The Spin – Stage 11

“In Alps you are an eagle or a cretin”
Victor Hugo, Philosophie Prose

The hardest stage of the race? One of only two Alpine stages in the Tour this year, the question only arises because of the 148km distance which makes it one of the shortest stages this year. But all the better to make the race come alive as riders will have relatively fresh legs all day so whilst some will soar today others risk failure.

Even better this is another stage that will be televised from start to finish so if you’re lucky you won’t miss a pedal-stroke of the action.

  • Km 40.0 – Col de la Madeleine (2 000 m) 25.3 kilometre-long climb at 6.2% – category HC
  • Km 93.0 – Col de la Croix de Fer (2 067 m) 22.4 kilometre-long climb at 6.9% – category HC
  • Km 113.0 – Col du Mollard (1 638 m) 5.7 kilometre-long climb at 6.8% – category 2
  • Km 148.0 – La Toussuire 18 kilometre-long climb at 6.1% – category 1

The Route: there’s a short section of flat road at the start but this is likely to be ridden very fast as a breakaway tries to form. Indeed many riders will go for a warm-up before today’s stage starts so they can cope with the intense effort that is likely at the start.

As the profile shows the first climb goes up in steeps with some steep ramps from the beginning. It’s a tough climb and the irregularity of the gradient makes it awkward. The descent is a joy if you’re on a good day and the weather is nice and something that could suit a downhill attack as it gets technical in places.

The Intermediate Sprint: normally the descent of the Madeleine ends and you cross the valley and go straight up the Col de la Croix de Fer. But the organisers send the race up and down the valley to add a few more kilometres and provide a flat run ahead of the sprint. But this is the Alps and the sprint is still mildly uphill. The approach through town is fine except for a sharp right corner with 1km to go.

It’s marked Col de la Croix de Fer… but in fact the race climbs the Col du Glandon, only switching at the top to the Croix de Fer. Regardless this is another big climb and again one that goes up in steps. There’s a flat big in the middle where riders can put the chain back into the big ring before the road kicks up again. The road gets narrower towards the top with some uneven hairpins. The descent is similar with a series of switchbacks but the road straightens out later.

The Mollard is a scenic climb, better on a training camp when the only sounds are the marmottes whistling, the rasp of cows ripping grass from the lush pastures and your wheels on the tarmac. Instead we’ll get lively fans, helicopters and plenty of traffic but this is a strategic moment in the race especially because the last two kilometres ramp up and then follows a very tricky descent through woodland with shady corners and rough roads. A good descender can take a minute out of an average rider.

The Finish: the final climb to the ski station of La Touissuire is one of those Alpine roads capable of ferrying coachloads of tourists even in the middle of winter. It is a wide road with a steady gradient and for the most part a gradual climb. There’s a hairpin bend at one kilometre to go and then a sharp bend right with about 200m to go. The start is steep, meaning if a rider can pull out time here, they might be able to maintain it if the others flounder behind.

The Strategy: there are at least two separate objectives today, the stage win and the overall classification with the additional interest of two HC climbs offering beaucoup points mid-stage. For the stage win it is likely a breakaway forms on the first climb and some climbers go away for the day. The peloton behind might let them have their day, but it is conditional on the composition of the breakaway and whether hostilities break out behind.

For the overall candidates we’ll see if any of the teams in the hunt for a big place try to dynamite the race from the start. Sending riders up the road would help and we’ll see if riders like Astana’s Janez Brajkovic, Movistar’s Rui Costa or BMC Racing’s Teejay van Garderen try to go clear. If so this will force Team Sky to chase and commit precious energy early in the stage and increasing the chance that Wiggins and Froome are isolated. But I sense some caution amongst the others, few want to show their hand whilst Sky are so strong.

Later the Col du Mollard stands out as the launchpad for an attack for Cadel Evans, Jurgen Van den Broeck and Vincenzo Nibali. This trio have been the only big names willing to attack so far. Perhaps it is too obvious but they could try to accelerate over the top of the climb and then use the long descent to take time on Team Sky and hold the advantage to the finish. But the last climb is ideal for a train of Sky riders to haul back any fugitives given the relatively easier gradients, as much as the day offers big climbing the last climb is faster.

