The Spin – Stage 14

The race heads into the Pyrenees but as with past stages this year, a visit to the mountains doesn’t always mean a decisive stage even if it includes some steep slopes. This is still a very hard day that should offer action instead of siesta.

But the final climb, as hard as it might be, is still some way from the finish. Expect big crowds on this tiny road.

  • Km 30.0 – Col du Portel (601 m)5.3 kilometre-long climb at 6.3% – category 2
  • Km 126.5 – Port de Lers (1 517 m)11.4 kilometre-long climb at 7% – category 1
  • Km 152.5 – Mur de Péguère (1 375 m)9.3 kilometre-long climb at 7.9% – category 1

The Route: the Pyrenees have distinct foothills that progress from rolling bumps to full-size mountains and today’s route doesn’t venture too close to the highest peaks, sticking to the more rounded climbs. The first col is an easy warm up, just 6% for 5km and ideal for a breakaway to cut loose from the bunch. Then there’s no real descent and the race heads west with the peaks on the horizon.

As a rule anything over 10km long and 7% gradient is highly selective… but it’s up to the riders. The Port de Lers meets the criteria of a hard climb but the riders might be thinking of the next climb instead. In fact the race passes two cols, the Caougnous and the Four, but they don’t count.

The Mur de Péguère is being used for the first time. It was on the route in 1973 but the riders refused to use it, staging a strike because the road was in a mess. In fact it’s not as scary as it sounds. The label of mur or “wall” is an invention of the Tour, it is in reality a mountain pass, a proper col and designed for cars to drive over. And if it is steep, I think the 18% label might apply brielfly on the inside of a hairpin bend because steepest parts are more ramps of 12-14% with maybe a bit more at times. Still, the last 3.5km are 12% and it’s narrow, the Tour rarely takes roads this small and steep so the atmosphere is going to be great, more so since the road has been packed with camping cars for days. If the climb is tricky, the descent is much easier.

The Finish: there’s a descent and then a loop. The race could have gone straight into Foix but arrives in town and then heads out along the Ariège valley before crossing a bridge and coming back up the other side of the valley against the direction of the river meaning a slight gradient. Into town and the final kilometre has a right hook with 400m to go.

The Race: yes the race goes to the Pyrenees but I suspect this is a day for the breakaway specialists, much in the same format as Stage 10 with the Grand Colombier and Thomas Voeckler. The final moments are easier but still, Voeckler is an obvious pick and the winner will be someone capable of surviving the tough climbs. If a big move goes early in the day, expect the climbs to thin this out.

Another scenario would see the main riders battling on the climbs and coming to the finish together for what the French call “an explanation” amongst the big names but this seems less likely. Attacking on the climbs is possible but the long run into the finish, including an “easy” descent off the Péguère means it’ll be hard to make it stick.

Weather: a cool day with sunshine and clouds and a top temperature of 20°C (68°F) which might not sound good but it’s been miserable in the last few days here. There’s a 20km/h breeze coming from the west, meaning a headwind for the early part of the stage before a tailwind for the latter part.

TV: as usual, 2.00pm start with the finish expected between 5.00-5.30pm.

Local Food: the day starts in Limoux, home of Blanquette de Limoux, a sparkling white wine that’s a budget version of champagne. The cold winters mean people need to preserve food and the confit de canard or duck leg preserved in fat is both a practical idea and a gourmet’s delight.

Do: stay in the area. The Ariège area is a scenic and peaceful place. It’s known terrible violence under the Cathares but today it’s home to hippy communes and markets selling local produce.

Don’t: …take the train. There’s a level crossing with 6km to go and let’s hope the gates don’t close when the race comes.

19 thoughts on “The Spin – Stage 14”

  1. I’ve been chomping at the bit to see Nibali launch a decisive attack and take a stage. Maybe Basso or Sagan will turn on the after-burners and launch Vincenzo up the Mur de Peguere where he drops everyone and says, “See ya!” And the long, narrow, technical descent suits his downhill attacking style…but there’s 39 km from the top of the climb to the finish.

    Am I dreaming? Maybe. But I’m waiting for a GC favorite to step up the action! JVdB and SKY will be hard to drop, ya think? We’ll also see if Tejay VG doesn’t out-ride Cadel and Froome doesn’t out-ride Wiggo…

  2. I rode Col de Peguere in the Pyrenees a decade ago. Really steep climb (12-20%) and narrow road, bad tarmac, a real killer. Correct, the climb was excluded from a stage in 1973. The riders refused to ride the climb due to “peloton fatigue”. It would be to embarrasing for the riders to get off their bikes and walk up the climb in front of the spectators along the road.


