Tour de France Stage 11 Preview

A stage to reshape the overall classification. If the 2013 Tour is all about the mountains, today is the exception with a flat course that’s exposed to the wind, a route to scare the climbers.

But it’s short and the time gaps should be deliberately small in order to preserve the suspense of the race. Tony Martin is everyone’s pick to win the race but the suspense comes in seeing how the overall classification changes.

Stage 10 Review

A foreigner would be forgiven for thinking Mark Cavendish had won the stage yesterday given all the chatter. Whether in English on Twitter or in French radio phone-ins, the subject was Mark Cavendish… and the crash.

The rules of sprinting are not prescriptive except you should not deviate from your line. Foul play in a sprint is like an elephant: there’s no point trying to define it, instead you just know it when you see it.

The crash was a shame, not just for Tom Veelers leaving some skin on the road but the polemic crowded out the fact that we got a sprint royale between Mark Cavendish, André Greipel, Peter Sagan and Marcel Kittel. But aside from the crash it wasn’t the perfect contest, Cavendish’s sprint train dropped him off one stop too early and Greipel seemed to wish the finish line had come earlier, caught by his bike rattling on the cobbles.

The bigger point is the issue of rider from a sprint train dropping back after placing their man. When a rocket is fired into space the booster rockets fall back to earth on a pre-planned trajectory, often with parachutes. In a cycling sprint the booster rider is left falling backwards through the bunch with no clear route. We’re saw problems when Matteo Trentin eased up in the finish of Stage 5 and provoked a crash. It’s accidental although you wonder if the act of sitting up could be used to thwart other riders, not in an excessively negative way but a block nonetheless?

Also note that Kittel’s stage wins matter a lot for the team. Yes there’s the publicity but the squad needs ranking points to stay in the top division. The points are skewed towards the GC positions rather than stage wins, a team needs multiple stage wins to match a top-10 overall place so Kittel’s success rate is vital to keeping the team in the World Tour.

Stage 11 Route
A downhill start from Avranches makes for an usual start. It’s not Alpine schuss but all the same it means pushing a very big gear at high speed all whilst negotiating the roads out of town. It’s the same for the rest of the stage, push a big gear at high speed, even the uphill sections should be taken at high speed. The first part is technical in places but still suits the big riders.

Exposed roads. Note the Mont St Michel in the distance to the right

The roads are often totally exposed especially in the second half. The image above should give you an idea and it’s even more open on the final section where the race runs up the causeway to Mont St Michel and then turns around to run back to the finish line.

The Scenario
Tony Martin is the obvious pick to win the day. He’s so dominant in time trials that even with injuries he’s expected to win. Plus he seems happier in the time trial tuck than on his normal road bike.

Who else to win the stage? I think it could be more a question of who will finish second. There are several specialists. Starting with OPQS Sylvain Chavanel is strong. Michał Kwiatkowski can take pole position in the white jersey competition at Nairo Quintana’s expense too. Orica-Greenedge have Svein Tuft, another rider capable of pushing a big gear; team mate Cameron Meyer seems to have erratic form. Movistar’s Jonathan Castroviejo is the new Spanish time trial champion and had been a specialist over short distances but impressed with fourth place in the Dauphiné time trial. Other outsiders could include Lieuwe Westra but he spent yesterday in a breakaway.

Moving to the GC riders and Chris Froome is the easy choice. He was ahead of the others in the Dauphiné, only Tony Martin beat him. So it should be a question of how much he can extend his lead in the race. Richie Porte will be worth watching, can he take back time… or is something up with the Sky team, an illness perhaps? In the Dauphiné Edvald Boasson Hagen did a good ride too.

Saxo-Tinkoff’s Roman Kreuziger and Mick Rogers could be there but Alberto Contador will be the most interesting to watch. Struck by allergies in the Dauphiné, we’ll see how he’s doing in the Tour. Another team performance to watch is BMC Racing, normally Cadel Evans and Tejay van Garderen could make the top-10 with ease but they’re not having an easy time.

Belkin have Bauke Mollema in third place. What can he do? Scanning past results he’s not a consistent performer but has been able to pull out a result when required. I think he’d settle for top-20 and can hope to save his third place overall but Kreuziger will look to pick him off.

The route will leave smaller riders floundering like fish out of water although the little guys get their revenge in a week’s time. Remember half the field will not be racing hard, it’s a day off and the aim is to complete the course in a respectable time and therefore save energy. But this still means a solid effort, don’t get ideas of riders coasting along.

Weather: a breeze coming from the north-east means a tailwind for some of the course, a bonus for the smaller riders who will be able to get the course over and done with faster. Mild temperatures and sunshine.

