Tour de France Stage 8 Preview

With no prologue we’ve had a week with a tightly-packed general classification and only the cruel elimination of riders by crashes. Now it’s time to impose some order on the race with the first visit to the Pyrenees and a summit finish to separate the contenders from the pretenders.

The final climb is short, enough to tell us about form but not big enough to allow sweeping conclusions that stretch all the way to the Alps. If you plan to watch on TV, note the early finish.

Stage 7 Review
Cannondale might be a US team with a Canadian sponsor and a Slovak leader but there’s something still very Italian about them and it’s not just the management but the philosophy. The whole team rides in service of their leader, perpetuating the tradition of great Italian squads of the past.

So it was when the team set to work with a high tempo pace mid-stage. It was uncertain, Sagan’s talents are undisputed but the rest of the team makes for one of the more modest outfits in the race. But the plan worked, their pace saw several sprinters eliminated and they still had the energy to drive on and control the approach into Albi. Peter Sagan won but without a wild victory salute, just a tribute to the team work done.

Sagan also collected maximum points on the day for the green jersey. So far Marcel Kittel, Mark Cavendish and André Greipel have each collected a stage win too so the points have been distributed widely. Next week we’ll see more sprints and how this competition develops.

Stage 8 Preview

  • Km 26.5 – Côte de Saint-Ferréol 2.2km at 5.4% – category 4
  • Km 166.0 – Col de Pailhères (2 001 m) at 15.3km at 8% – category HC
  • Km 193.5 – Ax 3 Domaines 7.8km at 8.2% – category 1

A start in Castres and rugby country. The route tackles some easy roads as it crosses the rolling hills of the Lauragais. It’s tempting to ignore this part of the stage but it’s the place for a breakaway to form and ride away plus the kilometres count and it can be windy here but today brings a tailwind. The harder the battle to get away, the more the damage later. But these are flat roads.

The Pyrenees are very approachable mountains. You can ride right into the mountain valleys on peaceful roads. The Tour takes a bigger route riding through Limoux, known for its sparkling wine and it’s here where things should start fizzing.

The Port de Pailhères is a substantial climb and gets the HC-rating meaning a lot of points await. In fact this is the highest point of the 2013 Tour with the Henri Desgrange prize awarded to the first rider across. It’s a pure Pyrenean climb that wanders through fields with a wild vibe and and irregular gradient. It’s narrow too, even a cyclist and car meeting in opposite directions have to check their position. This matters because there’s not much room to overtake. It’s not shown in the profile above but there’s a short dip in the road before it kicks up again to reach the top. Here there are still 29km to go. The descent is fine, if the climb is narrow, the road quickly opens up.

The Finish

An “Ax” to cut the field down to size. This is a short and punchy climb to the Plateau de Bonascre above Ax. A quick run through the town – more flat than the profile says –  over the Ariège river and the climb starts right away, the road ramps up and the first hairpin arrives, enough to help string out a group of riders. It’s an irregular climb in terms of gradient – there’s even a small flat section – but this is still a ski-station access road so it’s wide.

The road flattens off for the final kilometre, meaning a sprint if riders are still in a group.

The Scenario
Nervous? Many sit the most important exam of the year today. No longer can riders revise their Pyrenean geography or the arithmetic of their power to weight ratios.

The route is very similar to the 2010 stage from Revel to Ax-3 Domaines won by Christophe Riblon after a large early break got away and behind Andy Shleck and Alberto Contador seemed inseparable. But that was Stage 14, the race had taken shape and the peloton psychology was content to let a move go.

Today’s early break has a lesser chance of staying away all day. Yes the stage win is less important to the GC riders who will be more concerned with marking each other. But teams like Sky and Saxo-Tinkoff are likely to set the pace in the second half of the stage and then accelerate over the main climb which could prove fatal for any fugitives. It’s all about who makes the move, if it’s full of top-rate riders then they’ve got a chance. If it’s made up of plucky chancers, no way.

Thomas Voeckler lost time yesterday and provided a list of complaints. He therefore gets a ticket to ride. But is this too obvious? It’s been said he’s not been feeling so good but this gossip could be just the uncertainty he needs as he jumps away and rivals decide whether to follow or not. If anything Sunday is better suited to a mountain raid.

It’ll be interesting to see how Sky ride. Their mountain train can choke the excitement out of the race but they’ve not looked so powerful in the first week. Illusion or reality? We’ll soon see but the predictable pick is Chris Froome jumping away with 2km to go and they have a joker to play with Richie Porte. Froome’s form is undeniable, even jumping away on the small hill above Ajaccio on Stage 2.

Saxo-Tinkoff are the other team with a squad to rival and we’ll see how Nico Roche, Roman Kreuziger and Alberto Contador‘s Iberian guard do. I’m still not sold on Contador’s form as he’s not won this year but if he can surprise, all the better. We should get the answer on any injuries from the first week and also any lingering allergies.

As for all the others, there’s a long roll call which will get slashed today. Many are anticipating something from Nairo Quintana but he’s been crashing and could be tired. Movistar keep saying Alejandro Valverde is the leader. They make a good 1-2 because the Colombian can try on the climb with insurance of Valverde’s speed in case of a small sprint. The same with Katusha who have Dani Moreno and Joaquim Rodriguez. The other team with two heads is BMC Racing and it’ll be fascinating to see Cadel Evans and Tejay van Garderen. We’ll also get to see which Garmin-Sharp rider is best… on the day but on paper Dan Martin looks suited to the finish.

Other riders and teams will be basing their strategy on holding on for as long as possible. Belkin’s Bauke Mollemna might find the shorter climb to his advantage and if he jumps maybe others will let him go for a moment? The same for Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Igor Anton. Andy Schleck‘s seen his brother in the headlines but what if the week has given him some rhythm?

