The Spin: Stage 14

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Stage 14

Five climbs and that’s before the big summit finish on the Plateau de Beille. If Thursday gave us a glimpse through the fog of who was in form and a contender for the overall win, today will provide a much clearer view.

The stage crosses the Ariège department of France, right in the middle of the Pyrenees and a land of many hilltop castles, a legacy of 13th century religious wars and more recently a popular place for hippy camps. Spend time in the area and you’ll soon spot a disproportionate amount of long hair and tie-dye t-shirts.

Portet d'Aspet

It’s uphill right from the start and the first climb is a nasty one with 4.3km but at 9.7% and the first kilometre over 10%. Even if a break has already gone clear before the climb the pace is still likely to be high.

The intermediate sprint is a tricky one, on narrow roads and with an up and down approach before the road kicks up towards the line. Philippe Gilbert will be eyeing up the points, perhaps HTC-Highroad will aim to send riders ahead to grab points because the Portet d’Aspet climb certainly won’t suit Mark Cavendish.

Col de la Core

The Col de la Core is longer but look closely and it’s not too steep, an average of 5.7% with a maximum of around 7%. This won’t trouble many in the race but it’s just part of the softening up of the riders. The same for the Col de Latrape which, despite the name, should not trap many riders as it’s 7.2% for 5.6km.

Col d'Agnes

The Col d’Agnes is steeper but it’s too far from the finish for any real fireworks but it could be the place where riders lose plenty of energy. 10km at over 8%, it has some steep ramps and the irregular slopes should see any breakaway thinned out. The riders bridge to the Port de Lers but from there is still 50km to the finish including an awkward flat 10km section from Tarascon to the foot of the Plateau de Beille where if the wind is blowing many a rider could struggle to hold of a chase.

Plateau de Beille

The race has climbed up to the Plateau de Beille four times before and each time the victor at the top has apparently gone on to win the Tour de France. It’s no coincidence because this is a very tough climb, 15.8km at 7.9% with a steep start. That’s as steep as Alpe d’Huez but longer but it’s actually significantly harder as “The Alpe” is a mechanised road designed to allow easy travel for coachloads of tourists but today’s climb is more irregular with steep hairpin bends, where riders are often changing up and down in the gears.

Summary: a crucial stage of the 2011 Tour de France. The early climbs are about wearing down and we can expect a big showdown on the final climb. Most of the contenders seem to lack team support so it could be a straight battle. Don’t expect big fireworks or long range attacks, Fränk Schleck will be satisfied if he can take 30 seconds off Contador for example. Perhaps Fränk will let brother Andy go up the road? But look to Cadel Evans, Samuel Sanchez, Damiano Cunego, Ivan Basso and Alberto Contador, plus maybe even Jelle Vanendert or Arnold Jeannesson.

As for Thomas Voeckler, he kept yellow on the Plateau de Beille in 2004, holding off the supercharged US Postal train and Ivan Basso so he might hope to stay in yellow. His ride up Luz Ardiden on Thursday was very impressive so he’s in with a chance. But it’s just a chance.

Weather: mild with sunshine and a few clouds, the top temperature of 24°C and 15°C up high. The wind will be a factor too, swirling in the valleys at up to 40km/h.

Peter July 16, 2011 at 8:16 am

Thanks. This is going to be awesome.

DS July 16, 2011 at 9:22 am

Don’t rule out Rojas for the sprint. He can surely make it through the Aspet and contest the points.

Gadi July 16, 2011 at 9:36 am

Dear Innering,
Like always – a real and good ‘day opener’ for all bike lovers.
Don’t think Andy is allowed to go anywhere – he is being well marked – so it’s only Frank whom is free (in away).
Plateau De Beille here we come!
Good day

benDE July 16, 2011 at 9:40 am

good thing boonen had a legitemate injury with which to pull out before today. It looks so much worse stopping somewhere after the TV coverage has kicked in on a big Saturday just because he can’t hang.

LeonG July 16, 2011 at 12:46 pm

This is where the real indicators will be manifested. If Alberto loses significant time here we can count him out but if things remain fairly as they are the Alps will be very exciting indeed. Cadel and Ivan will also need to make a very good impression too, apart from the Schlecks who we know are on form already and who have made the loudest noise so far in the mountains.

Touriste-Routier July 16, 2011 at 1:21 pm

From the maps, it looks like they are going up the steeper side of Portet-d’Aspet (the side where the Casartelli monument is); this stretch has a 17% grade on it. Plateau de Beille is a “parking lot at the top of a Mountain. It is a tough climb, but it is amazing how low the grade is at the top.

Contador won the stage that finished there 4 years ago, in his breakthrough year, but Michael Rasmussen didn’t really contest the sprint.

Timo July 16, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Thanks for your insights, allways good to read before a new stage. Read your tweets as well, keep up the good work!

Adrian July 16, 2011 at 2:32 pm

“each time the victor at the top has APPARENTLY gone on to win the Tour de France”
That’s, sadly, pretty funny.

Bundle July 16, 2011 at 4:33 pm

Inner Ring was right: it’s about the last climb. And it’s such a pity. Leopard could have blown the race to smithereens in the Col d’Agnès… :(

Dave July 16, 2011 at 6:59 pm

‘Go on Tommy, pass him on the outside while he’s looking for his brother!’
Love it. Voeckler must be dreaming of Paris tonight.

Champs July 16, 2011 at 7:31 pm

Yet apart from ’07 when Contador won by default, this finish has been used in even numbered years, so the winner has already gone over the Alps.

LeonG July 16, 2011 at 10:00 pm

The Alps are therefore going to be exciting. Is Thomas really hiding something from us? Alberto’s presence is ever-threatening; Basso is havin a go. Evans is pragmatic; the Schlecks failed to make an impression and Frank looked all in & very unhappy at the end of today’s stage. Sanchez moves on and up.

LeonG July 16, 2011 at 10:02 pm

Montpellier finish and a rest day Monday – very good for the leaders….usually!

Oli Brooke-White July 17, 2011 at 3:47 am

Great call with Jelle Vanendert!

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