TV: live from 2.20pm Euro time. Time trials never make for good TV although this is often a failure of creative production techniques, we get to see a man pedalling a bicycle rather than the relative story of who is riding fast and who is going slow.

Riders go in reverse order of the general classification with last man Chris Froome expected to arrive around 5.30pm. Watch the last hour to see how the GC guys perform relative to each other.

Mont St Michel: one of France’s most popular tourist destinations, this is a tiny island off the coast connected by a tidal causeway. Originally a monastery, the religious aspect remains but is overwhelmed by commerce with shops selling tourist souvenirs. The Tour is no stranger to the place as it visited for a sprint won by Johan Museeuw, his first success before going on to claim several classics. The Belgian was part of the Lotto team which is still going today of course.

52 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 11 Preview”

    • On that note, would Sky ask Porte to hold back a little in the TT with a view to saving energy to help Froome? Considering he’s in 33rd place is it worth chasing GC? He has said he wants a good TT for his morale.

      • It’s possible but he might go all out too to set the pace for Froome. Porte is well down on GC but if he can time trial and climb as well as the Dauphiné then he can haul himself back up the standings and today is the day to put minutes into the climbers.

        • What does he actually have to gain from moving up in the standings? He’s nowhere near the top 10 now. I don’t see much benefit to him killing himself in the TT, but it may be advisable for him to put some effort in to try and recover form from his struggles on Sunday.

          • Quoted from Richie Porte interview on

            “I’d like to have a go at it still. I’ve done a lot of work on my position so I need to have a good hit out and also for the morale a bit. I did a time trial the other day behind the peloton, but I’d like to have another go tomorrow.”

            “I’m not really sure of the course. There looks like there might be some wind and that might change a bit and for Chris. It might be good for someone to have a go at it and post some good time markers as well.”

  1. Thanks @inrng. Great preview, as always, although I think you meant to refer to Kittel rather than Cavendish twice.

    The fact that we now have 3 or 4 teams trying “sprint trains” instead of just Highroad in the past means that the number of lead-out men dropping backwards through the chaos is only increasing. It’s certainly hard to regulate against them impeding the sprinters coming forward, whether they intend to or not.

    I agree with your predictions. I’m interested to see how some team dynamics play out:

    1) Watching Quintana after his terrific TT performance earlier in the year (can’t recall where, Basque?) , I reckon he might come out ahead of his team leader.

    2) This is Kreuziger’s big opportunity to get on the podium. If he does it, it will be easier for him to say he shouldn’t wait for Contador if the latter has another bad day in the mountains: it was obvious in the Pyrenees who was strongest of the two.

    One other guy who seems to be motoring well is David Millar – top 5 I’d think.

    • I agree with the possibility of Quintana beating Valverde and Kreuziger the same with Contador. Amador could be an outsider having had impressive performances in Tirreno and Suisse.

    • Quintana was good in the Tour of the Basque Country but that was a hilly course, today has big wide roads that are blasted by the wind. He’s not the stereotype Colombian climber but I suspect he will still lose time today.

  2. A great preview again. As for the cavendish-veelers Saga. Cav should never have been in the wheel of a lead-out man of another sprinter. The problem started there. We will never know, but if it was cav who was elbowed to the ground the jury might have concluded differently.

    • Extrapolating to the ridiculous, if there were 22 sprint trains all competing for the space, would it be wise to compete? At what point do the teams say “no more”. It seems from the evidence of yesterday that Cannondale may have already decided that approach. Whilst that may well be because their man already has the green jersey in the pocket of last year’s, I can imagine others will look at that approach and identify that a new paradigm may be what’s needed.

      • The more teams then the more the speed goes up and only the biggest teams can survive. I suppose 22 sprint trains of equal talent and form would be a recipe for disaster but for now only a few teams have sprint trains and they’re so fast that they’re out-riding the others, leaving little chance to the sprinters without a train. I find the science and art of this fascinating to watch, if there was a way to watch the last 3km in slow-mo it would be great.

    • I agree the lead out went wrong, Steegmans took him up but Cavendish was dropped off in the wrong place. Easier said than done through as the pace was so high.

      Who does what in the sprint is interesting. For example if Nacer Bouhanni had been in Cavendish’s place I’d like to have seen the reaction in the media.

    • If Veelers was the leadout man what was he doing at third wheel ?

      Perhaps trying out the theory that a rider in front gets some drafting benefit as well ? It does seem odd to have your leadout man behind you.

      Or was he there to block Cav and stop him getting on the sprinters’ wheels ?

      It’s one thing to have leadout men peeling off and going to the side, it’s quite another to have someone bailing out from the middle of the sprint.

      • Don’t know if that’s why he was there in the first place (you have to wonder…), but that’s exactly what he was doing just prior to the crash. Blocking Cav, I mean. He looked, moved right; threw the bike right, too. He wasn’t prepared for the force Cav hit him with, though.

