Tour de France Stage 14 Preview

Saturday, 19 July 2014


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?

The Route

  • 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.

-
Alejandro Valverde
Vincenzo Nibali
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.

tourdeutah July 19, 2014 at 7:34 am

I am betting the mortgage that Purito, Voekler, and de marchi try to get into the break. Lots of KoM gold and potential stage win as the peleton realize Nibali will wear yellow all the way to Paris.

If the shark keeps winning final climbs he will also win the KoM as comfortably as he will the GC.

Cycling Prizes July 19, 2014 at 7:37 am

Are you sure it’s live Start to Finish? Steephill is suggesting earliest live video is 10:15pm, and SBS Australia is also saying it will be not online before 2pm as well.

Cycling Prizes July 19, 2014 at 7:38 am

(Sorry, 10:15pm AEST = 2:15pm CET)

Anonymous July 19, 2014 at 8:09 am

Eurosport is transmitting the entire stage, from noon CET.

Panda July 19, 2014 at 11:27 am

SBS Australia is live from 8.30 pm AEST (12.30 CET), not 10.00 as usual

CK July 19, 2014 at 12:06 pm

I do concede it’s the weekend and they couldn’t have predicted the fight for the top would be a non-event, but it does seem an odd choice of stage to transmit from start to finish. Oh well, we’ll see; maybe I’m wrong (I hope so!) I’ll still be watching anyway :-)

Off the back of the group July 19, 2014 at 12:54 pm

Me too, even if I get disproportionately irritated that Phil Liggett is unable, after commentating on the TdF since World War 1, to pronounce the word “jaune” (it is not “jorne”).

Larry T. July 19, 2014 at 7:38 am

Excellent piece, thanks. “Cannibali” is eating them all now, looks like he and his team want the chrono stage to be one where Enzo can roll along with a glass of champagne rather than care about losing any time to his rivals. I hope he can pull it off and wear yellow in Paris, but meanwhile I’d like to see some exciting racing – something LeTour too often lacks.

GeorgeY July 19, 2014 at 8:36 am

“Once past the Chambon damn” Shouldn’t this be dam, it’s too early to hear expletives from the riders :-)

Tovarishch July 19, 2014 at 10:14 am

Carlton Kirby was really on form yesterday. Talking about Nibali he said I have run out of expletives to describe him!

GeorgeY July 19, 2014 at 12:09 pm

I guess there are many expletetives that can be used as adjectives for Carlton Kirby and they all describe him pretty well.

GeorgeY July 19, 2014 at 12:12 pm

Expletives, damn!

tourdeutah July 19, 2014 at 9:27 pm

Just be glad you don’t have to listen to Sherwin and Ligget. Carlton Kirby and his sidekick are sweet music to the ears compared to those two.

PT July 20, 2014 at 4:05 am

Actually I think that P&P are having a renaissance of sorts this year. I don’t think I’ve even heard “suitcase of courage” yet….although there has been plenty of commentary about “professional bike riders”. There has been more than the odd bit of dry humour and less hyperbole/more detail than before. Combined with Matt Keenan on the early call, its been pretty good I think.

The Inner Ring July 19, 2014 at 11:32 am

Ha, thanks

Girona July 19, 2014 at 8:36 am

As much as I’m happy for an attacking rider like Nibali winning, I’m sad to say this Tour has turned in to a sleeping pill. Thank’s for trying to animate things in your previews Inrng, but really, barring accident this feels all but decided. Even last year’s Sky crusade felt more exciting.

Samuel G July 19, 2014 at 11:51 am

But there is so much more to enjoy in this race than just the Maillot Jaune competion!

LeoA July 20, 2014 at 8:52 am

So, no Team Sky leading a procession over the cols waiting for the final kilometres to dance away from the rest. Was that really interesting to you?
Do you really not see all the battles going on? Samuel G got it spot on. Let’s not rule out the Movistar team trying to mug Nibali once he’s down on team mates. He’ll remember what Contador did on that famous Vuelta stage and think “why not.”
Or is it boring because Froome is not bossing things?

KB July 19, 2014 at 9:14 am

When Team Sky said “Richie Porte is flying…” – yeah, flying out the back door! That looked rather in line with his performance this season though, it wasn’t a huge surprise. DS Servais Knaven tried to put a brave face on it afterwards, saying that that normally wouldn’t happen, so something must have been wrong and the doctors will need to look into it.

JVDB crashed *again* yesterday. And was accused by Fuglsang of tossing a full bidon that caused him to crash heavily. In his post-race interview w/ Danish TV he said something to the effect of: ‘I guess Contador was right: you have to be careful of Van den Broeck.’

