With no prologue we’ve had a week with a tightly-packed general classification and only the cruel elimination of riders by crashes. Now it’s time to impose some order on the race with the first visit to the Pyrenees and a summit finish to separate the contenders from the pretenders.
The final climb is short, enough to tell us about form but not big enough to allow sweeping conclusions that stretch all the way to the Alps. If you plan to watch on TV, note the early finish.
Stage 7 Review
Cannondale might be a US team with a Canadian sponsor and a Slovak leader but there’s something still very Italian about them and it’s not just the management but the philosophy. The whole team rides in service of their leader, perpetuating the tradition of great Italian squads of the past.
So it was when the team set to work with a high tempo pace mid-stage. It was uncertain, Sagan’s talents are undisputed but the rest of the team makes for one of the more modest outfits in the race. But the plan worked, their pace saw several sprinters eliminated and they still had the energy to drive on and control the approach into Albi. Peter Sagan won but without a wild victory salute, just a tribute to the team work done.
Sagan also collected maximum points on the day for the green jersey. So far Marcel Kittel, Mark Cavendish and André Greipel have each collected a stage win too so the points have been distributed widely. Next week we’ll see more sprints and how this competition develops.
Stage 8 Preview
- Km 26.5 – Côte de Saint-Ferréol 2.2km at 5.4% – category 4
- Km 166.0 – Col de Pailhères (2 001 m) at 15.3km at 8% – category HC
- Km 193.5 – Ax 3 Domaines 7.8km at 8.2% – category 1
A start in Castres and rugby country. The route tackles some easy roads as it crosses the rolling hills of the Lauragais. It’s tempting to ignore this part of the stage but it’s the place for a breakaway to form and ride away plus the kilometres count and it can be windy here but today brings a tailwind. The harder the battle to get away, the more the damage later. But these are flat roads.
The Pyrenees are very approachable mountains. You can ride right into the mountain valleys on peaceful roads. The Tour takes a bigger route riding through Limoux, known for its sparkling wine and it’s here where things should start fizzing.
The Port de Pailhères is a substantial climb and gets the HC-rating meaning a lot of points await. In fact this is the highest point of the 2013 Tour with the Henri Desgrange prize awarded to the first rider across. It’s a pure Pyrenean climb that wanders through fields with a wild vibe and and irregular gradient. It’s narrow too, even a cyclist and car meeting in opposite directions have to check their position. This matters because there’s not much room to overtake. It’s not shown in the profile above but there’s a short dip in the road before it kicks up again to reach the top. Here there are still 29km to go. The descent is fine, if the climb is narrow, the road quickly opens up.
An “Ax” to cut the field down to size. This is a short and punchy climb to the Plateau de Bonascre above Ax. A quick run through the town – more flat than the profile says - over the Ariège river and the climb starts right away, the road ramps up and the first hairpin arrives, enough to help string out a group of riders. It’s an irregular climb in terms of gradient – there’s even a small flat section – but this is still a ski-station access road so it’s wide.
The road flattens off for the final kilometre, meaning a sprint if riders are still in a group.
Nervous? Many sit the most important exam of the year today. No longer can riders revise their Pyrenean geography or the arithmetic of their power to weight ratios.
The route is very similar to the 2010 stage from Revel to Ax-3 Domaines won by Christophe Riblon after a large early break got away and behind Andy Shleck and Alberto Contador seemed inseparable. But that was Stage 14, the race had taken shape and the peloton psychology was content to let a move go.
Today’s early break has a lesser chance of staying away all day. Yes the stage win is less important to the GC riders who will be more concerned with marking each other. But teams like Sky and Saxo-Tinkoff are likely to set the pace in the second half of the stage and then accelerate over the main climb which could prove fatal for any fugitives. It’s all about who makes the move, if it’s full of top-rate riders then they’ve got a chance. If it’s made up of plucky chancers, no way.
Thomas Voeckler lost time yesterday and provided a list of complaints. He therefore gets a ticket to ride. But is this too obvious? It’s been said he’s not been feeling so good but this gossip could be just the uncertainty he needs as he jumps away and rivals decide whether to follow or not. If anything Sunday is better suited to a mountain raid.
It’ll be interesting to see how Sky ride. Their mountain train can choke the excitement out of the race but they’ve not looked so powerful in the first week. Illusion or reality? We’ll soon see but the predictable pick is Chris Froome jumping away with 2km to go and they have a joker to play with Richie Porte. Froome’s form is undeniable, even jumping away on the small hill above Ajaccio on Stage 2.
Saxo-Tinkoff are the other team with a squad to rival and we’ll see how Nico Roche, Roman Kreuziger and Alberto Contador‘s Iberian guard do. I’m still not sold on Contador’s form as he’s not won this year but if he can surprise, all the better. We should get the answer on any injuries from the first week and also any lingering allergies.
As for all the others, there’s a long roll call which will get slashed today. Many are anticipating something from Nairo Quintana but he’s been crashing and could be tired. Movistar keep saying Alejandro Valverde is the leader. They make a good 1-2 because the Colombian can try on the climb with insurance of Valverde’s speed in case of a small sprint. The same with Katusha who have Dani Moreno and Joaquim Rodriguez. The other team with two heads is BMC Racing and it’ll be fascinating to see Cadel Evans and Tejay van Garderen. We’ll also get to see which Garmin-Sharp rider is best… on the day but on paper Dan Martin looks suited to the finish.
Other riders and teams will be basing their strategy on holding on for as long as possible. Belkin’s Bauke Mollemna might find the shorter climb to his advantage and if he jumps maybe others will let him go for a moment? The same for Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Igor Anton. Andy Schleck‘s seen his brother in the headlines but what if the week has given him some rhythm?
French hopes rest with Thibaut Pinot and Pierre Rolland. I’d back Pinot but he’s riding to a plan this year and banned from attacking until the Alps. If you saw him in the Tour of Switzerland he was thereabouts but did the race after a big block of training and so didn’t have the same zip. The steeper climb today should suit him.
In 10 seconds: the day’s break is reeled in by mountain trains. The long list of names gets boiled down in the heat and Chris Froome wins the stage with late attack.
Weather: Hot and sunny with the Tramontane wind blowing at the start to give a light tailwind. Temperatures will reach 30°C on the way to the climb but it’ll 20°C closer to the finish in the Pyrenees with some altitude.
live on TV from start to finish. Coverage is due to begin at 2.20pm Euro time. Tune in around 3.00pm to see the approach to the Pailhères. Note the earlier finish, planned for 4.45-5.10pm.
The race calls it the Col de Pailhères but it’s really the Port de Pailhères, a local word for mountain pass. Correct pronunciation.