          • Nonsens

            Cav should never have been in the wheel of Veelers at all and should never have past him on the right side of the road.

            The road was bending to the left. Veelers looked where his own sprinter was (left and behind Cav) and left a space open for Kittel and the other sprinters to his left (so he would not block them). Cav made a fault by passing Veelers on his right (seconds before he was on the left of Veelers), while the road bent to the left. Cav must have felt he made the wrong decision and thus tried his best to get in the wheel of Greipel. Unfortunalety he was too far to the right. Therefore he crossed the same line as Veelers. These are not my words, but the view of eddy Planckaert and Sven Nys.

            I am not saying Cav did it on purpose. He was just at fault.

            Anyway, now it’s time for the TTT

  3. I dream of a brighter future in which the leader of a time trial is superimposed as a “ghost” over footage of the other racers, like video racing games from the 90s…

    • Wouldn’t that be a little tacky? I’d simply prefer them to give us some live time splits, using GPS co-ords or something. Can’t be that hard to do in this technologicial age, surely?

      • It would be tricky, purely because there are no fixed camera positions. In motor racing and the like you have fixed camera positions along a much shorter course. In cycling you have bike mounted cameras and helicopters covering a much longer course. The best option may be to have a single fixed position along a long straight road that you can use to give an ‘example’ of relative position.

        There’s a lot more that can be done with cycling coverage, on bike camera would be a start, I’d love to see a sprint finish from the view point of Cav’s handlebars. Full GPS coverage would be good too, having every bike hooked up and for the TV companies to be able to use this information to give accurate pictures of the race rather than having to rely on a couple of camera biks.

        There’s a lot of potential but unfortunately I think it might need to wait for someone to come in and challenge Eurosport before this happens.

        • If the riders have GPS-tags they could project a simple dot or line, similar to what they do at the Olympics when swimmers are close to a world record.

    • World Rally coverage used to have a cut-away scene that showed relative progressions of the leaders along a stage.
      I can’t remember if it was animation or real footage that they used, but it gave an easy comparison that might be useful to a TT cycle race. Maybe the technology is still out there.

  4. Let’s not forget Froome came second only to Bradley Wiggins in the two TTs last year, as well as bronze medal in the Olympic TT. This is an opportunity for him to put time into rivals, not for gaps to be closed.

    Obviously Tony Martin will probably take stage victory, but this is a more important stage for the GC contenders than I think people realise.

  5. Great review as always. On the Cav incident when you see the replay you cannot help but wonder is there a bit of ‘sportsmanship’ going on with one guy going left (following the road) and other (dropping off )going right when all he has to do is hold his line whilst slowing down.

  6. It’s hard not to deviate from one’s line when there is a sharp bend a few hundred metres from the finish line; amid all the heat and noise surrounding Cavendish the organisers don’t seem to have got much stick for designing such a potentially dangerous finish.

    And has Tom Veelers, the press or the twitterati suggested why Cavendish wanted to take Veelers out – he was no threat in the sprint and the collision seems to have ended any chance Cav had of winning.

    • Good point. I think Cavendish briefly spouted out about the kink in the road during the press scrabble outside his team bus – and I don’t understand the logic of having that corner near the finish yesterday either. There was plenty enough straight road before it to have simply brought the finish forward a little. I guess you don’t want every sprint finish to be a dead straight run for several kms at the end of a stage, but it’s asking for trouble having a bend on the finish.

    • I reckon Cav got frustrasted with being subtly blocked by the lead out man drifting back, as Inrng mentioned.
      This is a link to the stage 6 finish which Greipel won – at 7:34 Cav has to go around Greipel’s lead out man who started coasting.
      So I think yesterday he felt that happening again, and in frustration made contact with Veelers.

  7. Froome can indeed win this TT. The wind is going to be basically favourable, which benefits un-aero guys like him. But favourable wind will also mean smaller gaps in the end, pocket climbers will not sleep too bad tonight.

  8. The whole Cavendish thing was nonsense: the idea that he’d bring someone down deliberately and risk taking himself out at 65kph is nuts.

    It looked to me like Veelers checked behind him and moved right to impede Cav as he kicked to come past him. The whole plan of “leadout men dropping back through the field in a less than sporting fashion” is one of the oldest tricks in the sprinting handbook (Trentin was arguably guilty of this in stage 5, as inrng points out), but maybe it’s time for the commisaires to put a lid on it?

    With three sprint trains going for it, combined with GC riders and helpers trying to stay near the front, it’s no surprise that there have been so many pile ups.

