The Spin: Stage 12

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Stage 12

Some say the Tour de France begins today. We’ll finally discover which of the pretenders for the overall win are really on form, you can’t bluff on a 10km mountain pass. In that sense the Tour de France will end for several riders today.

The route leaves the capital of the European aerospace industry for the Pyrenees, a strange land that’s rural and relaxing but where time seems to have stood still, as if the clock broke in about 1984. By my reckoning that’s a year back in time every 8km.

Look at the profile and it’s broadly flat until the intermediate sprint, you’d expect a breakaway to go early but the roads don’t give an obvious launchpad and many will want to try their luck. So a fast first hour is on the cards. The sprint point itself should be interesting as it’s the finish line for many sprinters who have no chance for winning anything else on the day. Here the approach into the village of Sarrancolin is wide and ever so slightly uphill.

Hourquette d'Ancizan

Soon after comes the Hourquette d’Ancizan. It’s an alternative to the Col d’Aspin and hard. It’s actually a new climb for the Tour de France and this alone is worth a mention, because after over 100 years of visiting the Pyrenees there are still new roads to be used, it shows how conservative the race has been in the past, always returning to familiar terrain. But the climb is not new to racing, for example in 2004 a certain Thomas Voeckler won during the Route du Sud stage race. It’s a hard climb with slopes of 9% early on, suddenly the race goes from 10 days of big ring riding straight into… the inner ring. Overall it’s 9.9km at 7.5%, a proper Pyreneen climb and worthy of the first category status given the gradient although clearly this is not a long climb.

Col du Tourmalet

Instead for a longer climb, see the Col du Tourmalet. This is 17.1km at 7.3km. It takes in the eastern flank – which for me is the easier side but only just – thanks to a rolling climb out of St Marie de Campan. Note Tourmalet sort of means “bad detour” in French and also that when the race went up here Andy Schleck forget to eat enough and threw away his shot at the Tour de France.

I don’t expect many attacks here because riders often play it safe until the final climb but all the same many can drop out of contention on this climb. Indeed given the fast descent afterwards and the immediate approach to the final climb, if a climber really feels like it they could pull out a lead on the Tourmalet and then build on this later on. But let’s not dream.

Luz Ardiden

The final climb is a tricky one with some steep ramps and many hairpin bends. It’s the ideal place for an attack as a rider can quickly get out of sight and take time. But precedent suggests the GC favourites mark each other to watch for signs of weakness. For sure some riders might crack but we are unlikely to see big time gaps. Still, the first mountain stage last year was to Avoriaz which is a very different road being regular, today is steeper and more irregular and might lend itself to an opportunist.

Summary: we’ll know plenty about the race by the end of the day. Perhaps the story won’t be about the winner but who has lost the Tour de France. Note the three climbs have no valley riding in between, this suits a climber who would otherwise struggle on flatter roads.

King of the Mountains: 10 points for the first rider up the first category climb of the Ancizan (then 8,6,4,2,1) and then 20, 16, 12, 8, 4, 2 for the HC Tourmalet before points are doubled for the HC summit finish, meaning 40 points for the first rider. Johnny Hoogerland is on 21 points meaning everything changes.

Bastille Day: it’s a national holiday so expect big roadside crowds and keen French riders to put on a show.

Competition: I’ll be doing another giveaway competition later today so stay tuned.

Locals: Blel Kadri and Jean-Christophe Péraud are Toulouse which also was the home of David Moncoutié too. Stuart O’Grady and Jens Voigt used to share a house near the start but their local knowledge won’t help as they’re likely to be on team duty for the Schlecks.

Viewing: if you can, try to catch as much of the early action as possible. If you can’t from about 3.40 PM CET you’ll get the Tourmalet and the finish on Luz Ardiden.

Weather: cloudy in the morning but the sun will make an appearance in the afternoon, albeit a timid one. Temperatures will vary, from 23°C (73°F) on the plains to 6°C (43°F) near the top of the Tourmalet.

