Tour de France Stage 18 Preview

The first of the trinity of Alpine road stages sees the race climb Alpe d’Huez twice with the feared descent of the Col de Sarenne in between.

Shown live from start to finish this is a crucial day in the race and after weeks of sunshine, storms and fog are forecast for the finish.

Stage 17 Review

A narrow win for Chris Froome . We knew he was the best climber and the best TT rider but combine the two and Alberto Contador was within nine seconds. We saw Joaquim Rodriguez, Roman Kreuziger and Alejandro Valverde all within 30 seconds. Froome swapped bikes to take a TT machine for the descent, complete with a bigger chainring. Did this give him the advantage to beat Contador?

The Belkin boys are in trouble. Bauke Mollema’s second place is now a fond memory. Can he hang on to his position? Overall the results show a cluster of riders with similar times which bodes well for the days to come for neutrals wanting to see a contest all the way to the Semnoz on Stage 20.

Jean-Christophe Péraud broke his collarbone and then broke the hearts of many in France. He fell riding in the morning and got a hairline fracture to his collarbone. With strapping and padding he started the stage and was doing a decent ride until he crashed on a bend with two kilometres to go, slipping on some paint and landing hard on his collarbone. He abandoned on the spot, surrendering his top-10 position. If this wasn’t bad enough, his family were standing on the very same corner and his wife could only climb the barriers to console him.

Stage 18 Preview

  • Km 13.0 – Col de Manse 6.6km at 6.2% – category 2
  • Km 45.0 – Rampe du Motty 2.4km at 8% – category 3
  • Km 95.0 – Col d’Ornon (1 371 m) 5.1km at 6.7% – category 2
  • Km 122.5 – Alpe d’Huez 1 12.3km at 8.4% – category H
  • Km 131.5 – Col de Sarenne 3km at 7.8% – category 2
  • Km 172.5 – Alpe d’Huez 2 13.8km at 8.1% – category H

The Route
Some are calling this the Queen Stage but tomorrow is harder, although it doesn’t have a summit finish. The day is reasonable short, it promises fast action. We start with a climb and then the race crosses the Valbonnais, the heart of the French Alps. The first 75km are steady compared to what is to come, a chance for an early breakaway to ride away and establish a lead.

The Col d’Ornon is an easy climb on a wide road with some big hairpin bends, enough to eat up some energy but it won’t trouble the riders on the way up. But the descent is different, it has a wilder feel with some steep sections; nothing scary just one of those cols that’s different on each side.

A short flat section and the race climbs Alpe d’Huez for the first time. The legendary climb is steep at over 8% but has smooth roads and wide hairpin bends engineered for buses to ferry tourists to the ski resort. It’s a hard, selective climb where the crowd could be a factor, with huge cheers willing on the riders. The race doesn’t cross the finish line at the top of the Alpe but passes through the town, by the small airport and then up to the Col de Sarenne, 3km at 7.8%.

The descent has been making headlines but analytically it’s nothing outrageously risky and an accident can happen anywhere. The top part is the hardest but it finishes with some steep bends which can catch out tired riders. The race heads towards the valley but when it joins the main road of the Lautaret it still has a couple of rises to sap the legs before the valley road that’s four kilometres long, enough for a team to chase down anyone who’s taken 20 seconds on the descent.

The Finish
Alpe d'Huez profile
The Alp again. Some say this is a tough ask but in reality tomorrow has more vertical metres and climbing the same route twice allows an extra touch of familiarity. This is a ski station finish, it’s hard but still a regular climb. The gradient levels towards the finish line meaning if a group arrives then pick the best sprinter.

The Scenario
Many riders will be warming-up before the stage start as the Col de Manse offers a brutal start to the day, a launchpad for a breakaway. Don’t be surprised to see familiar names in the move. Rui Costa might be on team duty but look for Pierre Rolland, Arnold Jeannesson, Romain Bardet and other French riders to try their luck. With foul weather there’s a good chance the move sticks as the bunch huddles in the rain, wrapped in billowing rain jackets.

Has Chris Froome won enough? I think if he comes to the finish with other riders he’ll be happy to let someone else win a stage but maybe he still fears being done over so he could ride away once again. But Alberto Contador, Nairo Quintana and Joaquim Rodriguez are obvious choices and if several arrive, Alejandro Valverde has the finishing speed. The weather will be an intruder. Froome says he’s learned lessons since losing Tirreno-Adriatico in glacial conditions last March.

I think tomorrow is the better chance to ambush the race, the succession of irregular climbs offers a repeat of the Pyrenean mania seen on Stage 9 to Bagnères de Bigorre. But three hard climbs and two delicate descents are not to be wasted given Saxo-Tinkoff and Movistar appear to have numerical superiority and this Tour is being raced very aggressively.

