The Spin – Stage 17

If yesterday was the greatest hits of the Pyrenees, today is the experimental album. At just 143km, the stage has some tough climbing ahead of a summit finish.

  • Km 27.5 – Col de Menté (1 349m) 9.3 kilometre-long climb at 9.1% – category 1
  • Km 55.5 – Col des Ares (797 m) 6 kilometre-long climb at 5.3% – category 2
  • Km 76.0 – Côte de Burs 1.2 kilometre-long climb at 7.6% – category 3
  • Km 111.5 – Port de Bales (1 755 m) 11.7 kilometre-long climb at 7.7% – category HC
  • Km 142.5 – Peyragudes 15.4 kilometre-long climb at 5.1% – category 1

The Route: the race starts at the foot of the final climb, only instead it heads out for a loop in the mountains and takes in some tough climbing.

The Col de Menté is the first climb. It’s reappeared in the Tour in recent years after a long absence following a crash by Luis Ocaña. The Spaniard was wearing the yellow jersey and finally giving Eddy Merckx a challenge but fell during a storm and left the race. It’s not the most technical of descents but it is hard to climb with ever-changing gradients as it picks its way up through the pastures. As the first climb it will be the perfect place for a breakaway to go clear.

Onwards and the route levels out, passing the accessible Col des Ares and then some more riding across flatter terrain before the Côte de Burs, a climb and not a pass and then it’s onto the intermediate sprint and the feedzone. If the album was an LP or cassette, now we’d turn it over for Side 2.

You can click on the diagram above to see a large version. The Port de Balès is a very hard climb but has not been used very often by races because it remained unsurfaced until a few years ago. It was first used in 2007 and notable because in 2010 Andy Schleck tried to attack but made a mess of a gear change and dropped his chain, leaving Alberto Contador to ride off, creating an petty polemic. Back to the present and the climb is very hard, steep but also with ever-changing gradients. It is an anti-Wiggins climb, the yellow jersey likes his climbs with regular gradients where he can deploy a high tempo and ride to a pre-set effort: impossible today. Also note the Tour organisers have defined the start from Ferrère but the road starts rising well before, it is longer than 11.7km mentioned by the race, in fact it’s close to 20km.

Then it’s over the top, a twisty descent and then back up the Peyresourde, where they came down yesterday. There’s a brief descent and then the final climb to the finish, to the ski station of Peyragudes.

The Finish: a short and steep climb awaits with a flat finish for the last kilometre. The final climb is the final chance, a ramp of 10% then eases gradually as the finish line comes closer.

The Race: if yesterday had the profile to encourage for a breakaway and see the main contenders mark each other, today should see the big names come out to play. Whether it’s on the Port de Balès or the Peyresourde remains to be seen but these shorter stages tend to encourage more dynamic racing amongst the GC riders. That said many are now camping on the overall positions. Nibali probably knows he can’t overhaul Wiggins and Froome, Van den Broeck knows he can’t get past Nibali and so on down the overall rankings, although Rolland and Pinot might want to gain time before they lose it in Saturday’s time trial; Rolland could be team duty today to mop up mountains points to protect team mate Voeckler but he’ll want the “first Frenchman overall” label too.

So the race will depend on who goes up the road in the breakaway and whether Team Sky lead the chase/tempo and whether other teams join in to help set up the leader for the stage. So we should see the usual breakaway suspects (Casar, L-L Sanchez, Vande Velde etc) in battle with Sky and others for the chance to win. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Wiggins win today, a student of the sports history, he’d love to win a stage with his arms aloft and the flat finish suits him; but he might also let Froome off the leash as a reward too. All this presupposes Wiggins can cope with the climbing today

Finally spare a thought for the race at the back, away from the TV cameras. Today’s short stage means riders will be fighting from the start to stay with the bunch and anyone dropped today could be eliminated, a cruel fate so late in the race.

Weather: a mixed day with sunny skies and clouds, and the possibility of a few showers and some fog around the climbs. Top temperatures of 23°C (73°F) in the valleys but cooler higher up. Almost no wind.

