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July 9, 2016 – Sunday’s stage 9 of the 103rd Tour de France (#TDF2016) is the toughest in this opening week. It has a mountaintop finish at Andorra-Arcalis and with a rest day coming up on Monday nobody will be hanging back.
Words by John Wilcockson/Photos by Yuzuru Sunada
This is the day that will reveal whether there are any true challengers for race favorites Chris Froome of Sky, Nairo Quintana of Movistar and Fabio Aru of Astana.
The last time a Tour stage finished at the Arcalis ski station was in 2009, when Albert Contador (this image) attacked the favorites late in the climb, gained 21 seconds and leapfrogged teammate Lance Armstrong in the overall standings—and went on to win the Tour. That stage wasn’t especially difficult, because the approach to Arcalis was through the town of Andorra-la-Vella and along a valley road to the base of the climb.
On Sunday, after the peloton has already scaled two Spanish mountains in the stage’s opening half—the 13.7-kilometer Port de la Bonaigua and 19-kilometer Port del Cantò—the Tour enters Andorra with 55 kilometers still to race. Instead of taking a straight shot to the base of Arcalis, the organizers have inserted two of the nastiest climbs from last year’s stage 11 of the Vuelta a España, the 4.2-kilometer Alto de la Comella and the 6.4-kilometer Collada de Beixalis, both of which are steeper than 8 percent. And it’s only 10 uphill kilometers from the foot of the Beixalis to the start of the 10-kilometer climb to the finish, which makes the preceding two climbs even more important.
Froome has unhappy memories of these climbs from last September’s stage 11 in the Vuelta a España, when he hit a stone wall at the foot of the Beixalis climb and broke the navicular bone in his right foot. He bravely finished the difficult day eight minutes back but quit overnight. One current Sky teammate has much better memories of that Vuelta stage, which was won by Mikel Landa—while Aru took the race lead. All these names should be involved on Sunday—as protagonists or helpers—while the day’s regional rider, Joaquim Rodríguez, will have an incentive to challenge for the win.