Weather: the stage will start in sunny and warm conditions but quickly deteriorate. Stormy conditions return as the race crosses the high mountains. The forecast promises heavy showers, hail, wind and cloud in the mountains.

TV: the stage will be broadcast live from start to finish, 12.20pm to around 5.30pm Euro time. The riders are expected to start the first climb of Alpe d’Huez around 3.30pm.

Don’t worry too much about the weather. It might be grim for the riders but ASO and France Télévisions deploy considerable means to bring you the show. Whilst the Giro had problems with bad weather grounding the TV helicopters, the Tour also uses winged aircraft that fly in circles high above the race to act as relays for the TV signals, taking the feed from motorbikes and helicopters and relaying it to satellite and the broadcast trucks. These planes can fly at above the clouds and any bad weather.

Mythbusters: Alpe d’Huez is famous for its 21 hairpin bends but watch the stage carefully and you’ll actually count 23 hairpins between the valley floor and the finish line. It’s because there are 21 bends on the climb before you get to the ski resort of Alpe d’Huez but the race continues to finish on the outside of town on the traditional Avenue du Rif Nel.

Also this isn’t the first time the race climbs Alpe d’Huez twice. It was done in 1979… but via a split stage with one ascension in the morning and one in the afternoon.

34 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 18 Preview”

  1. Hopefully Cadel gets in the break. It sounds like he will try hard for a stage win today or tomorrow, but on form you;d think needs an advantage at the bottom of the second climb if he is to win. Fingers crossed anyway!

  2. I think it will be interesting to see if Sky break (no pun intended) the habit of a lifetime in the Grand Tours and put a rider or two in the break to be used after the final descent.

  3. It will be interesting to see if the apparent improvement in form, following the rest day, by several top ten riders will continue today.

  4. I’m pretty sure the Giro uses aircrafts as well as helicopters to broadcast tv streaming, the weather was so bad this year that affected also them and not just the helicopters

  5. Call me a cynic and possibly misguided, but I can see a cross-team Spanish-speaking Armada forming today – Contador (supported by Kreuiziger), Quintana, Rodriguez, even Valverde and Nieve – to try and reel Froome back in. They can’t individually (or as pairs) take on the Sky train so they’ll probably have to throw their lots in with each other over the next three stages.

    Things could look very different come Sunday’s ride into Paris…

    • Only today?

      With the exception of dumping Valverde in the crosswind, Movistar and Saxo have worked quite closely against Froome. An uneasy alliance perhaps but united by a common enemy/rival. Although I get the impresion (perhpas unsubstantiated) Contador has a better relationship with Quintana than Valverde or Rodriguez.

  6. Hate to say or accept Cadels defeat this year being an Aussie. But he is older, though I still believe he can take a stage. He has always shown great tenacity. Would love to see him spark this would really light up the top GC guys. Froomes done a incredible Tour hope he does’nt blow

  7. Great show yesterday. Unpredictable and full of “rebondissements”. I’m getting fonder and fonder of this kind of TTs where anything can happen. Too bad it wasn’t a bit longer. 5o km or so would have created very significant gaps.
    Today I suspect Movistar, Saxo and Katiusha will send half their team in breakaways, and Valverde, if he’s not in one of them, will try to eliminate Porte before the first pass through Huez, and then Quintana and Contador and Rodriguez will take turns to attack Froome near the top, so that they can create a good fat gap in the descent. The problem is that, first, Contador is such a bad politician that he’s made himself unpopular with Movistar and Rodriguez, and, second, that Froome might choose to ride away, solo, as soon as he loses Porte, which is what the great champion he is should do, so that he can descend the Sarenne like a relaxed happy man in the rain, and then win the stage telling all doubters to stuff it.

  8. Agree with you on Valverde, he is my main pick for today – he may attack early and be left go by Froome and co who will be watching each other for their respective places. Rodriguez to nick a podium spot if the GC boys are mostly together coming to the finish.

    I’ll be interested to see how Schleck goes today after his strong TT yesterday. Lots of money for Nieve and Valverde this morning, Froome not getting much support.

  9. Whether the stage is a firecracker or not is almost irrelevent to me. Because so many of us have done the climb, there’s a peronal investment in seeing it on TV and watching the landmarks go by. The left hand turn into the first ramp, the churches, Dutch corner, the little water falls at the side of the road, the view down into the valley, the bars at the top of the final ramp.

    It’s not the best climb in the world (as you’ve already documented INRG) but it does give you goose bumps on the big race days.