TV: another stage that will be broadcast live from start to the finish. It starts at 1.00pm Euro time with the finish planned for an earlier slot of 4.45-5.15pm.

Local Food: Frênette is a local drink made from the leaves of ash trees, part tonic, part moonshine depending on the maker.

Do: look through the clouds at the finish. Because any rider who makes it to the top should be able to see the Eiffel Tower and Paris in the distance, all that awaits is tomorrow’s stage and a time trial and then the Champs Elysées await.

Don’t: get too down, the 2012 Tour de France is almost finished and fans used to non-stop cycling on TV, press and internet coverage know it’s got to end at some point. But the usual post-Tour blues won’t be the same as the Olympic Games await, a summer world championships.


46 thoughts on “The Spin – Stage 17”

  1. I don’t know if Wiggins can win this stage, but he won’t win it today. He is happy to keep the yellow jersey and there’s no point going for the stage glory at the risk of blowing up. Once again a breakaway will go up the road and the winner will come out of them. If they stay togethter than I fancy Froome more than Wiggins for the stage win.

    I hate to admit it but this has been a very boring Tour. Not because of Team Sky, but because of other teams who are way off Team Sky in their preparation and talent. It’s like watching Barcelona thrash their opponents in La Liga.

    • It’s more like watching a Serie A game. They score the first goal and then the rest of the match is them defending their advantage while the other team can’t get past them to try and score a goal.

    • Sky seemed to have prepared with le Tour as a focus, trained for it, developed a strategy and executed it.

      Despite Sky not looking a very good team in the first week (leaving their leader isolated a bit and particulary when compared to BMC), Sky have made a lot of the other teams look a bit a bit amateurish in their preparation.

      Liquigas yesterday was the only time we have seen another team look serious at making an attempt to compete with Sky.

  2. “Even if it is cloudy the riders who make the finish should be able to see Paris and the Eiffel Tower in the distance.”

    Is this true? It sounds unlikely.

  3. I’d love to see Nibali throw caution to the wind and just jump over the top of the first climb and go for it a la Contador. It won’t happen, because world tour points mean too much to a man leaving his team at the end of the year, and third is better than blowing up and finishing 6-7 overall, but it’d make for a great last days racing.

  4. I won’t be getting down – The Vuelta is going to be epic, especially if both Contador and Andy Schleck race it. This years Tour has been getting me down if anything, I’m a fan of Bradley Wiggins, but this year has been a borefest. To many big names either crashed out or didn’t even start the race, now by the time we got to the Pyrenees there were no real climbers left in the GC to challenge Wiggins, its all been a bit of a damp squib.

    • I agree regarding the Vuelta. If Andy is healed and Froome is recovered, it could be Alberto vs. Andy vs. Froome, and possibly the most exciting GT of the year.

  5. Have to agree with Ankush. The “boring” nature of this year’s race is completely down to the other teams (rather than their GC contenders – although they are also partly to blame for tactics/team selection). The route has been known for months by every team. Sky put their cards on the table early – the plan being to put Wiggins on top of the podium in Paris. Sky came with a game plan to make that happen and have executed it to perfrection. All of the other teams have done a great impression of having had no plan whatsoever to challenge Sky/Wiggins other than turning up and hoping for the best. The prepartaion, training and professionalism of Sky is light years ahead of the rest. Obvioulsy it massively helps if you can buy up the best talent but to challenge that requires ingenuity to identify Wiggins’ supposed weaknesses then an ability and willingness to exploit them. The most obvious is his relative lack of acceleration on steep climbs. Repeated, concerted accelerations are required to put him under pressure. Why then does BMC pack its team with big powerful guys who are amazing on the flat (where teh race is unlikley to be won or lost anyway) leaving their leader exposed on the climbs? Same goes for Liquigas who other than Basso’s brief cameo for the cameras yesterday have left Nibali to fend for himself?