Looking back to the Dauphine, who would have thought we’d (sort of) get the Froome v Contador battle there, Talansky would win, Nibali would be so off the pace…while the former 3 are all already at home and Nibali a class apart? Not suggesting anything nefarious but, wow, the forecast was wrong (as forecasts often are).

gabriele July 19, 2014 at 9:36 am

It’s the classic history of Dauphiné… Before Team Sky novel approach in very recent years, generally you’d bettere not shine in the Dauphiné if you wanted to hope in a good Tour.

Girona July 19, 2014 at 10:32 am

Well, gabriele, we all know why the riders used to under-perform during the Daupniné. According to Hamiltons book, The Secret Race, they’d just extracted the blood to be re-infused during the Tour. It does strike you how a certain rider has had an impressive improvement in perfomance, since the Dauphiné, but let´s hope it can all be explained with high altitude training.

CK July 19, 2014 at 11:57 am

To be honest, beating Pinot and Bauke Mollema up a mountain probably isn’t going to take too much “juice” anyway. At the moment the gap is indicative of the calibre of his competition than himself, sadly for us spectators.

gabriele July 19, 2014 at 7:29 pm

Yeah, the typical “doping explains it all” solution…
It’s a pity that if you compare riders’ relative performances it doesn’t make much sense. Some Tour favourites used to underperform *slightly* (2nd to 4th or so), which is not very compatible with having half a litre or more of your blood taken away.
Even more so, given that you can take that blood away whenever you want (during winter or whenever) and store it. It’s true that *donating* blood benefits you when you’re preparing yourself for a bigger race, but altitude trainings (or tents) work better, so why bother?, especially if – for your team – it may be risky to traffic blood bags during a race. Ok, someone knew there were no risks for them, but this wasn’t true for every team and rider.

IMHO, people should be very careful considering that disclosures about doping are 1) entirely true 2) applicable to every rider, and not just to the situations of which the writer has direct experience

weeclarky July 19, 2014 at 10:01 am

Sky should have brought Wiggo!

Keejay July 19, 2014 at 11:03 am

Got to disagree there – we’re saying this as if he wouldn’t have suffered badly in the wet in the first week and his climbing is steady but not brilliant, how would he have handled all of the constant accelerations yesterday?

Anonymous July 19, 2014 at 11:42 am

Would have been interesting to see where Nieve could have ended up if he had ridden his own race yday.

ns July 19, 2014 at 12:07 pm

It would indeed. Sadly – as we all saw – that didn’t happen because it wasn’t part of any *plan* that Dr Evil had concocted / Nieve wasn’t allowed to race to his full capability. Nope, tow plan B instead. Big shame and a pretty surprising decision as it means Sky will (probably) not now finish with a rider in the top 10 (currently no one closer to Nibali than 16th).

Samuel G July 19, 2014 at 11:54 am

Please stop repeating the lie that Wiggins can’t handle wet weather, its just not true. In the Giro 2013 he had a bad cold and was injured. You can find clips online of the British national TT champs 2014 where Wiggins is hammering it for the win in cool wet conditions on undulating twisty roads.

CK July 19, 2014 at 12:00 pm

While I’m sure the British National TT course with its maximum altitude of 105m was very testing and exciting, it’s not exactly a mirror image of the wet and mountainous descents that he was repeatedly abysmal at in the Giro.

The Inner Ring July 19, 2014 at 12:03 pm

Good or bad weather, it’s more Wiggins form. He wasn’t looking too sharp in the Tour de Suisse etc.

But we can all speculate. If Froome had done this, Contador that and so on.What if Nibali had got cramp yesterday?

Foley July 19, 2014 at 6:23 pm

Wiggins was NOT going to ride with Froome, and now says he is not interested in winning another tour. There are many reasons thy the maillot jaune is so often not the most interesting story in cycling, but for fans who think it should be, losing Wiggins’ attention can’t be good.

ns July 19, 2014 at 12:10 pm

I’d suggest the one person they’re missing and who they really, really should have brought is Peter Kennaugh.

PT July 20, 2014 at 4:07 am

Agree on that.

Augie March July 19, 2014 at 11:06 am

Porte had one really off day on Stage 9 of the Tour last year and then rode strongly all the way to Paris. Obviously it’s different being leader to super domestique, but I hope he can win a stage or at least get a high finish, if only to alleviate the boredom of a third successive Tour dominated by one rider.

Anonymous July 19, 2014 at 11:29 am

Yes, one that’s already won 3 road stages, oh it’s so predictable eh. Maybe you should find another sport!