Worse we saw Nibali try a move yesterday. It didn’t work but it cost a lot of energy and perhaps some confidence. It’ll mean the Sicilian is likely to miss something today. And Evans too was sprinting for the finish, I don’t know why, except to win extra ranking points for him and his team.

Bradley Wiggins is a student of the sport’s history and I think at some point he’ll want to win a road stage outright whilst in yellow and he seems to have the form so don’t be surprised to see him going for it.

Weather: clear skies and sunny. Mild temperatures of 23°C (73°F) mean no melting tarmac but it’ll be cold at 2,000m.

TV: live and direct from Kilometre 0. Tune in at 1.00pm Euro time, an hour earlier than usual to see the whole stage live with the finish expected for 5.00-5.30pm.

Local food: not so much food but drink with génépi or Chartreuse de génépi. It’s a green alcoholic liqueur made from herbs and plants that grow high in the mountains.

Do: …watch this stage. It’s the only high altitude Alpine stage to feature in the race this year. The Pyrenees will offer plenty but this the definitive test after the Planche des Belles Filles and the Grand Colombier; and not just of climbing but descending too.

Don’t: …mention the altitude. After the stage all the teams are staying and around the ski resort of La Toussuire meaning a night spent at altitude. Generally this means riders sleep less well and don’t recover thanks to the more rarefied air. In his biography “Rough Ride”, Paul Kimmage mentions he slept fine at altitude until a team mate mentioned the phenomenon and never slept well again after.

59 thoughts on “The Spin – Stage 11”

  1. Great preview INRNG. Will this be the day Wiggins “pops” at altitude (2010?) or is he just too strong for that now. I hope so.

    TDF fever catching on here in Nottingham. MAMIL in polka dot jersey just ridden past my office window!

  2. The stage reaches the altitude where Wiggins and some others have been based in Tenerife so it should not be too much of a surprise. We’ll see, I want to see how Sky fare today, whether Porte and Rogers are able to make it to the final climb with Wiggins and Froome.

    • I don’t want to dig into doping issues, but I have read articles assuming that biologic passport controls are less strict when riders are training at high altitude (because the altitude affects some blood parameters, these parameters are, if not excluded from the test, at least “adjusted”) and much less frequent riders are training in remote places (because it becomes much more difficult to deliver the samples to a certified lab within the legal 36 hours.
      Team Sky is far from being the only team who has trained at the Teide (so have Cancellara, and many Astana riders, and many others). Others have been to the Etna, which is about the same environment. So it would be interesting to know about the difficulties in controlling riders in volcanic islands.

  3. At least us Aussies can be put out of our misery tonight. Wiggins just so strong. Cadel will either attack (unlikely), or attack and fail a la Nibali. Another podium for Cadel is best he can hope for.

  4. This is the 2012 Tour de France and [delete: anything can] nothing more will happen! I’ll probably walk the dog a few hours by the sea and then tune in with the 3 K´s to go. As non British I am really having a hard time to be a liker of Team Sky but I have to say that if this is “what we have trained for” – job done. BIG congratulation! But if the behavior of Wiggo sending arrogant “hey, you came back” eyes at Nibali, after hauling him in after yesterday stage, is the official Sky Team style – then they might be I a few more issues “we have to train for”. Pay back time.

      • Seems rather petty, tbh, although you often see pros looking at each other to gauge their level of effort on climbs without much complaint.

      • Seems rather petty, tbh, although you often see pros looking at each other to gauge their level of effort on climbs without much complaint.

        • guess Liquigazzz will no longer wait if Wiggo crashes or Team Sky are having a collective snakebite day… Classic scene with pale rider meeting Italian boy, but living in the southern part of Europe I can assure you that there is a lot of barging but very little biting, when it comes to these sort of scenes.

    • Nibali has made some spikey comments about Wiggin’s, either dismissing or doubting his abilities on 2 or 3 occasions now. Watching yesterday’s finish back, Wiggin’s looks for Nibali once, clocks him, then fully turns towards him and gives it the “still behind me” stare. Further emphasised by the body language and intonation in a post stage interview describing Nibali playing his “joker” with the downhill attack (yes as in the card but said in such a way as to have a dual, disparinging meaning i.e. implying Nibali’s a joker) and then calling the move “desperate” (a derogatory label).