    • Re BMC’s strategy re the squad around Evans i.e. Classics guys who arent that much use in the high mountains (or medium, for that matter). I’m sure there was a huge element of ‘well, it worked last year’…

      Re the buying up of talent: BMC’s budget is bigger than Sky’s but they chose to spend 10m euros of it alone on just 3 riders – Evans, Gilbert and Hushovd. Andy Rihs has more money than sense. Brailsford’s spends his budget much more sensibly – Wiggins has to stand out as best value for money at 1.5m euros – and Brailsford spends a slug on sports scientists, coaches etc. Seems to be paying off, eh?

      • Sim, thanks for the info. I’d always assumed that the only legitimate argument the other teams could have for their failure to compete with Sky was financial. If that’s not the case then it makes their efforts this year look even worse!

    • It looks simple on the paper, but repeated accelations do not only put Wiggo under pressure, it put anyone under the pressure, but it also weaken the attacker. There is nothing like making time without extra effort and extra effort makes you pay later. If you are not a level above your opponents, than constant attacking will result in losing a time at the end of the day.

      • I think only way how to beat someone on the Alpine stage nowadays is to have a slightly better w/kg output on your FTP resulting in a bigger VAM. Setting a pace on the steepest parts (where no drafting benefit is applied) according to this and see your opponents going backward. Just like yesterday Ivan Basso did.
        Sammy could challenge Sky in this way, unfortunately the rest of his team is always a bunch of lower grade racers.

    • I disagree with your comment that the ‘race is unlikely to be won or lost’ on the flat. Sure – it can’t be won on the flat, but it can (and frequently is) lost on the flat. Last year’s race might have been very different if an in-form Wiggo (amongst many others) hadn’t crashed out early. Cuddles put huge store in the help from his flat-stage team mates, and he arrived in the mountains relatively fresh and already ahead of key rivals on GC. That let him do what he needed in the mountains, and finish off the job in the ITT (and there were no good GC riders left who could ITT by that stage).
      There are numerous other examples. The Passage du Gois springs to mind – Zulle lost 6 of the 7 minutes he finished behind Armstrong that Tour on Stage 2. ..
      Here’s an extract from Cuddles’ Tour diary last year, Stage 4, showing how an innocuous (flat stage) situation could have turned into a GC disaster, but was turned around and ended with a stage win:
      “Coming into the final, some strange racing put us on back foot with 30km to go, taking a long time to get to the front after a mere ‘call to nature’. Then final making it back to the serious end of the very long group, it seems amongst the scuffle for position, someone ran into my derailleur. A bike change at 15km to go on small roads with cross winds…ouch! I was not sure I was going to see the front again. Marcus ‘Burgi’ Burghardt had other ideas, with George in the wings to finish off his great work, I was pleased and even more surprised to be able to finish the guys’ incredible teamwork in a strange and close drag race to the line…”

  6. today is the last day … if there are no attacks (and it’s doubtful this close to Paris) Wiggins will (barring accidents) be the first rider to win the Tour from Great Britain in a long and drawn out march, not race.

    not to take anything away from him or Sky, they rode great and they rode smart, Wiggins won a stage in his discipline, Froome the Lt won a stage in defensive of his Capt., Cav got one in there as well almost on his own and the team rode as a solid, well-drilled (albeit dull) unit …

    the high spots came from opportunists like Voeckler, CVdV v Fedriggo, Sagan and Greipel, etc … but it all came down to the teams of the GC contenders allowed it to slip to routine …

    sure Cadel attacked (too close to the line in most cases to make a difference), Nibali tried once or twice, and even Van den Broeck lifted the pace at odd moments, but no one made the singular (or combined effort) like Contador v Schleck up the Tourmalet, or Schleck up the Galibier, or a flier worthy of Simoni to make it a memorable Tour (and there were lots of opportunities) …

    so let’s see what transpires today, but if it goes as the past 16 stages have, we might as well fast forward to the Champs … at least there we know Sagan will try and take on everyone else for that win and THAT will be epic …

    • On the Champs I’ll not take any bets against Cav for his 4th win in a row. Wiggins has said that the team are going to lay everything down for him to win, and with him being Cav’s lead-out man, I truly dont believe Sagan will get a sniff. For me, epic would be the sight of the yellow jersey leading out the winner.

