Yesterday’s stage was big but today is bigger. It’s longer, there’s more climbing and there’s very little flat road along the way.
It’s up to the riders but this is the perfect terrain for the contenders and their teams to ambush Chris Froome and Team Sky.
Stage 18 Review
As suggested yesterday, much of the talk about the Sarenne descent was hype. In fact the only rider who crashed on the descent ended up winning the stage. The day had a lively start with attacks on the Col de Manse and Chris Froome forced to work from the start. But as exciting as the first 20 minutes were, the road levelled out, the fight stopped and a move got away across the flatter roads.
From this Tejay van Garderen, Moreno Moser and Christophe Riblon rode away over the climb of Alpe d’Huez but not as a trio. Van Garderen led but a mechanical saw him stuck as Moser and Riblon passed him on the descent of the Sarenne. Moser’s got the avuncular DNA and was looking fast, using every space possible, it was too much for Riblon who rode into the ditch but the only injury was pride. Van Garderen got back to the pair on the valley road and come the Alpe again Riblon accelerated and Moser was gone. But van Garderen took over the pace and Riblon could not match the pace but he never lost too much time. The gap went to 30 seconds but as van Garderen climbed into the shadow of the concrete resort he was pedalling squares and Riblon began to take back time. The momentum changed and Riblon blasted past to take the stage, France’s first win this year.
On the final climb Joaquim Rodriguez, Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana all attacked and if Froome looked strong, he was running out of energy and in time Quintana rode away in his casual style. Victor Hugo once said “in the Alps you are either an eagle or a cretin” and Saxo-Tinkoff’s plans backfired and Alberto Contador and Roman Kreuziger ended losing time after wasting energy. Perhaps it was worth trying but this was a gamble that cost time, for as much as Froome was in a haze, Contador was lower down the mountain and losing time. Other losers included the Belkin tandem of Bauke Mollema and Laurens Ten Dam whilst Dan Martin fell out of the top-10.
Fine Food: Froome and Porte were hit with a 20 second time penalty and a 200 Swiss Franc fine whilst team manager Nicolas Portal got a 1000 franc fine, all for passing up an energy gel to Froome in the final moments of the race, making it the world’s most expensive energy gel. Sure it’s illegal but for all those railing against Sky’s tactics, all the other teams do it:
- if you’ve seen a mechanic leaning out of the window to fix a rider’s bike on the move, that’s illegal
- if you’ve seen riders being paced back to the bunch by a team car, that’s illegal
- if you’ve seen a rider getting a “sticky bottle”, that’s illegal
And so on. Yesterday Steve Morabito and Jonathan Castroviejo were both fined cash and time for taking a pull with their team cars. I’ve detailed these and other fines as a cost of business in the Tour de France. I think there’s room for the whole rule system to be reviewed because if the rules say bike repairs can’t be done on the move then they should never be done on the move. Once you allow teams to break the rules, you create a situation where riders and teams pick and choose the rules like an à la carte menu and this undermines the rulebook and the UCI. But enough of the rules, the best stage of the Tour is coming.
Stage 19 Preview
- Km 33.5 – Col du Glandon (1 924 m) 21.6km climb at 5.1% – category H
- Km 83.5 – Col de la Madeleine (2 000 m) 19.2km climb at 7.9% – category H
- Km 143.0 – Col de Tamié (907 m) 8.6km climb at 6.2% – category 2
- Km 165.0 – Col de l’Épine 6.1km climb at 7.3% – category 1
- Km 191.5 – Col de la Croix Fry (1 477 m) 11.3km climb at 7% – category 1
Some said yesterday was the Queen Stage but today is longer, has more climbs and more vertical metres. Presumably Alpe d’Huez wins on branding but technically today is the harder stage by most counts.
The stage begins with a few kilometres on the valley road before turning up the valley towards the Col de Glandon. A passage up the side of a damn and past the lake behind it and the climbing begins for real. If yesterday saw fireworks on the Col de Manse it was a brief show but this is a 21km hors categorie climb to start the day. Ignore the 5% label because it’s got two downhill sections and when the road climbs, it’s at a steep 8-10%. A fast and technical descent awaits to the Maurienne valley.
Like some giant halfpipe, the race crosses the valley and starts climbing up the other side on the Col de la Madeleine. Like the Glandon this is a proper mountain col rather than some ski resort access road. It’s long and speed, 19km at 7.9% and were it not for a small dip in the village of Longchamp on the way up, it would be over 8% and there are many parts at 10%. The Tour says it’s 2,000m high and so does the sign at the top but it’s a white lie, it’s 1,993m. Another fast descent awaits, this time to the Isère valley and then to Albertville.
The Col de Tamié is the easiest climb of the day, no breeze but on a wide and regular road, an easy pass from one valley over to the next. If only the same applied to the Col de l’Epine, “Thorn Pass” which is steep and narrow, a road that hangs on the side of a mountain. Over the top and there’s a short descent followed by some more climbing, irregular roads
The Croix Fry is the final climb of the day and a virtual finish line because a rider over the top with 30 seconds’ lead can hope to win the stage. It’s just getting that advantage that is hard. The climb reaches the village of Manigod via a series of steps where the road switches from 5% to 8% sections and back. After Manigod’s flat section it zigzags up the mountain with some steep sections at 12% and irregular slopes all the way to the top, ideal terrain to shake any wheelsuckers or expose weaknesses.
There’s a fast descent there the road gets bigger and then into Grand Bornand where there’s a final kick to the line.
Two races again? A break can go for the stage win whilst the GC contenders have their race. If yesterday’s stage saw a GC shake-up, today’s route offers more chances to ambush the race. It’s up to the riders to exploit the irregular roads.
Alberto Contador sits second overall but Nairo Quintana can overtake him with ease. The Colombian might prefer to snipe the seconds tomorrow on the Semnoz but Chris Froome is looking fallible. He cracked yesterday and even if he got his feeding wrong, all the more reason to put the yellow jersey under pressure on such a hard stage. So Movistar and Saxo-Tinkoff can try the strength in numbers approach again and try to isolate Froome, perhaps with Katusha as allies too given Joaquim Rodriguez is now in fifth place. If I had a pick a winner today, I’d go for Rodriguez as he’s checked out the climb, seems to be stronger every day and the finish line has an uphill kick.
Yesterday’s winner Christophe Riblon has an interest in going in the break. He’s sitting high on the mountains competition and could scoop up more points. Easier said than done and besides, if he could take the jersey today, he risks losing it tomorrow. The same for Pierre Rolland who’s hunting for a stage win now his hopes of GC and mountains jersey have faded. Otherwise, take lottery picks with Tom Dumoulin or Jérôme Coppel.
Weather: sunshine with some showers possible, perhaps a thunderstorm. It’ll be warm when the sun shines in the valley but cold at altitude meaning riders need to think about what to wear and eating enough.
TV: live from start to finish, 10.55am to 5.30pm Euro time. Watch the first hour to see how the race develops and whether teams try to put Team Sky on the rack. If this happens then it could become a classic day’s racing. If the likes of Movistar and Saxo-Tinkoff are sitting on the wheels of Team Sky then tune in later for the finish with the Col de l’Epine due to feature soon after 3.30pm.