The Tour de France has a fourth dimension. It can indulge in time travel and today it crosses the Col d’Izoard, the high point of the race this year and a highlight from over the years, a road that’s become legendary over the years.
Today’s vintage might be less celebrated but there’s still plenty to race for. It’s also live on TV from start to finish.
Stage 13 Wrap
Vincenzo Nibali won. If you’d only read the results it would look all so obvious but the stage was packed with action. The race sped to the Col de Palaquit, the early breakaway saw its lead fall to around a minute. The escapees started to argue, frustrated because they had no room. Europcar and Katusha were especially evident, Katusha’s fast pace presumably to help Joaquim Rodriguez launch a move but it misfired, Rodriguez didn’t do much and later Alexander Porsev missed the time cut. Europcar were even more invisible and I still don’t understand what they’re doing.
The final climb was unusual because the steepest part came early. It meant the climbers needed to exploit the early slopes. And they did. I feared the upper slopes would see riders mark each other but Movistar did a lot of damage on the early slopes. Thibaut Pinot was very active with several attacks and in time he was away with Nibali and Alejandro Valverde. The three are clearly better than the rest but Nibali is even better. Pinot and Valverde weren’t working together, preferring to trade attacks. Behind Romain Bardet and Tejay van Garderen weren’t far behind. We should note Leopold König too, now in the top-10 and surely he’ll climb higher? The hierarchy is establishing itself.
Is Nibali unbeatable? Probably, he’s put time into everyone each time he’s been tested; except above Gérardmer when Contador pipped him but the Spaniard is out. An off day is always possible but uphill he’s clearly superior to the rest. We know he’s a good descender too. But what about the flat? I’m not talking about the Bergerac time trial but the plains and valleys: Nibali’s weakness is his team. Jacob Fuglsang fell yesterday and Nibali has few riders around him in the mountains. If a team can isolate him on a descent or a valley road then they can start to play. For example Movistar spot Nibali’s down to one or two riders and send J-J Rojas in an early break. Then later they send Ion Izaguirre up the road… then 10 seconds later Valverde goes, gets on his wheel and they find Rojas waiting around the corner. Suddenly they’re a trio and Nibali has to chase. Big “if” of course but it’s an example of exploiting numerical superiority.
Finally Richie Porte fell from second overall to 16th overall. Put another way that’s more than one place per kilometre after he cracked. He suffered in the heat more than most. But at least his collapse saw him surrounded by team mates. Over at Belkin and A2gr La Mondiale such team spirit looks strained. Belkin might say they got two riders in the top-10 but it looked like each rider did it alone. Meanwhile Ag2r’s twin pronged approach is fine but what if Péraud had been able to pace Bardet yesterday?
- Km 82.0 – Col du Lautaret (2 058 m), 34 kilometre-long climb at 3.9% – category 1
- Km 132.5 – Col d’Izoard (2 360 m) – Souvenir Henri Desgrange, 19 kilometre-long climb at 6% – category H
- Km 177.0 – Montée de Risoul (1 855 m), 12.6 kilometre-long climb at 6.9% – category 1
Many riders will know these roads backwards. The procession out of Grenoble, past Vizille and up the Durance valley is regularly taken by the Tour. It’s uphill from the start, the Durance’s white waters a clue to the gradient. The race passes Bourg d’Oisans but no Alpe d’Huez this year. Instead the long Col du Lautaret awaits. The start has some of the steepest sections with 7% slopes but they’re followed by a descent. Once past the Chambon dam the road hugs the side of the valley and begins its gradual climb up. It’s not exposed but a microclimate often the infamous Lautaret wind is possible. With a tailwind it can be climbed in a big gear but it’s still a long effort that consumes a lot of calories. The descent is as regular as the ascent, a big wide road. This is a significant transport axis and if it often looks glorious for the Tour, it’s often a road not to ride.
Next up the Col d’Izoard, a legendary rendez-vous made famous by Louison Bobet and Fausto Coppi although today it’s up the “wrong” side as the race will descend through the Casse Déserte section. For all it’s fame the climb is straightforward with a regular start as it climbs up past Alpine pastures. It’s the last 10km where it gets serious, a steep gradient for most of the way. It’s tough and will soften the race up a lot but there’s still 45km to go. The descent includes a brief climb after the Casse Déserte, always unwelcome for the way it interrupts the rhythm. After this the descent is in two parts, fast and exposed; then lower down it’s a gradual drop into the valley.
The Finish: new to the Tour de France but not new the sport, the climb to Risoul has featured in the Tour de l’Avenir and the Dauphiné. It’s a steady climb, a functional ski station access road. The ski resort of Risoul is paying to tell the world it’s open all year but as climbs go this isn’t the best of the Alps (then again nor is Alpe d’Huez), it’s another access road. It’s wide and don’t be surprised to see riders in the big ring tomorrow because some of the easier sections are fast and a big gear rolls well. It’s uphill all the way to the line.
The Scenario: after yesterday’s stage there will be some tired legs. Obvious, yes, but the more subtle point is that the heat and effort will take their toll on some more than others. Those who took it a bit easier yesterday could go up the road today. And the final climb lends it less to a showdown. It’s harder to make a sharp effort, it’s shorter and faster.
So today could be a day for a breakaway to stick. But it’ll need the right names, climbers capable of a long raid.
The Contenders: having said a breakaway has a good chance, the problem is picking the names. Amid such uncertainty Vincenzo Nibali is a safer bet. He’s in form and clearly above the best. But he could ease back. Instead we could see some climbers trying to go clear knowing they pose no threat to the overall and this time the others won’t give chase. Rafał Majka and Leopold König tried yesterday and could repeat on the last climb. Maybe Mikel Nieve gets a chance now there’s no team duty? Even Frank Schleck has to be feeling confident now too.
Thibaut Pinot said he was particularly aggressive yesterday because the long climb suited him more than today’s softer finish but given he’s putting time into almost everyone uphill he should try again. His rival Alejandro Valverde might find the finish perfect for him, his jump yesterday showed he’ll be hard to beat.
The trouble with several names above is that they’re high on GC. Another example is Laurens Ten Dam, climbing very well yesterday but unlikely to be given much room. For a breakaway Joaquim Rodriguez could be one to watch. It’s said he’s got the form to thing about hanging with the front group but given he’s lost so much time he’s saving himself for a stage here and there and the mountains jersey. So we should expect him to be in the mix especially as the Lautaret and Izoard offer a lot of points. Another one to watch is Geraint Thomas, the final climb suits his rouleur tendency.
|Joaquim Rodriguez, Thibaut Pinot|
|König, Nieve, Majka, Thomas, Rolland|
Weather: hot but cooling down, temperatures of 28°C expected and a chance of a shower, even a downpour and thunderstorm in the high mountains.
TV: live from start to finish, 12.10pm Euro time to 5.30pm. The Izoard begins around 3.30pm and the final climb around 5.00pm.