The Spin: Stage 19

Friday, 22 July 2011

Stage 19

Alpe d’Huez lies at 1860m and enjoys 300 days of sunshine a year, impressive for the Alps. On a good today there are stunning views of surrounding mountains but today every rider who reaches the resort can expect to see the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Race organiser Christian Prudhomme probably couldn’t imagine a scenario like this. A Frenchman in yellow, several contenders still able to win the race, all on the last mountain stage of the race.

At 109.5km this is almost a sprint and it’s likely the pace is furious from the start. It’s downhill for 14km as the race leaves Modane. Then suddenly the race will turn left and hit the slopes of the Col du Télégraphe.

Télégraphe - Galibier

Straight away the climbing begins with ramps at 8%, there’s no warm-up, no easy start. Once the first three kilometres are out of the way the Col du Télégraphe is regular as the race winds its way through woodland. When riders reach the top of the climb there’s almost no time for recovery, the descent is short and the 4km will fly by.

The Galibier starts. This is the harder side compared to yesterday, being significantly longer. There’s a long ramp at the start of the climb before the road heads up the valley, gradually climbing up but nothing severe. Then comes a wide bend and the race crosses over a small bridge and then edges up a cliff face. It’s here that things get serious. You can see this first ramp in panorama and from there it’s 6km at 8-9%. It’s here that Marco Pantani took off to win the race in 1998 and there’s a new memorial to the Italian.

The race will head through the tunnel at the top and emerge at yesterday’s finish line and then descent yesterday’s finale in reverse, it’s not too technical. But once the Galibier is over riders will head down the other side of the Lautaret. Like yesterday’s climb this is a main road and a lone rider here could suffer. It’s a long descent with a couple of bumps at the bottom to warm up the legs before Alpe d’Huez.

Alpe d'Huez

This one of the famous climbs of the Tour de France, a steep road that needs 21 hairpin bends to the ski resort of Alpe d’Huez to climb up steep face… but actually there are 23 hairpin bends to reach the finish line. It’s steep and the hardest part is at the start, the sudden shift from flat roads to 10% and the long ramp to the first bend. Then it’s matter of going on and on to the top amidst hundreds of thousands of cheering fans.

Things flatten out for the finish as the race goes through the ski resort, a chance for the big ring to be deployed before the final uphill finish for 200 metres.

The interesting thing with the stage is the distance. It’ll be very fast from the start. The Dauphiné had a similar stage last month, 117.5km over the Col de la Croix de Fer and then up to the Toussuire ski station and the race was constantly changing shape with new moves coming and going, riders bridging to breakaways and then attacking. By the end the favourites were in charge but some of the early attackers were in the lead group at the finish.

I think we’ll see Frank Schleck in the driving seat, he’s my favourite for the stage. But so far the point of The Spin has been to pinpoint the physical factors that are certain to influence the race rather than the more random aspect of picking winners. It’s just that the Schleck are in a good position but far from safe with Cadel Evans, so the brothers will have to try something. Evans though might pay the price for yesterday’s efforts and he too will want a result, his one minute deficit to Thomas Voeckler and Andy Schleck is not easy to overhaul in the final time trial. The Australian will remember 2008 when he hoped to take back 1.34 of Spanish climber Carlos Sastre on the penultimate stage but only reclaimed about 30 seconds. As for Thomas Voeckler, surely today he loses the jersey, I don’t think he can cope with many accelerations on the final climb but he’s in with a shout of a podium finish and both he and 62 million French citizens would surely settle for that in Paris?

Time Cut: this matters today, with the race going full pelt up the first slopes of the Télégraphe some riders will go out the back almost immediately. Of all days, today is the hardest one for some riders to make the cut-off as there is no space on valley roads to to make up for lost time. For more on the delays, see the Making the Cut post.

Hotels: all the riders get to stay near the finish line in the ski resort. Lucky for them as the transfer is avoided but some riders don’t like sleeping at altitude. As tired as some might be, sleep can be hard to come by because of aching legs and the altitude doesn’t help some to sleep.

Weather: a stage sunny, with a few clouds just above the Galibier pass and the finish. A light breeze except on the weather phenemenon that is the Col du Lautaret where riders can expect an breakaway-ruining unfavorable headwind. 22°C at the start and dropping to 9°C at altitude.