      I’m a Wiggo fan and indeed have always admired the way Nibali rides too and quite frankly I’m all for this kind of entertaining nonsense – long may the playground antics provide my primitive sense of humour with low brow, light entertainment!

    • “If he wants to be a great champion,” Nibali said, “he has to have a little bit of respect for his rivals.”

      [cough] Merkx [cough] Armstrong [cough] etc etc, ad nauseum.

      Aren’t a fair proportion of “great champions” self important bullies, if not total wankers (to use a mild Wiggins phrase)?

      • Neither Nibali nor Wiggin’s seems to be doing a good job on the respect front atm! Certainly some that have the ruthlessness to get to the top naturally continue to display it once they’re there. At least (without knowing them personally and therefore taking an educated guess) the likes of Evan’s shows it’s not a pre-requisite and I don’t think that’s quite Wiggin’s either.

  5. Amazed at the opprobrium directed at Wiggins for ‘looking’ at Nibali when he had a spread in L’Equipe saying how he wasn’t impressed by Wiggins, where’s the respect there?

  6. “And Evans too was sprinting for the finish, I don’t know why, except to win extra ranking points for him and his team.”

    I have watched that finish a few times. Would I be wrong in suggesting that Wiggins looked relatively comfortable in behind Evans who was out of the saddle and throwing the kitchen sink at it?

  7. I read that yesterday that Nibali felt Wiggins disrepected him at the finish yesterday, by looking at him. Although the photos show Wiggins crossing the line, looking over his shoulder to see who is there, and Nibali being in the shot some riders back (but in his eye line). Doesn’t seem anything malicous, but Nibali is saying it was very disrepectful.

    Is Nibali trying to play mind games (like football managers do) to try and unsettle Wiggins and turn other riders against him?

  8. Great post as usual Inrng. I hope BMC does better than yesterday but they don’t have the firepower of Team Sky. TJ is not very good in the high mountains, he struggled yesterday and I think he’ll let down Cadel today as well. As far as I can see, Sky will dominate with their tempo riding. If you want to break them, break them on the first climb.

    It’s good that the stage is televised from KM 0, we will catch all the action.

  9. I disagree with the fact of Rui Costa trying to go clear. He’s now the “leader” of Movistar and he’s solely focus on fighting for his GC position.

  10. Evans and Nibali have never been the attacking / explosive riders on climbs.. I do not understand why people are expecting attacks from them.

    If Nibali has the legs a good strategy would be to send a teammate in the break, have Basso and Smyd do a very high tempo ride on the Gladon and he attacks on the descent, the teammate helps on the Mollard to maintain the gap from the descent and attacks again on the descent..

    As for Evans although I really enjoyed his win last year he is in fact a defensive rider, who does not really attack to long climbs (I have no recollection of him doing so… if anyone can..), his best shot would be to follow Nibali (if the above sticks) and then try to outpace him on the last climb..

    My expectations for attacks are with riders like Frank (although it seems he is dreaming of his brother), VDV and Rolland..

    If I was Wiggins / SKY I would give full gas today on the climbs and go for the win, as I remember a few years back the commentary on LA.. “if you win in the time trials and win in the mountains, there is nothing else left”!!

  11. At last someone has said it’s the Col du Glandon that they are climbing, the climb of the Col de la Croix de Fer is normally from St Jean de Maurienne to the top. Been shouting at the tv every time they mention it.

    Note the football pitch about 3km from the top of the glandon, looks so out of place.

    I climbed the Col de la Croix de Fer the day it snowed on the Galibier a few days before the tour went over last year. It was nice and sunny when i started but got when i got to the top it was like winter, only had arm warmers and wind stopper. Ended up wraping arm warmers around my hands so they didn’t freeze on the descent down the glandon. At least wiggins has his sideburns for warmth.

  12. Great post. I did this ride on Sunday (the Etape) and really hadn’t realised – until I did it – how relentless a stage it is. As you say in the post, the only flat is at the beginning and even on the Etape everyone was just a bit overexcited to enjoy this!

    It occurred to me (while coughing up my lungs) that an attack really does stand a good chance because from each descent they are straight back into a climb. I know what you say about Sky on the last climb but it’s very exposed on that climb to La Toussuire. If it’s hot maybe they won’t have the energy to keep the train going…?