Augie March July 19, 2014 at 12:18 pm

Settle, petal, I was just saying that as a fan I enjoy seeing a vigorous contest. Watching one rider clearly a level or two above everyone else and riding away from them on stage after stage does not a great spectacle make.

The Inner Ring July 19, 2014 at 11:34 am

I think we need to look beyond Nibali. Watching the others trying to get ahead of each other yesterday meant plenty of action on the final climb.

Foley July 19, 2014 at 6:28 pm

For instance, replacing Valverde with a young Frenchman or 2 would be no small thing. Sort of like the end of a chapter even.

Scott L July 19, 2014 at 11:16 am

I got notice that I’m an addict when I read the name Chambon Dam and a tiny recollection light went off and got brighter when I saw the reference to ‘roads not to ride’. Enjoyed your musings about teams using their manpower to isolate Nibali; we will see if the can coordinate such an effort!

Anonymous July 19, 2014 at 11:26 am

If Pinot can make the final podium, and I surely hope he does, Madiot will be doing cartwheels down the Champs Eleysees!

Dave July 19, 2014 at 11:42 am
Samuel G July 19, 2014 at 11:56 am

Dear INRNG is it just a problem at my end or has the facility to follow replies to comments via email alerts been removed?

The Inner Ring July 19, 2014 at 12:01 pm

You’re right. The site had tech problems last week and one way to find out the bug was to turn off the various features. I turned everything on and off but forgot to reactivate this small one. I’ll work again now, either on this topic or subsequent ones.

george July 19, 2014 at 12:26 pm

Question:I remember being told that the henri desgrange award was for the first rider over the highest point in the tour, while the goddet award went to the rider over the highest point in the pyrenees. What happens if the highest point is in the pyrenees,like last year? Do you get both, or do they not give one out? Thanks.

tourdeutah July 19, 2014 at 9:33 pm

There is one award for the high point in the alps and onr for the high point in the Pyrnees, It was worth 5,000 euro for Purito today.

Bundle July 19, 2014 at 12:58 pm

Good wishful thinking about team offensive strategies, although perhaps Movistar are not the best team in this race to do something like that (they left most of their rouleurs in the Giro). The problem is that the 3 strongest riders so far will be happy to be 1st 2nd and 3rd in Paris…
PS: You surely meant the Romanche and not the Durance.

Tonto July 19, 2014 at 1:37 pm

Great stuff as always Inrng.
Interesting comment about “the best of the Alpes”. It seems to be accepted cycling wisdom that l’Alpe d’Huez is overrated and that if it didn’t have a fancy ski resort at the top it would not be so central to the Tour.
So, where would you like to see used for summit finishes in the Alpes instead? The Galibier finish three years ago was fantastic. As you mention, while l’Izoard looks epic, its gradient makes it otherwise. Madeleine? Joux Plane? Or are there truly epic cols that never feature because l’ASO would never send their precious race up a goat track like the Angliru?
I should probably go and read through the “Roads to ride” section :-)

The Inner Ring July 19, 2014 at 1:50 pm

Take Alpe d’Huez, the best climb there is arguably the balcony climb via Villard Reculas.

There are some climbs in the south of the Alps but the Tour finds it hard to go because to close the roads for the day is to cut off the whole region, an ambulance for example has to be able to pass.

There are whispers of a gravel road in the Alps for 2015… I’ll mention more on this soon. In fact a list of where the Tour hasn’t been but could go would be worth a separate topic.

Tonto July 19, 2014 at 7:53 pm

I’d love to read that! Thanks.

Samuel G July 19, 2014 at 8:50 pm

+1 !

Ned July 19, 2014 at 8:55 pm

+2! :)

Jerome July 19, 2014 at 2:19 pm

Porte has always had at least one off day in his grand tours, it’s just that now he is leading that its an issue, as an Aussie I knew he couldn’t make it through 3wks without a bad day and didn’t get my hopes up

othersteve July 19, 2014 at 11:46 pm

To all of you have to take a “nodoze” to keep awake during the tour given the DNF’s, abandoned leaders and Nabali on cruise control.
As has been stated by a few, stuff is still happening, this race is the literal economic stage for many neo-pros, domestics and soon to without a team to catch the eye of next years team, country, or potential paycheck. It may seem boring for the less observant or those who don’t look between the stages., but lots goin’on.

Barodeur Billy July 20, 2014 at 12:39 am

Agree. Pretty much everything besides the maillot jaune is up for grabs. The battle for the remaining two podium spots and the maillot blanc is fantastic. I really enjoyed today’s stage.

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