Ankush July 22, 2011 at 8:25 am

This is the day we all have been waiting for, bring it on!

Patrick July 22, 2011 at 9:24 am

For the first time ever with a mountain stage, I find myself trying to predict the finishing speed in order to calculate the cut off time for the gruppetto! I reckon Cav would need to finish no more than 18 minutes after the winner in order not to drop any more points.

I’m still reeling from the performances yesterday of Andy Schleck, Cadel and Thomas Voeckler, truly magnificent!

Owen July 22, 2011 at 9:52 am

Yesterday was a perfect day for me. Having taken the day off work, I rode in the morning and watched the Tour all afternoon.
Today is the same. And I’m just as excited. Sad that it’s nearly over though.

grumpyoldman July 22, 2011 at 9:52 am

“For the first time ever with a mountain stage, I find myself trying to predict the finishing speed in order to calculate the cut off time for the gruppetto!”

It doesn’t matter too much if he drops points so long as Rojas is not ahead of the grupetto, which unfortunately was the case yesterday.

If today is like yesterday, then he’d be 5 points adrift of Rojas, and it would be game on in Paris.

Interestingly, it took the jury all of two minutes to decide not to apply the cut-off rigorously yesterday.

On other matters, the French commentators were ecstatic about Voeckler yesterday, but I was not too impressed by his decision to leave all the work to Evans and let Schleck give them the slip. You may say that that’s just tactics, but it was not pretty to watch.

Bundle July 22, 2011 at 10:33 am

So, long-distance attacks are fashionable again! Good.
Today is going to be fascinating, from the Télégraphe. Given that no one but Leopard has a team able to chase, Fränk should try it before Valloire. If Contador had legs, he would go for a prestige victory in the Alpe, but I don’t think it’s the case. Watch out for yesterday’s losers (Basso, Sánchez) anyway, they could tip the balance.
As for Cav, if he gets the green jersey in Paris, it would already be tarnished. It’s a bit of a shame. Not only the TdF altered the traditional points system to favour him, and now this. He’ll have to come back next year and try to win it properly, because this year’s is being made practically worthless.

Frank July 22, 2011 at 10:50 am

In what way is winning 4 stages (or most likely 5), a 2nd, a 5th and loads of intermediate sprints “practically worthless”? Armchair critics…

Rob July 22, 2011 at 10:51 am

I wonder why they are sending them through the galibier tunnel rather than over the top. That last km from the tunnel entrance has some pretty steep ramps that might allow an attacking ride to gain a bit more time before the decent into Bourg.

I’m not convinced Evans is going to take back as much time as people think tomorrow. Contador only took 30secs of Andy Schleck last year and I wouldn’t put much between Contador an Evans in he TT especially coming on the back of efforts like the last few days.

The Inner Ring July 22, 2011 at 10:57 am

Rob: it’s to commemorate the first passage in 1911 when they used the tunnel.

Steve B July 22, 2011 at 10:59 am

Sorry Bundle but that is just not on, “tarnished”! with so many outside the limit yesterday Cav was amongst far superior climbers who struggled. The points drop is justified of course, but if he ends with 5 wins, having put in the effort for intermediate sprints and with HTC again showing the others how it is done when chasing down breakaways, the Green Jersey will be anything but tarnished, rather reward for 3 years of outstanding work…

Quinn July 22, 2011 at 11:16 am

I feel a certain amount of chutzpah at Voeckler retaining yellow yesterday. He has really talked down his chances when I’ve heard him speak in english and whether he believes this or not I could refer to your earlier post about him. Watching the gap rise from 3 to 4 minutes with a peleton compact and containing about 50 riders could only be described as negligent. (though the same charge could be leveled at BMC – where were they?!) But watching V and Prolland comfortably take Evans wheel up Galibier was galling. Especially as V later claimed that Prolland had helped Evans reduce the gap. Surely the yellow jersey comes with certain obligations? Prolland finishing comfortably in 6th seems anathema.

Rooie July 22, 2011 at 11:46 am

What a day this will be. In my opinion the ASO did a great job this year with all the stages and a grand finale of three days. Nomatter who wins this tour, it will be one of the finest and with a lot of stories to tell.

I hope Evans won’t lose much time on Andy. Then the TT becomes like 1989 again!

