Stage 7: Hanau - Schlesingen, 226km
Hutten (cat.3) 5,6km @ 4,3%
Wasserkuppe (cat.2) 7,9km @ 5,6%
Birxsteig (cat.3) 3,8km @ 6,3%
Hohe Geba (cat.3) 3,9km @ 7,1%
Rohrer Berg (cat.4) 2,6km @ 5,8%
Ruppberg (cat.3) 4,2km @ 5,6%
Grenzadler (cat.3) 4,1km @ 4,5%
Großer Beerberg (Schmücke)(cat.2) 5,8km @ 5,9%
It's the Friday of week 1 in Germany, and it's been a long week, as though without any real serious mountains and under 20km against the clock the riders will have had to be attentive and fight throughout. Clausthal-Zellerfeld has been the only real stage for sprinters, though of course more durable ones could contest the Lüneburger Heide stage. There have been two cobbled stages, plus two different hilly stages which use their weapons in different ways. Now we move back east with another difficult intermediate stage which is tailor-made for a breakaway and will be a struggle for teams to control.
After the connection to the Brothers Grimm in the Winterberg stage, starting in Göttingen and going through Kassel, stage 7 continues the link to the legendary scholars, writers and archivists, who were born in Hanau, a town just to the east of the Frankfurt am Main conurbation. Like yesterday's stage finish the city is on the Rhein-Main-Verkehr local network so access will be easy for fans throughout the region. The first part of the stage, traversing eastern Hesse, is fairly straightforward, with only one fairly inconsequential climb in the first third of the stage. The first real test is Wasserkuppe
, the highest peak in the Rhön mountains, popular with gliders and light aircraft and also with a small skiing area. The climb is a solid cat.2 with the last 4km averaging just under 8%; the record for many years was held by local rider Patrik Sinkewitz. Shortly after this we cross over into Thüringen via the climb into the village of Birx; I have erroneously labelled it "Birxsteig" by dint of association with the infamous climb at the Oberhof biathlon venue.
After this, you know what you're getting with the Thüringer Wald - lots of scenic forestry but lots of frustrating up and down. No gradients likely to create a Murito speciality zone, no climbs long enough for the endurance climbers to be favoured, but no respite. After the intermediate sprint in Zella-Mehlis with 55km to go, there are three climbs back to back, first the scenic Ruppberg
, which is short-to-mid length and inconsistent, but backs absolutely directly into a climb which goes by the official name of Grenzadler, but crests at the legendary aforementioned DKB-Ski-Arena
, the Oberhof biathlon arena which is arguably the most famous of all the venues for the sport. This climb is hardly steep (averaging 4,5%) though the last two kilometres are around 6%; straight off the back of the Ruppberg with no respite however we could see the break start to splinter here. The descent goes through the actual town of Oberhof
with a fairly gradual but in its second half quite technical descent before the final climb, which crests with 25km remaining.
The Großer Beerberg
is the highest peak in the Thüringer Wald, although the road that we are climbing does not go all the way to the top. The road actually passes slightly higher than we're going, passing between the Großer Beerberg and its neighbour, Schneekopf, however this road would only lead us back into Zella-Mehlis or Oberhof. Instead we're heading south by including all the steeper lower slopes of the climb but at the Waldgasthof of Schmücke
we continue on to the south towards our finish.
After this summit, the riders have a brief descent, about 5km flat, then around 8km of shallow descent before the rest of the stage is simply downhill false flat to the line in the town of Schleusingen, close to the border between Thüringen and Bayern. This is in some ways along the lines of the stage of the 2014 Tour that Tony Martin won on his long-range breakaway; here the climbs are easier, but they are also placed nearer the finish to make a sort of micro-version. Controlling this will be the key because a break could easily get out of sight and out of mind here, and groups could splinter. We could see anything from a complete GC shakedown to, if a team is strong enough and backs their guy enough to strangle those breakaways, the likes of Gerrans being interjected as a possibility.