  7. To stay with your metaphor: Like many Greatest Hits albums, yesterday was much boredom and few new stuff – unfortunately. So, fingers crossed for today!
    Also: Thanks for the positive words regarding the threatening end of the Tour on Sunday. I will miss it too, but am looking forward to Olympia, Vuelta (hope here for Tour-like everyday-coverage in this very place) and the Worlds. Feeling there won’t be so much blues like in other years after all.

    Thank you so far for your daily dose –


    • The Vuelta could give us a great Contador – Andy Schleck – Froome contest, arguably the race of the year. But it seems to good to be true. Froome might say he’s too tired and Andy that he’s too depressed.

      • How fatigued Froome comes out of the Tour is the critical question. I think he and Sky management were all meeting on the last rest day to discuss. He’s got the Olympic RR on 28th and TT on 2nd Aug next, but I’d expect he’d be rested from then to the Vuelta. I’d expect that Uran would be his wingman in the mountains.

      • Last I heard ( a couple of days ago), Andy’s hip still hadn’t properly healed. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that the four weeks between now and the Vuelta won’t be long enough for him to recover and get fit enough.
        I’d love to see a Bertie/Frandy/Froome smack-down, but I fear they’ll be not-match-fit/underdone/cooked. Mind you – that could level the playing field, which is all we need for a good competition.

  8. Team Sky’s performance through this Tour reminded me, in the best sense, of Lance Armstrong and the U.S.Postal/Discovery teams: powerful riders, well matched to a leader who knew what he wanted. Armstrong innovated by gearing his and his team’s entire season towards winning the Tour. Their competitors simply did not match their preparations. Well done, Sky!

    • Yes it does, and we are about to find out how drugged to the gills that U.S. Postal team was. Hope we don’t find out the same thing about team Sky.

      • They aren’t. Like Garmin, Sky are doing it clean. I would stake my home on it. So much is linked with Team Sky – British Cycling, national lottery funding for the sport, GB Track , the entire Sky-sponsored programme of getting more Brits to ride. The ramifications of team doping would be devastating beyond belief and would extend out why beyond road cycling. I know for some this would not be any kind of guarantee against doping, but take it from me, this is a clean team.

        • Careful what you bet. “Our” guy is always clean….until he tests positive. There is a long list of riders people thought were clean.

          None of us as fans know anything for sure.

  9. Quick question regarding radios as I can’t seem to find the answer – are they still planning on removing radios from world tour races at some point?

    From what I’ve found the ban was supposed to roll out this year but they’re obviously still using radios in the tour.

  10. I tweeted this a few times. RadioShack riders ride for themselves and get criticized. Sky rides as a team and they get criticized. All of this Froome v Wiggo garbage is made up because people find it more interesting than saying Wiggo is not only doing exactly what he said he would do, but is dominating. It’s very easy to armchair it and say Froome could be in the lead, but the fact of the matter is Wiggo is leading the tour.

  11. question from a novice here – why is it that it must be wiggins who wins? does it matter to sky whether it’s wiggins or froome? seems (and has seemed for a while) that it’s fairly certain that no one else is in a position to take the top spot – shouldn’t froome be allowed to go for it? (although you could say nibali could have had a chance had froome been attacking wiggins)

    • I’d have thought that Wiggins being the rider that Sky really built their team around, who has come up through the British Cycling system, and is well known in the UK, has had a lot to to with why he’s the protected rider. When Brailsford said (in 2010?) the mission was to win the TdF in 5 years with a British rider, it was very much likely that it was Wiggins he was talking about.

      Overall, Wiggins will get way more publicity for Sky in the UK than Froome would.

      (I assume btw that you’re talking about GC.)

      • thanks, and yes, I was referring to the GC. can’t help thinking that a guy with a lot more in his legs being held back for whatever reason is a bit of a shame.

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