PiesG July 22, 2011 at 11:48 am

Quick question: are they allowed to use oxygen or oxygen tents or pressurised chambers as part of the overnight recovery?

stuartrc July 22, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Really enjoyed the morning spin every day. Thanks.

Now for two days of towering performances from Cadel and a well deserved yellow in paris. Heres hoping.

Rob H July 22, 2011 at 1:22 pm

Bundle: Tarnished? How on earth do you work that out. What happened yesterday with the riders who didn’t make the time cut was in accordance with the rules, and there are many historical precedents for this. It’s not as though they made up a rule on the spot just to let Cav back in!

Touriste-Routier July 22, 2011 at 2:14 pm

I found the docking of points for the HD interesting yesterday. Clearly this was a targeted punishment, as the docking of points mostly affects Cav. Understanding that HD is intended to prevent “lolly gagging”, how do you effectively punish the other 80 riders, whom loss of time and points are of no perceived consequence?

SteveH July 22, 2011 at 2:19 pm

When will people recognise that Voeckler only got the yellow because of a gentlemanly act by the leaders of the race when there was a big crash? On top of that I have seen nothing to make me think he deserves or even wants the yellow jersey. He did nothing to protect the yellow yesterday and only retains it because of Cadel Evans heroics. If Voeckler comes anywhere near winning the yellow it will be a travesty. Being Australian probably means I should support Cadel, but the efforts of Andy Schleck yesterday would make him a worthy champion if he was to wear the yellow into Paris.

The Inner Ring July 22, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Touriste-Routier: the docking of points is stated in the rules, it wasn’t made up on the spot to punish Cavendish!

SteveH: Voeckler’s proved one of the best in the mountains, there’s no accident to keep it at Luz Ardiden, the Plateau de Beille, the Galibier or even the descent into Gap or Pinerolo. A surprise yes but understandable, no?

Touriste-Routier July 22, 2011 at 4:23 pm

Sorry, I didn’t mean it was made up on the spot for Cav; it just seems rather targeted at the points contenders, as no one else cares about losing points. I also thought HD was under the discretion of the ASO, and not the UCI. While there needs to be a disincentive for HD, docking points on riders who don’t have any points is meaningless. Thus the punishment is unequally applied among the 80+ riders who were HD.

Re Voeckler. It is called defending the yellow jersey, and defense does not dictate having to be aggressive. Voeckler has held onto the Maillot Jaune for far longer than anyone, including himself, has predicted. Therefore it is a completely legitimate tactic to make Cadel do the chasing, in a “I’m not supposed to be here, you want it, you take it, the race is up the road” move. Cadel had 2 choices, take up the chase or call Voeckler’s bluff.

Peter July 22, 2011 at 4:34 pm

Hello,

I’ve just been pondering, can anyone hazard a guess if the tour would be as exciting if the stages were run in the oposite order (i.e. high mountains first then ending with flatter sprint stages)? If so, why would it be different, Also, has it ever been run like this?

Thanks

Rocko July 22, 2011 at 6:25 pm

Dear Peter,

The Tour is a bit like sex, its best to keep the most exciting bit at the end. A mountain stage like today might be a bit more exciting then a typical flat stage, don’t you think?

Owen July 22, 2011 at 7:06 pm

Well, it didn’t disappoint, did it?

Anonymous July 22, 2011 at 8:12 pm

Well, I am disappointed at the de-naturalization of the points classification, and the way it has been managed in order to favour one specific rider, who had happened to be second in the classification in the 2 previous editions. To win this jersey, it had always been required to be something more than the fastest rider: resilience. Without it, go back to the track, because you don’t belong in road racing. Points allocation has been unprecedently changed to favour the flattest stages, which any good cycling follower should find appalling.
As for the time-cut, it is true that the rule has always been enforced whimsically, and has always been controversial. And I have always defended that it should be applied mathematically, and regardless, with the only possible exception of massive accidents. Sometimes half the peloton has been sent home, sometimes not. Cav happened to be on the lucky side. Twice. For no better reason than that a lot of riders were equally weak or lazy. When his opponents had previously called for strict vigilance of his making the cut.
Don’t get me wrong, I think he is great, and improving, right on the way to history. But he is being carried there in a hilarious way. He nevertheless has struggled to beat mediocre, teamless Rojas, and Gilbert who, in spite of not really focusing on this challenge, is to me the true claimant to the jersey. As for his stage victories, they’re alright, he is indeed the fastest, although having a whole team, and one of the strongest, devoted to preparing… sprints? Hello? Excuse me, I find it ludicrous. He even wears the squad-number finishing in 1.. A MERE SPRINTER?
So. This is only my opinion, of course. You can guess I am not very fond of “pure sprinters”, but it is because I don’t think they represent the nature of this agonistic sport, and the way people like Cipollini and Cavendish have won many of their stages, with a “train” of teammates destroying even the hope that a good breakaway can succeed, is not what one would call enthralling and admirable. Yes, I think this year the Green Jersey, won by great tough riders like Merckx, Maertens, Sean Kelly, Jalabert, Stan Ockers, Jan Janssen, Bernard Hinault, Thor Hushovd, has been tarnished.
I hope next year we go back to a points system where all stages count the same, and where the “hors-délais” is strictly enforced, and that Cav wins it undisputably (and that he throws in a Paris-Roubaix and a Tour of Flanders as well, for good measure).