      • My French is a little rusty but is Froome essentially saying he will follow Nibali and Evans (the “best”?) if they attack even if Wiggins cannot follow? “To save the Tour for SKY”. It does sound as though he is setting things up for a bit of a rebellion but I could have inferred that from my poor translation. Any French speakers who can confirm or clarify?

          • He ‘s saying : I know I would be capable of winning this Tour, but not with Sky. We have defined the strategy around BW and everyone respects this.
            Then says : I won’t lie it is hard(difficult even), but it is my job.

            Having sacrificed the vuelta last year to protect BW (“I could have won, it’s true”) he hopes that in the long term he will be rewarded . The tour 2013? ” if there are cols then I hope Sky will be honest and that all team mates will be of service to me, With the same loyalty that I am demonstrating today.”

            Final line : ” if I sense that we could lose the Tour, if will follow the better ones, wether this is Nibali or Evans , to preserve our chances, reassure the Sky prescence”.

            All sounds very well rehearsed by the team , if you ask me, but I like his serene and cool approach.

            Tour de force from Evans today!

  3. The Tour so far has been relatively *subdued*.
    Controlled & Clinical, it needs a balls out moment, totally destroy the race to win, or lose it completely.
    Could it be that with the *careful design* of this years race route, it’s become anaesthetised …….

    • I’m not sure that’s completely true. I don’t think you can blame the route too much. People complain about the amount of time trialling kms, but the truth is, this year’s route has half the amount of time trialing distance that some of the Tours in the 1980s had.

      I think the deciding factor is often the riders themselves. The fact that Sky have the strongest team has to some degree to decided the excitement of the race. If Evans was a little stronger, then his attacks might have done more damage. Same with Nibali. Or if Froome was on another team, the race would be a lot more open. Same if Contador or an in-form Schleck was in the race. The variables are more decisive than the route itself in my mind.

      • I was thinking the same as Grupetto Denny. People are quick to blame the route or the additional time trial km but there is plenty of variety, still lots of climbing and descending and opportunities available over the 3 weeks. GC contenders are very much aware that one mistake or a risky move backfiring can kill their chances stone dead.

      • As Grupetto Denny says, surely it is the teams and riders. Liquigas and BMC just don’t seem (so far!) to haev had it in them to do any real damage. I keep waiting for them to do something beyond their leader making some inevitably dooomed (so far, again!) solo move but they don’t.

        I hope to see some cracks open on the real climbs bt otherwise the interest is disolving into following the day’s breakaways: the French victories, lemming-like Morkov’s attempt (at what exactly?) yesterday and the sprinters trying tomay the most of Sagan’s inexperience (before a period of domination?).

  4. I don’t see the point of having so many stages like this, without mountain-top finishes. They do nothing for the GC and are just stages for breakaway riders. Which is good for the breakaway riders, I suppose (FDJ and others are probably really excited about today) but it is makes for a dull GC race.

    • Because too many mountain top finishes fix the overall classification? Today offers variety and the chance for lesser riders to battle for the stage and those in 10-30th overall a chance to try something.

      • Well, with a mountain-top finish, there is always the chance that Cadel will attack and try to gain back time. With 30-odd km to race after the top, there is little chance of him spending energy. And I am not sure I agree that this sort of stage leads to more variety – the top 4-5 GC candidates are going to mark each other while a breakaway consisting of non-title threats is allowed to get away. (Of course, now that I say that, watch Evans attack at the start of the first climb itself).

        You are right, it shakes up the order lower down but let’s face it – the battle for #5-20 isn’t the reason most of us watch the race anyway.

    • Arguably they provide more interest for the home nation, who don’t have GC hopes but have done well winning from breakaways so far. Besides, I think Evans and Nibali will be obliged to put in an attack today, even if it goes nowhere ultimately.

  5. You want fireworks? Wait until Wednesday. If Wiggo manages to hang onto the coat tails of The Nibbler and Cuddles over that HC banquet I’ll eat my sweaty casquette. On more than one occasion we’ve seen where the true strength is for Sky and I suspect un jour sans is on its way for side-burn Bradley. Step forward Froome dog. Your time is now.

  6. There’s more fireworks coming from the Froome Dog’s missus, she’s Tweeting up a storm (and probably getting her man in a spot of bother too).

    What’s the difference between Peter Sagan and a jet engine? The jet engine doesn’t whine as much…

  7. amazing stage today! quite a show of force from both Sanchez and Sagan … didn’t think he’d (Sagan) make it over those cols, quite frankly …

    and the reports about tacks on the road at the top of the climb!!?? WTF!!?? is this really going to help anything? hats off to Wiggins, along with Liquigas, to neutralize that and allow Cadel to get back on … and also to shut down Rolland who took a bit of a cheap shot to steal away on the front …

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