Just like the profile above, Mont Ventoux dominates the landscape of Provence, as ominous as a volcano. It’s also a special place in cycling history, a climb that is rarely used but often cited.
Today’s stage is the longest in the race and finishes at the top of arguably the hardest climb in this year’s race. To put the distance in context, this as long as a spring classic with a giant mountain climb added to the end and this after two weeks of racing. If that’s not big enough for you, it’s Bastille Day, the French national holiday and huge crowds are expected.
Stage 14 Review
A breakaway at last. The riders had to work hard to go clear, Euskaltel-Euskadi and Lampre-Merida missed the move and were condemned to chase. It meant the average speed for the first two hours was 47km/h and on hilly terrain and the stage arrived 20 minutes ahead of schedule.
The attacks started in the final 30km with several teams having a pair of riders in the break so the early moves were shut down. It was an attack by Julien Simon over the penultimate climb of the Côte de la Duchère that raised the excitement. A fast finisher, Simon went solo because he was worried about other sprinters in the group. The gap never got to 30 seconds and for most of the time hovered at 15 seconds. With huge crowds it made for great live TV. Well done to Simon but he’s already nursing regrets from Corsica where he sat second on GC for a while, so close yet so far.
The group came back together and Matteo Trentin was the fastest. No wonder, he was Mark Cavendish’s lead out in the Giro and the number two in the Tour. It marked the first Italian stage win in the Tour de France since 2010. Another winner was Andrew Talansky, third on the stage, he’s moved up the overall standings to third place in the white jersey competition, now just 1.10 behind Michał Kwiatkowski.
Stage 15 Preview
- Km 20.5 – Côte d’Eyzin-Pinet 3.1km at 4.9% – category 4
- Km 26.5 – Côte de Primarette 2.6km at 4.1% – category 4
- Km 44.5 – Côte de Lens-Lestang 2.1km at 3.8% – category 4
- Km 143.0 – Côte de Bourdeaux 4.2km at 5.7% – category 3
- Km 242.5 – Mont Ventoux (1,912 m) 20.8km at 7.5% – category H
The 242.5km stage starts in Givors, a town full of closed factories and crumbling smokestacks. It crosses the Rhone but instead of pedalling south along the banks of the giant river, the race carries east before for a parallel route to the Rhone that is hillier and harder. In other words as much as the mind is on Mont Ventoux, the first 200km are no easy spin but offer a strength-sapping six hours on the bike before the final climb approaches.
Bonus climb: there’s the Col de la Madeleine after the intermediate sprint in Malaucène. It’s not big but it’s longer and steeper than some of the listed climbs along the way.
There are three parts to the climb. First the race climbs out of Bédoin on open roads, past vines and peach orchards. It’s the easiest part of the climb with gentler slopes and the road is wide but enough for those in a bad way to know it. Second the race reaches the tiny village of St. Esteve where there’s a hairpin bend and the race enters the forest and a relentless slope awaits. There are some bends but the road is full of long sections. Then the gradient eases as the race passes Chalet Reynard and onto the third part where white rock dominates as little vegetation can withstand the blasting winds. The road then snakes up with a series of right and then left bends and kicks up for the last part to the finish line.
There are two likely scenarios:
- A big breakaway goes away with enough riders to keep going for 200km across the plains and from this group the best climber emerges to win the stage
- The day’s breakaway is reeled in by teams setting a fierce pace on the approach to the climb and we see the GC contenders duke it out for the stage win
Regardless of how the riders reach the final climb the distance will have done it’s damage. But for all the myths associated with this climb, if the GC riders fight on the climb it is an hour long ramp test, a contest of power-weight ratios provisional on eating and drinking correctly during the first 200km.
In reductive terms Chris Froome is the obvious pick. The best climber in the race and willing to show it, he’s also got the incentive to take time where possible given his team have been struggling to stay with him so if he can distance Alberto Contador, Romain Kreuziger or Bauke Mollema. But rewind a minute, is Froome the best climber? Remember Nairo Quintana used up a lot of energy on the Port de Pailhères but was still strong and if he tracks Froome this time he could well be the winner today.
Collectively Movistar surely have plans to ambush the race but I think they’ll wait for later stages, although of course if an opportunity presents itself a team will take it. Instead though I see Alejandro Valverde has a great chance to win the stage. He was amongst the best on the climb to Ax-3 Domaines but now he’s well down on GC if he goes the others might give him some room. Plus if gets away with others then he’s got a fast finish. Also watch Jakob Fuglsang as the Dane is having a quietly successful race and first hit the headlines after a strong ride in the Dauphiné in 2009 when he was fifth on this climb.
With his descending woes, today’s flat run and climb was supposed to be for Thibaut Pinot but last night’s medical bulletin reported a “small flu-like syndrome” after his visit to the race doctor during the stage. Is this stress or a real bug and he’s off the pace?
Weather: Hot with temperatures at 31°C (88°F) and 20km/h breeze from the north-west, a tailwind. This matters because riders must eat and drink huge quantities for the distance and heat.
TV: live images from 1.50pm Euro time. If you just want the approach to Mont Ventoux, tune in around 4.20pm to catch the race speeding through Malaucène.
Bastille Day: it’s the French national holiday and commemorates a key point in the revolution of 1789. For many it’s a day off but for FDJ.fr manager Marc Madiot it’s time for the mother of all motivational talks conducted to the soundtrack of the French national anthem played from a CD brought specially for this purpose. I’m not kidding.
The Myth of Ventoux
Mont Ventoux sits in the pantheon of legendary cycling locations. But it is also on the frontier of legend and myth, a place where from fame and respect confront mystery and invention. We can’t even measure the height right but for invention, see the tale of Tom Simpson. There are many good tales of Simpson’s life and death on this climb elsewhere so one anecdote. The immortal line of “put me back on my bike” was apparently the invention of a journalist. Instead he cried “my straps” to his mechanic, too weak to adjust the straps on his pedals before he collapsed.