Bundle July 22, 2011 at 8:15 pm

Sorry, I forgot to sign the previous long tirade. But it’s me, in reply to all those questioned my previous comment. Cheers!

grumpyoldman July 22, 2011 at 9:44 pm

@Bundle

“Cav happened to be on the lucky side. Twice. For no better reason than that a lot of riders were equally weak or lazy. When his opponents had previously called for strict vigilance of his making the cut.”

On the strictest application of the hors délai rule, many, if not all of those contenders would have been out of the race, either yesterday or today. There were 80 in the grupetto today, including his closest rival Rojas.

“As for his stage victories, they’re alright, he is indeed the fastest, although having a whole team, and one of the strongest, devoted to preparing… sprints? Hello? Excuse me, I find it ludicrous.”

As distinct from having a whole team devoted to preparing for one of their number being the overall winner? Sorry, but I don’t see the logic.

It’s also worth pointing out that the lion’s share of the intermediate sprint points that were supposed to help Cavendish were in fact distributed between members of the various breakaways who inevitably got there first.

Finally, if you excluded riders like Cavendish on the grounds that they don’t belong in road racing, then you would end up with a sort of morphological apartheid, in which only ectomorphic Contador/Schleck clones took part in the Tour, and the race would be the poorer for it.

PuyDeDome81 July 22, 2011 at 11:40 pm

First comment on this great blog but I just had to reply to Bundle

If you have followed cycling for as long as I have you will realise that there are very different types of cyclists and very differnt types of races, including different types of Tours over the years. In terms of the tour these have all had influences on not just the green jersey but the polka dot and the yellow and the old red if anyone remembers that?

There have been tours in the past that were easier in the mountains but with hard time trials. In terms of the yellow these suited the Indurains, Ulrichs and Lemonds of the world. There have been tours that were incredibly tough in the mountains, think back to the years Delgado or Pantani won. There was even a time when the tours winner was decided not by time but by points, the green jersey won the tour de france in effect….

For green there have been tours that suited the pure sprinters, the years Jalabert won it was actually down to his sprinting on flat stages, not from his penache which wasn;t prominent until later in his caereer. He was one of the best sprinters around until he re-invented himself after a huge crash in one of the tours sprints which injured him badly. Abdoujaparov is another example. Other times it has suited the stronger riders, Thor Hushovd and Erik Zabel being the perfect examples. I actually think this year has been quite balanced between pure sprints and “punchy” stages. The massif central does not appear every year and there were hard stages in Brittany not suited to a sprint train or a pure sprinter

For polka dot there have been times the competition, or more the state of the race, favoured a real mountain climber and such as Rominger or Soler (such a shame he wasn’t here this year!), other times it was won by oppurtunists such as Charteau last year.

My point basically is the competition and the parcours changes year on year. Year on year this favours different types of riders. If Cavendish wins green this year he will have deserved it and it would not be tainted, pure and simple. If next year the course suits a Gilbert or a Boasson Hagen (talented guy) for the green jersey and they end up winning it then that is the race and they would deserve it too. You wouldn’t find me complaining about how the course did not suit Cavendish. I just think Cavendish deserves a break. If he wins a stage his team won it for him, if he wins the points jersey the course / competition was designed for him, if he misses the cut by a few minutes along with over half the field he should be kicked off the race. This year Cavendish is leading the green jersey because he is still in the race and has more points than anyone else, what more would you like him to do? Backflip over the last 100m then flip round on one wheel and cyle in backwards whilst doing a wheelie and still win?

