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Tour de France Tour de France 2024, Stage 9: Troyes > Troyes, 199.0 km

OP by @Devil's Elbow: https://forum.cyclingnews.com/threa...4-stage-by-stage-analysis.39775/#post-3032423

One of the most-discussed stages of the Tour sees ASO incorporate a genuine gravel stage into the race for the first time. It’s no Montalcino, but will it do the trick anyway?

The route

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ASO have kindly saved myself some work for this stage by putting the start and finish in the same city, namely Troyes, the largest city on the Seine east of the Paris metropolitan area. Although settled prior to the Roman conquest, it was much more significant in the second half of the Middle Ages, when it was the capital of the large, rich County of Champagne. In addition, it was an important trading centre, its fairs being well-frequented even by Italian merchants as early as the 12th century, as well as a production centre for leather, textiles and paper. The loss of its county seat, a brief period of English conquest during the Hundred Years’ War, and a devastating fire in 1524 contributed to the end of its heyday. However, the city centre constructed after the fire is well-preserved. Its long-standing textile heritage is reflected by the fact that Lacoste was founded here. In the Tour, it has never been more than an intermittent stage host, for the last time in 2017 (stage finish won by Kittel, stage start for the aforementioned Nuits-Saint-Georges stage also won by Kittel).

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The stage itself is fairly benign for the first 40 kilometres, then the sterrati (or chemins blancs, to use the French terminology) start. After the first sector (Bligny à Bergères), we have two short hills. Unlike in the 2022 women’s stage, which served as the trial version of this one, the former is the one handing out the KOM points. (profile from my preview of that stage, hence the QOM).

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The descent takes us into Bar-sur-Aube, where that stage – won by Marlen Reusser – finished. The way out of the Aube valley is via the Côte de Baroville, with the first three-star sector (the maximum rating) forming part of it.

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The next section is easier, and takes us through the intermediate sprint in Fontette.

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Next up is the hardest part of the day, the 50-kilometre section from sector 12 to sector 8 that contains the remaining three three-star sections as well as most of the hills. Sector 12 and part of 11 were both at least partially raced in the opposite direction in that Femmes stage (those were the perfectly-fine sections, not the ones with the huge rocks – clearly, ASO learned a lesson that day). Note that sector 12, Les Hautes Forêts, is longer according to both Streetview, satellite images and the time schedule than the map claims – I have it as 2.1 kilometres.

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Sector 11 contains the steepest slope of the day, on gravel no less.

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The irregular sector 10 is the day’s longest, and almost entirely uphill.

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After this, the route already starts to get easier. We have some pretty benign uncategorised climbing and the straightforward sector 9 before the last sector that is at all uphill. And even here, it’s only the final 350 metres that actually pack a punch.

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From this sector onwards, the landscape changes dramatically, as the vineyard-covered hills give way to fairly flat terrain. The sterrati themselves are quite different too: not only are they also almost completely flat from here on out, but the surface itself is easier. I have a very hard time seeing major splits in the final 55 kilometres, so if there is still a sizeable group going into it, we are getting some sort of bunch sprint. Of course, if it rains, these sectors will become a lot harder, but if that happens there won’t be a big group at this point in the race to begin with.

The final kilometres are quite technical, and lack a final straight that’s actually straight. This could be an ugly sprint, if we get one. Now, you might think: ‘Devil’s Elbow, if ASO think they didn’t need to worry about designing a finish suitable for sprinting because the stage is hard enough, then surely they know better than you and a sprint isn’t on the cards?’ To that, I have only two words to say: Grid. Start.

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What to expect?

To turn this into a truly hard day, I think it’s outright required to go insane from sector 12 until sector 10 – a section that ends with 75k to go. Normally, I’d say that that’s impossible in a GT, but as we all know, normal often doesn’t apply to Pogacar and Van der Poel on this sort of terrain. If that part of the stage is raced more defensively, as much as half the peloton could survive for a sprint. Finally, the break has a pretty good chance here too, just like in the two previous Giro sterrato stages and the most recent Tour cobbled stage.