  9. On the sprint – I thought it was obvious from the footage that veelers looked over his right shoulder just as he dropped off Kittel. He then veered ever so slightly into Cav’s line, not enough to block him just enough to make him go round. There needs to be a better rule as to what the trains do when slowing down (all have to to a certain direction, left or right?) but given the cheeky look over the shoulder I thought veelers should’ve been treated more harshly. Nevertheless Cav may have been too far back in any case, but the block did stop his kick I think.

    As for today – small time gaps expected? Not too far, and hopefully so as I’d like to see them pretty close before the alps. Froome will surely extend his lead a little however.

  10. BTW the prize for the most stupid question of the Tour, possibly of all time, goes to the guy interviewing Kittel after the stage.

    There were only two people in front of the crash who couldn’t see it, Kittel and Greipel, so the first thing he asked him was to describe what had happened. D’oh.

    • Kittel was behind Cavendish, so actually he had a chance to see what happened.

      the order at that moment was Hendo, Griepel, Veelers, Cavendish, Kittel

      • Kittel was to the left of Veelers I think, and was just moving past him as he started to tumble. It’s conceivable that he didn’t see what happened. Not really sure it is the stupidest question of all time, the reporter may not necessarily know if he saw it or not.

  11. No mention of Evans for today’s TT I expect him to be up there. Agree with some above re yesterdays sprint. When Cav lost Steegmens wheel it was all over for him.

  12. That’s the umptheenth time OPQS’s sprint train failed. The combnation Steegmans – Cavendish seem to lack chemistry to me. If I were Cav I would order Lefevre to buy Renshaw back.

    Will Tony Martin start during the live coverage? It would be a bit weird if the winner had already finished when the live coverage starts.

  13. Not trying to blame Veelers or Cavendish but if you are heading towards a left corner shouldn’t Cavendish be on Veelers left in the first place? What happened after was because Cavendish was on the wrong side of Veelers. If it was Veelers who didn’t hold his line or Cavendish coming to quickly to the left is another discussion but I was surprised to see that Cavendish was on the wrong side in the first place, especially since when he was dropped off by Steegmans he was on the correct side.

  14. I tend to agree that there was some ‘gamesmanship’ as someone put it above on both parts, Veelers attempting to give his sprinter every edge and Cav trying to give him a bit of a nudge to say ‘get out of the way’. I don’t think he intended to bring him down at all, that is against what he is as a racer and a person I believe, but there did seem intent to show him for next time.

    Aside from that, today is Martin’s stage, plain and simple – as sure a bet as Cav for the Champs Elysee! Froome will finish second, the real battle is for 3rd.. I see Kwiatkowski just taking it in his pursuit of the white jersey. Castroviejo, Millar, Van Garderen (depending on whether he has recovered sufficiently) and Chavanel could also post good times. But none within a minute of Martin!

  15. wow, I missed all that.

    But reviewing it I must say, from the front camera it really looks like Veelers blocked Cav and he took him out in return. Henderson half blocking things doesn’t really help either to clarify things.

    But the top view in my opinion shows it better. Veelers does indeed look after look afterwards to his left to see Kittel take off and eases off. Then the tragedy happens, when he takes up his head again he takes a little swing to the right. To me it looks like he lost his balance on the cobbles and that was to regain it. Unfortunately Cav is caught up on the wrong site of the action and tries to elbow his way through. Now not saying Cav did anything wrong, such things seem to be normal in the sprints but on the cobbles and with Veelers having just regained his balance, this resulted in a crash. I’d guess on tarmac all would have stood upright.

    @Richard: exactly

  16. I like Cavendish as a rider generally but from what I saw it was his fault and he was lucky to escape a penalty. Cav swerved into Veelers, no question. He was annoyed with his position, knew he wasnt going to win and spat the dummy. If the positions were reversed there would have been a completely different reaction from the commissars and there would have been (another) thermonuclear explosion in the QSOP bus.
    See how Goss was treated in the incident with Sagan last year -after which he’s never been the same in my view. One rule for some and another rule for others.

  17. Smashing win for Kittel. The unpredictability of the bunch sprint results has been a great feature of what is looking to be a really good tour. The problems of the OPQS train aren’t that surprising if you recall the rather panicked attempt to sign Petacchi before the Giro. They certainly seem to be lacking an organizing voice on the road. It was telling to see Greg Henderson berating Greipel for poor positioning after failing to win stage 5.

    The Veelers incident looked pretty damning for both parties! Veelers looked to be blocking and Cav appeared to look for the contact. However, imo, poring over slow motion replays in sport often lead to interpretations of intent and conscious decisions that there simply weren’t time for in reality…

  18. Is it too late to predict that Froome destroys all GC contenders and nearly takes the stage, and becomes the latest guy who is one of the world’s best TT riders in addition to being the world’s best climber?
    And apparently, he’s the first rider with this accomplishment that is clean…..except for Wiggins last year, of course.

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