  10. There was very friendly embrace from Valverde for Froome at the end of yesterday’s stage…

    I don’t think Movistar will neccessarily be working directly to harm Sky, but looking for the stage win with Valverde and to move Quintana up the GC a bit.

    It’s up to Saxo really to try to hurt Sky and Froome – they can use Rogers and Roche early to burn off most of Sky and then one-two with Kreuziger and Contador. I wouldn’t rule out some help from Euskatel or even Katusha – Contador normally has shown himself to be pretty canny negociator in the bunch.

    • Very true. I saw Valverde reach out to Froome to congratulate him after the TT. I’m hopeful Valverde was sent by Saxo as a secret emissary so that Sky won’t suspect him as an antagonist in the Alps. Valverde will try to infiltrate the Sky train before launching a “sneak attack” in the hills. Sky won’t see it coming until he’s 1 or 2 seconds off the front! How will Sky react?!

      • Looks like the opposite. Valverde was there to establish a working partnership between Sky & MovieStar. He even helped Porte to get back to Froome whilst JR had a happy free ride.

  11. Being a fan of Contador I am hopeful he has a larger energy bank than Froome (and the rest). In Wednesday’s TT, Contador was up and out of the saddle fighting his bicycle, pain all over his face. Froome was tucked, more aerodynamic and keeping the RPMs high. True, these are simply each riders’ styles, but do others think that Contador “tied” Froome in the TT because he burned more energy or because his form really improving? I’m hopeful it’s the latter.

    • I think Froome said that he wasn’t going balls out on the TT, and was even prepared to lose some time, to make sure he kept some freshness for the last few stages. Could be good politics, or an excuse for not winning by more, but I guess that depends on who you support.

      I thought he might be saving himself a bit, as he could take more time out of the other contenders today then he could yesterday. But then I like Froome.

  12. There was talk above regarding formation of a Spanish Armada (plus a Roman) to assail Froome. These alliances do form, so they must be effective, but I struggle to understand why. Below, I’ll focus just on the climbers, therefore excluding Mollema.

    Contador and Roman are 4-plus minutes back. They have a long-shot chance of beating Froome by 2 minutes on Thursday and 2 minutes on Friday to put Froome in real trouble on Saturday, if they have anything left to give.

    Nairo and Purrito, are essentially 7 minutes back. If Sky rides their pace throughout to avoid complete disaster it’s not realistic to take back 7 minutes over 3 stages. Valverde, Nieve, and Moreno are not GC contenders so of no concern in or out of an Armada.

    Two questions: Why must Froome be concerned with attacks from anyone other than Contador or Roman?
    How does Froome benefit from sending Porte to chase down an attack if Froome is unable to follow it? Is it a psychological advantage or is there a scientific advantage (“drag” maybe)?

    Thanks for anyone who is able to answer especially this second question…

    • It didn’t matter anyway because Saxo wasted all their energy before they’d even got to the second Alpe d’Huez climb. Surely a team’s tactics are supposed to be to tire out the opposition, not themselves. It’s hardly surprising Froome can cycle away from them when they’ve done all that to themselves before they’ve even got to the important bit of the race. If, as Contador said before the race, he has the strongest team around him than ever before, the next thing they need to add to their roster is someone who can dictate coherent and sensible tactics so that they can actually use this strength.

      • I thought Mick Rogers was supposed to be that person to dictate tactics; everyone at Sky raved about his leadership skills on the road.

    • As noted above, there’s more incentive for Movistar and Katusha to attack Saxo’s podium position(s) than to help Saxo attack Sky.

  13. From

    Sky sport director Nicolas Portal brought Froome’s bike to the UCI’s tent, accompanied by a UCI commissaire. He was nonplussed by the checks, despite the late notice.

    “Normally, they say nothing; it’s a surprise. They just say, ‘Ok, your bike, your bike, your bike,’ at the finish. It’s a gamble, just like anti-doping,” he said, adding that between his road and time trial bikes, Froome has had his equipment checked nearly 20 times this Tour.

    It’s a gamble? Just like anti-doping? Does that statement sound rather odd to anyone else?

    • No, I saw nothing in it. I think he is just saying “if you are going to cheat, then you shouldn’t know when you’re going to get tested and potentially found out”. He is endorsing “surprise” as a deterrent. If you dope, then you “gamble” that you’ll be asked to get tested and perhaps test +ve.

    • It sounded a little odd to me, but I’m a first language English speaker and Portal isn’t. (And I expect it sounded much less odd than my attempt to explain it in French would to a native French speaker.)

      I assumed he meant that they pick equipment at random, just like the anti-doping testers pick riders at random.

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