    I think we’ll have some fireworks!

  13. He ‘disrespected me’, he ‘looked at him’, they didn’t wait!. It’s a race and that’s it. Nibalis attack failed and so Wiggins just looks at him – so what! When did they all start getting soft. Riders like Hinault, Merckx etc justed mtfu’d and if they got dropped/needled (no pun intended) then they got on their bike the next day and dished out the pain. LeMond/Fignon was a classic for that and what about LeMond/Hinault?

  14. Yesterday was a catastrophy. Unless you are a diehard Wiggins fan (and still), the Grand Colombier climb was the epitome of anti-cycling, boring and frustrating. Can anyone explain why everyone accepted to climb at Team Sky’s turtle pace (Voeckler’s group was going faster at moments).
    – Van den Broeck provided the only attempts. But why didn’t he use Vanendert to eliminate Porte and Rogers before attacking? Why didn’t he persevere in his first attack, setting a good rhythm for at least a couple K?
    – Nibali: if he had gotten only 10 seconds atop the Grand Colombier, he would have made it to the top of the Richemond. He’s got a good team: why didn’t he employ at least Basso to decimate Team Sky?
    – Evans: with teammates ahead, what on earth was he thinking of???? It was obvious that Nibali was going to leave the rest behind in the descent! And why couldn’t he follow-up on VdB’s acceleration.

    Explanations, please. Today. And on the road, if possible. If today’s stage looks a little like yesterday, anyone perceived to be enjoying it will be politely invited to become a follower of action-packed chess instead of denaturing cycling.

    • Basso and another Liquigas rider in today’s monster breakaway, got to be in readiness for a second push from Nibali.

    • Cuddles’ comments on his site: “I hope these climbs that are so far from the finish don’t lead to a controlled and predictable Tour… I might have missed an opportunity with Nibali today on the descent of Grand Colombier, but with the open and exposed Col du Richmont – it was more favourable to the controlling team than one or two out in front alone.”
      And as we saw with a pre-meditated attack on the following stage, I’d guess he was keeping his powder dry.

  15. @Bundle…but stage racing is often a bit boring. It’s a slug fest and the TT’s always count. They can’t just do a Boonen in the classics and leave it all on the road. They’d lose half an hour the following day.

    It is chess…on wheels

  16. Would Sky be prepared to send Froome down the road today? That would give BMC and Liquigas an interesting choice about whether to chase him down and isolate Evans and Nibali around Wiggins, or gamble on letting him go and potentially getting closer to / into Yellow.

    Or let Evans and Nibali chase him down and risk them blowing up. That would be an interesting and aggressive move by Sky which I’d love to see.

  17. Is this stage harder than the Aubisque/Tourmalet/Aspin/Peyresourde stage? the latter has more kms (about 200!) and I thought also more elevation to climb.

  18. Hey, why is RSNT not wearing yellow helmets??

    (It’s just a rumor but I heard Pat McQuaid said: “Yellow helmets!? WTF !? Who decided that??? Let them do want they want!” )

    • David Harmon on Eurosport mentioned something about the teams opting in or out in terms of wearing them; most of the teams opted in, but RadioShack were one of the few who didn’t.

      • It’s strange that they would opt out. They’re one of the few teams that seem to care about team clasification. The rest are busy using up riders for GC and stages.

        • Adrian:

          Exactly – they opted out precisely because they knew they may have a chance of donning those ridiculous looking lids.

        • It might just boil down to the logistics of their helmet sponsor providing the necessary number of yellow lids. It does beg the question as to how many yellow lids are sitting in the team buses un-used….and also how many teams said “yeah, yeh, fantastic idea”, but did not bother getting yellow helmets made up. If you were the manager of, say, Argos-Shimano, would you honestly bother?

  19. Is it just me or does anyone else get the impression that phil liggett is NOT a fan of Wiggins or indeed Sky,he never seems to give him the credit he deserves and yet if Evans tries any kind of move (which have all failed so far) Leggitt is out of his seat proclaiming Evans as some kind of god. Wiggins should be the one lauded and Evans criticised, not the other way around,Evans is looking desperate with these attacks and Wiggings just stays cool and steadily pulls Evans back, Class.

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