quiet is a relative term because it wasn't an easy day for the riders by any means. A relative detante came to an end in the breakaway as Chris Anker Sørensen crash and Pascal Eenkhoorn proceeded to t-bone into him. Both were able to continue but soon after, Eenkhoorn crashed again and was done for the day.
Alexis Guerin attacked the breakaway on the Marais climb and thanks to a bunch of head turning, he was able to grab an advantage that was capped at just under a minute. Guerin, who does have some decent to good time trial results, was annoyingly persistent and stuck it out of the rolling finale. Both the breakaway and peloton were inching closer but it was a counter attack from the breakaway with Hofstede and Narvaez moving up to Guerin while the others were in no-man's land until the peloton picked them up with 10 kilometers to go. Paret-Peintre was very close to making it up the road with them but eventually saw his fate and was absorbed by the chase and then the peloton.
The three attackers turned it to 11 and kept it stuck there to keep a healthy advantage on the peloton. A reduced peloton in chase mode couldn't get within 30 seconds of the trio and after getting over the final bump on the course, they plunged into Cruseilles. Guerin led the sprint out from 400 meters out and neither of the two climbing-oriented riders were able to come around the GSC Blagnac rider for the win. Behind it was Leo Vincent (CC Etupes) taking the best of the rest in 4th.
GC riders that finished safe in the chasing peloton include Vincent, Paret-Peintre, Nans Peters, Tao Geoghegan Hart, Adrien Costa, Steff Cras, Kilian Frankiny, Schlegel, Papillon and Brun, among others. Some that missed out include Chris Anker Sørensen (crash) and TJ Eisenhart (crash).
Guerin took a big fall in the Boulces de l'Artois earlier this year and he has admitted it has been a hard journey back to form. This performance will certainly keep him in the eye of some pro teams even if he isn't able to hold onto this lead for the rest of the race.
The biggest consequence here is that Hofstede and Narvaez now have 30 seconds in hand against any potential GC contenders. While tomorrow is a hard day, the opening of the stage is fairly straight forward and they can just try to conserve energy before La Féclaz.
I do have to say that Costa is a bit of an unknown here after he dropped out of the Zavod Miru U23 due to crapping his brains out and then not eating for three days. If his best form is still here, he is a threat to win. It has been a long year and this is probably his last big race before August so perhaps he goes all out? The road will let us know soon.
The stage to Féclaz is short and sweet. As I said earlier, there is no tricks here. It is a race to the bottom and then a race to the top from there. As of now, some rain is still in the forecast for the Chambery region so any riders reading this over breakfast should keep the jackets nearby and the casquettes at the ready.