Paddy July 14, 2011 at 8:14 am

Hi. Love the blog.
The name Tourmalet is not French so does not mean “Bad Detour”, it is from the Gascone language and means Long Mountain.
http://www.velopeloton.com/col-du-tourmalet-meaning/

Uli July 14, 2011 at 9:26 am

Wouldn’t we all love to see the games begin at Tourmalet already? I’ve waited for it many years now. Hope dies last. In the meantime, I watch the Giro and ride mountains in July afternoons.

Bundle July 14, 2011 at 9:27 am

Let’s dream!

Grant July 14, 2011 at 9:33 am

“Merci” for a “Tres tres bon” blog!

Ankush July 14, 2011 at 9:47 am

I hope Contador attacks today but Cadel and Frandy will just follow his wheel. It may not be a spicy spectacle but surely the Tour starts in earnest today. I expect Rui Costa, Uran, someone from Euskaltel, Kadri, Moncoutie, Charteau to be in the break. Can’t wait for the stage to start

PJ July 14, 2011 at 10:17 am

While much of the attention – justifiably – will be on Contador, Schleck(s), Evans, I will be keen to see how the next ‘tier’ of GC candidates fare. For example, we haven’t seen much of Basso yet, nor Cunego. Sam Sanchez has been so quiet I’m not sure he even started the tour! Meanwhile Gesink and Leipheimer have been visible for all the wrong reasons (i.e. crashes or getting dropped on 4th Category climbs). Hesjedal has struggled at times . I’m looking forward to see if Tom Danielson can get amongst the action in his first tour.
It is a real shame other GC protagonists, like Van den Broeck, Wiggins, Vinokourov are out of the equation. Lets hope somebody jumps clear on the Tourmalet and forces an early showdown on the road to Luz-Ardiden

GreaseMonster July 14, 2011 at 10:27 am

The horror as I arrived at work today and realised I have forgotten to set my box to record today’s stage!

Mat July 14, 2011 at 10:44 am

great article. looking forward to see which GC riders have the legs!!

Gadi July 14, 2011 at 11:58 am

It sounds like getting the information from the pilot after take off- love it!

Larry T. July 14, 2011 at 12:19 pm

As we watch via RAI TV in Italy this afternoon, we hope that SOMEONE will race to win today –rather than race to not lose.

Kathy July 14, 2011 at 2:14 pm

This blog and your Twitter posts are literally the first places that I turn to for insight and information. Thanks so much for the continued great work! Have been up since 3:00am on the westcoast (Canada) to watch the stage. Love this race; love this sport! Happy Bastille Day!

Gingerflash July 14, 2011 at 3:05 pm

Another great post, thank you.

So excited to watch it this evening. Isn’t it the day that we wait most of the year for? The first potential showdown of the biggest race on earth.

My prediction? The main 10 or so GC riders drop the rest but with no major time gains between them.

LeonG July 14, 2011 at 10:19 pm

A very interesting day. The Schlecks took the initiative while Basso took his too. Alberto lost a little time but seemed very serene in the Spanish interview after the race. He is looking forward to Saturday and seems happy with the progress of his knee. Basso warned everyone that although he lost some time today Contador could win the Tour in one attack. This is very true. For me the Tour starts on Saturday – if he loses more time then we can begin to make more concrete suppositions. However, Frank looked very good on Luz Ardiden and has staked his first real claim on the yellow jersey. He will have to wait till Saturday, too.

C Grade Cyclist July 15, 2011 at 2:38 am

Wow – Basso & Cunego, welcome back into calculations for the final podium…

And I imagine that Cadel will enjoy watching footage of him & his group dropping Contador over the last kilometre – will be very satisfying….!!

Only question for me now is – are Leopard/Trek running with a genuine two-leader strategy?? Will Andy support Frank if he continues to show slightly better form?? Or are they still “all for Andy”…??

diamondjim July 15, 2011 at 7:15 am

Hey PJ – do you have a crystal ball? :-)

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