The main thing people need to remember is that cycling is a team sport. Every team has a leader and every leader uses his / her team. Contador using team mates to shelter him during the flat and up the pace in the mountains is no different to HTC pacing back the peleton and then providing a train.

What a tour thid year anyway, should go down as one of the greats!

Vive le tour

PS Note to Monsieur Prudhomme, please bring back the Puy De Dome on the tour! Merci!

Bundle July 23, 2011 at 11:58 am

Puy de Dôme81. Yes I remember the cute red “catch” jersey, and even back then I didn’t agree with merging the intermediate sprints classification with the regularity (green) jersey, which is actually the legacy of the years when the GC was not ranked according to times, but to position in every stage. To say the least, the Green Jersey has become progressively devaluated, but I’ll give Cav a break.

Yet I cannot but draw attention again to the scandalous way the “hors-délais” has been managed, not only with regard to the Green Jersey.
1) Riders have deliberately finished the Alpine stages in large past-the-cut bunches, to take advantage of the fact the the organisation could avoid to send them home because of their number, namely because of being more than 20% of the pack. I think THIS is unsportive and under-handed.
2) No less than 8 HTC riders have been “hors-délais” two days in a row, some of which will be serious contenders for the TT today, and most of which will work to create the conditions for Cav’s victory in Paris.
3) No less 7 Liquigas riders were “hors-délais” in the Galibier stage. The following day, some of the very same riders participated actively in chasing Contador and Andy Schleck up the Télégraphe and the Galibier, benefitting from the economies in effort made the previous day thus adulterating the final result of the race.
4) In Europcar, all but Voeckler, Rolland and Charteau were “hors-délais” in the Galibier, some of which actively chased back down the Galibier, taking advantage of the energies saved, and also adulterating the result.
5) The “20% rule” allows the organisation to “save” the riders. But “allows” does not mean “obliges”. In this very case: purposefulness in the collective infraction, reiteration, and lack of any mitigating circumstances all make it clear that the organisation made the wrong decision, unfairly benefitting some riders and teams to the detriment of others.

The Inner Ring July 23, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Bundle: I hear you but it’s more an issue of the time cuts being so tight. I can assure riders have not been soft-pedalling around the Alps on glorified recovery rides, the SRM data available shows the sprinters are at threshold on the climbs. If ASO gave an extra five minutes things would be quite different.

Bundle July 23, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Thanks for the “hearing” and the “assurances”. I don’t mean all of them were soft-pedalling: some of the sprinters just don’t climb enough, AND some other did indeed under-perform in what looks like they were covering the possibility of their teammates being sent home (plus others who just wanted to preserve energies). The percentages for the “hors-délais” have traditionally been similar. I have advocated strict enforcement, in this and other forums, before and after the Alps (actually for years). It would really add spice.
By the way, Inner Ring, on another topic: have you any idea was Zomegnan was fired from the Giro management?

The Inner Ring July 23, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Bundle: sure, you just got some people going! re Zomegnan, he’s being “replaced”, yes.

Bundle July 23, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Yes, thanks, but I forgot to type “why” is he replaced? Perhaps we can get a post about it when the Tour’s dust settles…

PuyDeDome81 July 24, 2011 at 1:37 pm

Bundle, completely take your comments on board and I can see what you mean with the 8 HTC guys being hors-delai including Tony Martin who won yesterday. I can see your argument for enforcing the cut off rule regardless of who or how many people are in it. But with over 80 riders in the group there were plenty of other teams with a lot of riders arriving after the cut off, not just HTC, Europecar or Liquigas. I wouldn’t particularly say that they were taking it easy with a 30km/h av speed over 109km up the Telegraph, The Galibier and L’Alpe. I suspect most of the guys in there will have gone through a lot of pain to finish that stage (and stage 18) in the times they did. The 20% rule has been in place for a long time, whether it is correct or not is another debate. I don’t believe that it tarnishes the green jersey competition anymore than it has in the past though. In fact it would be interesting to know who the last person was to win the green jersey in Paris who did not finish at least one stage hors-delai in the grupetto. Zabel? Kelly? Hinault? Not entirely sure but I suspect it would not be any of the winners of the last decade.

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