The shortest road stage of the Tour and possibly the best thanks to the repetition of Pyrenean passes before a famous summit finish. It’s live on TV from start to finish.
Stage 16 Wrap
The early breakaway went away and came back like a boomerang. 12 riders were clear but Garmin-Sharp missed the move. Given it was one of the last chances for a breakaway to stay away and possibly the last chance, riders and whole teams were under orders to place someone in the move. Once the break was brought back it went clear again, or at least many of the same riders went away accompanied by more to make a group of 21 riders this time with a Garmin-Sharp rider, Tom Jelte Slagter. Not that it mattered, Slagter’s a punchy rider but not for the long climbs. The move of 21 riders took more time than any other breakaway had been allowed so far in the race. The Port de Balès reduced 21 to 3: José Serpa, Michael Rogers, Thomas Voeckler led over the Port de Balès with Vasil Kiryienka and Cyril Gautier 20 seconds behind.
Europcar played the numbers game on the descent with Gautier getting away. But if you’re alone in a break against a team with two riders what do you do? You need to end the numerical superiority and the best way to do this is to wait for one of them to attack and then jump clear when you can. Rogers did exactly this, chasing down Gautier and passing him just before a small rise during the descent. The slope was enough to condemn Gautier’s chase efforts as Rogers had the momentum and got a gap big enough to exclude Gautier from his slipstream. If Rogers won with a late move he was dressed for success, wearing a skinsuit for the longest stage of the race. Many seemed delighted by Roger’s win but with such a past (I stress past) it’s hard for this blogger to get all that excited but that’s my problem, not yours.
While Rogers was winning the future of the sport was still racing down a mountain. Separate from the stage win we had second race with the GC candidates. Movistar upped the pace on the Port de Balès and several Astana riders fell out, a now customary scene. In time Tejay van Garderen cracked and it wasn’t a slight difference in speed, he was dropped like a sack falling off the back of a truck. The next big name to pop was Romain Bardet, this time less dramatically but enough to lose time. Both riders see their chances of a podium place evaporate but in this topsy-turvy Tour of surprises never say never.
Ag2r’s leadership question is settled and Jean-Christophe Péraud might still have an eye on the podium too. Movistar’s acceleration helped Alejandro Valverde but worked out perfectly for Pinot and Péraud as it distanced their rivals. Pinot took things into his own hands with a series of attacks that dropped everyone including Vincenzo Nibali for a moment although arguably the Sicilian just let him take a few metres knowing the descent would let him come back. Pinot rode a fine descent and helped by fine team work put more time into Bardet and van Garderen.
- Km 57.5 – Col du Portillon (1 292 m), 8.3 kilometre-long climb at 7.1% – category 1
- Km 82.0 – Col de Peyresourde (1 569 m), 13.2 kilometre-long climb at 7% – category 1
- Km 102.5 – Col de Val Louron-Azet (1 580 m), 7.4 kilometre-long climb at 8.3% – category 1
- Km 124.5 – Montée de Saint-Lary Pla d’Adet (1 680 m), 10.2 kilometre-long climb at 8.3% – category H
The start in St. Gaudens is right next to the foothills of the Pyrenees and the race heads straight up the Garonne valley and into Spain to continue up the Garonna valley. It’s here that the Col du Portillon starts.
The Portillon’s Spanish side is a regular road with a series of hairpins and a steeper middle section, short and not too sharp. It should not do too much damage by itself but it adds to the day’s vertical gain. The descent is steep to start with before a gentle middle section and then another steep drop into Luchon.
Like much of the Pyrenees, you drop down into the valley, cross a river, and climb straight up the other side. Next comes the Col de Peyresourde and the riders start by climbing the road they took in the final minutes of yesterday’s stage. It’s a long and steady climb on a very wide road – two buses can pass each other – and lifts itself up over the valley wall with a few hairpin bends. Nothing strategic here but it’s another draining climb. The descent’s shorter and has few bends.
After crossing the valley and circling the lake at Loudienvielle it’s uphill for the Col de Val Louron-Azet an unheralded jewel of a climb. It’s got a tight series of hairpin bends that allow the road to quickly climb up above the valley. It’s steep too especially at the start. Further up the slope eases but the roads gets more narrow. The descent has two sections with hairpins and straight into St Lary Soulan.
The Finish: “just” 10km but steep right from the start especially in the series of hairpins after three kilometres. It’s irregular all the way. The gradient eases when they come into the Pla d’Adet ski resort but if the green gradient above suggests the slope eases it’s still uphill to the line.
The Scenario: normally the GC teams will be keen to set a fast pace to control the race but will Astana want to do this? They led for much of yesterday’s stage only to get blown away later. I can’t see Astana supporting Nibali all the way to the finish so they might prefer to back off for the first part of today’s stage. This might give a breakaway a better chance to stay away.
The trouble for a breakaway is that as fast as they can go, they’ve got teams and riders who can go faster. So for the move to survive it needs some good climbers. This is no stage for a rouleur because as soon as one climb is done there’s a descent and it’s straight up the next climb.
The Contenders: Thibaut Pinot’s attacks on the Port de Balès briefly saw him distance Nibali and prior to this he’d shaken everyone else of his wheel including Alejandro Valverde. If he can repeat again the final climb then he’s a prime candidate for the stage win. Especially as he’ll look to exploit any weakness in Valverde and Jean-Christophe Péraud. Vincenzo Nibali though has been the most consistent uphill and voraciously so, he might want to add a win in the Pyrenees for the fun of it.
Leopold König is now a GC candidate and won’t get much room for manoeuvre so he too will have to try and match the GC riders and then clip away in the finish. Maybe Pierre Rolland could do the same but the Frenchman is starting to look stale.
Rafał Majka has a decision to make: go in the breakaway or hang with the GC riders? He’s got the ability to win in both scenarios but I think he’ll try the breakaway as this helps his bid for the polka dot jersey, he can rack up more points during the stage. Another breakaway candidate is Sky’s Mikel Nieve and the same for Joaquim Rodriguez although “Purito” isn’t quite so convincing. Alessandro de Marchi’s bound to try but the Italian’s probably not got the zing needed for such a short stage.
|Thibaut Pinot, Vincenzo Nibali|
|Leopold König, Rafał Majka|
Weather: sunshine and clouds with a top temperature of 24°C.
TV: live from start to finish. KM0 is at 1.45 Euro time with the finish planned for 5.25pm. If you can’t watch it all, the penultimate climb from Loudenvielle starts around 4.30pm.