North to Paris! The race leaves the Pyrenees behind with 200km to ride to Bergerac. This is no rest day but it doesn’t have the same strategic interest as the previous days in the mountains nor tomorrow’s time trial. A sprint seems likely but because it’s the last chance for many teams to win a stage this is the last battle.
Stage 18 Wrap
The same results but still compelling to watch. Vincenzo Nibali won the stage but behind the battle for the other podium places continued and it’s not over yet with tomorrow’s time trial. Blel Kadri and Mikkel Nieve led over the Tourmalet with Nieve looking the stronger and even slowing to keep Kadri with him, useful for the valley approach to Hautacam. But the chase was on behind with Astana taking two minutes out of the pair in the valley road.
Onto Hautacam and Chris Horner made a brief appearance with an attack, his moved tempted Nibali to follow, perhaps revenge from Spain? Nibali quickly dropped him and went solo for the stage win after passing Nieve. Rafał Majka was the next to attack the group, he needed to save his mountains jersey and did it, a strong ride and you suspect he’ll be spending winter in a windtunnel to improve his time trialling. Thibaut Pinot was the next to try and his move quickly put Alejandro Valverde out the back. But the Spaniard wasn’t panicking and paced his way up with Laurens Ten Dam, Bauke Mollema, Leopold König and Romain Bardet, each riding to defend their top-10 finish.
It leaves three riders chasing two podium places. Jean-Christophe Péraud is the best bet, an able time-triallist although often in shorter events. I think Alejandro Valverde has the edge on Thibaut Pinot but the Spaniard has been run ragged across the Pyrenees and freshness counts for so much in the final time trial.
As for Nibali’s ride, more will be said on his dominance but he’s won stages in each of the mountain ranges the race has visited and been flawless elsewhere. Not since the 1980s has a rider won four stages or worn yellow for so long. Yesterday was another demonstration and his win was put down to his team mates, they were working for him so he felt compelled to finish the job. One last detail, see his high position. He rides with the bars high and the hoods higher. But he bends his elbows tight to get a low position, it’s reminiscent of the past.
At 208.5km this is long but otherwise today’s stage takes in the kind of roads used by gastronomic tours as it pedals past vineyards and farms producing everything from walnut oil to foie gras and goats’ cheese. Plus, the race goes through Condom, bring your own jokes but it’s more famous in France for the production of Armagnac. It’s all over gentle roads that are large and for the most part well-surfaced. Recent previews have tried to list each climb and descent and break down the decisive points of the route but today’s stage just doesn’t have much.
The Côte de Monbazillac – famous for its dessert wine – is the late surprise on the route, 1.3km at 7.6% but it’s gentle at the start and tightens up towards the top. With 13km to go it’s a sharp effort but any sprinters dropped here surely weren’t going to figure in the finish because they’re cooked. For the rest it should spice up the race but it’s over so quickly. The descent is on a smaller road and if it’s straight, it’s narrow and tense for the race with 10km to go before the race drops down into the Dordogne valley and the approach to Bergerac.
The Finish: flat and with two left hand bends in the final kilometre, they’re regular and wide.
The Scenario: as usual several teams have an interest in a sprint finish so they’ll work hard to chase down any move. But today is the last day for everyone else to win a stage. In a race with 19 stages so far only eight teams out of 22 have won a stage (Astana 4; Giant-Shimano 3; Tinkoff-Saxo 3; Katusha 2; Lotto-Belisol 2; OPQS 2; Ag2R-la Mondiale 1; Belkin 1) so the pressure to flood the breakaway should be huge, the idea of two riders being left to themselves to ride away seems unlikely because 14 teams want a result. This makes it harder to control but not impossible, especially with the long wide roads.
One team that won’t be going up the road is Movistar, the Spanish team had its second car thrown off the race yesterday after J-J Rojas was caught holding on to it for an extended period of time. So with only one car in the race if they do send a rider up the road he won’t have any mechanical support, nor drinks and food.
The Contenders: I see two riders who should be fresher than the rest. First is Alexander Kristoff, already the winner of two stages there’s every reason he strikes again. But Peter Sagan could challenge him, the Slovak is assured of winning the green jersey now as long as he finishes the race and watching the way he sped through the field in the sprint in Nîmes he could well get the elusive stage win.
We saw Marcel Kittel finish the Alps tired and he should be even more broken now, perhaps still saving himself for the glamour sprint Paris so perhaps instead John Degenkolb gets his go? André Greipel could easily win too, he’s not looked dominant but in the mix of the sprint he’ll be there.
Europcar’s tactics are as perplexing as ever, sending Bryan Coquard up the road on yesterday’s stage surely couldn’t achieve anything beyond adding to the fatigue in his legs when he could have saved himself for today? Fellow Frenchman Arnaud Démare hasn’t been so visible but he’s tired and has been working hard in support of Thibaut Pinot; FDJ started with a team largely in the service of Démare but now they’re finishing in support of Pinot.
Among the other sprinters OPQS’s Matteo Trentin, Cofidis Adrien Petit and Bretagne-Séché’s Romain Feillu could be there.
As for the breakaway we should see some familiar names, those riders going in the moves in the third week tend to be those with the form to go again and again. So Martin Elmiger, Bartosz Huzarski, Jens Voigt, Jack Bauer, Sylvain Chavanel, Greg van Avermaet and so on. Michał Kwiatkowski sat up yesterday maybe he was saving himself for today?
|Alexander Kristoff, Peter Sagan|
|André Greipel, John Degenkolb|
|Marcel Kittel, Bryan Coquard|
Weather: warm and sunny with a temperature of 25°C. There’s a chance of storm later in the afternoon. The forecast for the wind varies, it’ll be a crosswind but probably below 20km/h.
TV: live from around 2.00pm Euro time with the finish forecast for 5.2opm. The Côte de Monbazillac appears around 5.00pm.