French hopes rest with Thibaut Pinot and Pierre Rolland. I’d back Pinot but he’s riding to a plan this year and banned from attacking until the Alps. If you saw him in the Tour of Switzerland he was thereabouts but did the race after a big block of training and so didn’t have the same zip. The steeper climb today should suit him.

In 10 seconds: the day’s break is reeled in by mountain trains. The long list of names gets boiled down in the heat and Chris Froome wins the stage with late attack.

Weather: Hot and sunny with the Tramontane wind blowing at the start to give a light tailwind. Temperatures will reach 30°C on the way to the climb but it’ll 20°C closer to the finish in the Pyrenees with some altitude.

TV: live on TV from start to finish.  Coverage is due to begin at 2.20pm Euro time. Tune in around 3.00pm to see the approach to the Pailhères. Note the earlier finish, planned for 4.45-5.10pm.

Say It

The race calls it the Col de Pailhères but it’s really the Port de Pailhères, a local word for mountain pass. Correct pronunciation.

40 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 8 Preview”

  1. Kind of weird thinking of Sagan as a Zabel type, always collecting jersey points even when he doesn’t win, but he has featured in more sprints than anyone else, picking up key points on days when guys like Cav are blanked. It would take a total catastrophe for him to lose green now.

    This is actually a tougher stage than recent Tours have started their climbing with. However, recent history has suggested that nobody will do anything significant on the first big mountain stage, so maybe we won’t see much. A guy can hope. If it is Froome winning with a late attack, there will probably be 5-7 guys within ten seconds of him at the finish.

  2. The first rider over the Palihares, puts on Polka Dots and probably wears them all the way to Bastille Day. Many French riders in the break today. Pinot, Rolland/Voeckler, etal. Lots at stake for Europcar as they are looking for a sponsor.

    Unless the break is supercharged, I don’t see it surviving.

    The last k of the Ax 3 climb (8.1% ) is where Purito attacks to try and get back the 30 secs he lacks. The last k is flat, so, he’ll need an advantage here.

  3. Froome is frisky! I’d say that he will try to show his strength. It is the first mountain day, I wonder: Would a smart team leader or DS from Saxo or BMC hope to encourage Froome to do that now? With two weeks to go . . . .

  4. I think short of an unfortunate incident ending his Tour, Sagan has already closed off the battle for the green jersey. He seems to have an unerring knack of following the wheel of the stage winner whilst everyone else goes out in the wind to do it alone, which is a great jersey winning strategy for a boy of his talents. He’s not as daft as I like to think he is.

    • Agreed. What a talent. Hopefully Greipel and Cavendish will give up on the intermediates, so we can see an uncompromised sprint next week. Can’t believe we’ve got through the first week without seeing the top guys have a fair fight. Kittel was unopposed in Stage 1, Cavendish had nothing to do in Stage 5, Greipel likewise in Stage 6. Cavendish’s burst from way back in Stage 5 has been the only thing to impress me, so far.

      Would it be reasonable to place the onus on sprinters to come round their lead-out men on a signal, rather than allowing the lead-outs to veer into the other sprinters’ paths, knocking them off course and taking them out of the slipstream?

  5. I hope Rodriguez/Moreno and Contador will try to put the hurt on Froome and Sky. They know they have to if they want to have any chance of winning and it’s in their nature.

  6. Impressed with Sagan yesterday, put his troops to work and he delivered. Can’t ask for more than that.

    Also, watching highlights really does not show how the stage plays out and you can get a real distorted view of things. One example being, it took Cavendish 6k to get back on the other day.

    • I was more impressed it only took Cav 6kms to get back on! Even if he got up and got a new bike within 30secs, that’s still 5secs per km to get back on! At that stage of the race, that’s very impressive.

  7. A race would be as exiting as the raiders make it. Wondering if more summit finish would serve to live up the race. On the contrary, we might see GC decided too early on and the race either became race leader’s one man show (as per this year’s Giro), or worse: everybody play safe.

  8. What’s more helpful would be more diversified GC stages. At the moment, there’s only time trial and summit finishes that are viably GC concerned. There should be more stages like the one where Froome lost GC lead in TA (though I doubt the stage would be as effective if it was ridden in dry condition).

  9. “Cannondale might be a US team with a Canadian sponsor and a Slovak leader…”

    There are only two U.S.-registered ProTour teams and Cannondale Pro Cycling is not one of them.

    How about this?: “Cannondale might be an Italian team with an American sponsor and a Slovak leader.”

  10. Wait, so Richie Porte is now one of the premier climbers in the world??!!??

    I must have missed something. Moving from competent all rounder to class of the peloton.

    Team sky is the BEST!!

    • It’s all about marginal gains man, don’t you get it? Marginal gains equate to obliterating the entire peleton. It’s not hard to grasp

    • According to Tyler Hamilton’s former trainer, to win the Tour three qualities are needed:
      1. To be very, very fit.
      2. To be very, very skinny.
      3. Hematocrit levels must be kept up.

      Team Sky obviously have a programme for 1 and 2. Number 3 is a question yet to be answered. Did Contador and Rodriguez just have bad days or has Porte been transformed into a TdF contender? Healthy skepticism of Team Sky is definately warranted – especially with Froome being able to maintain peak performance levels since Oman.

      • That’s Cecchini’s assessment. On point 3, I think we should know the hematocrit levels of all riders at the beginning of every stage, controlled upon signature, with a drop of blood, just like diabetes and gout are kept in check every morning by those who need it.
        Point 1 needs questioning. Comparing today’s videos to Lemond and Fignon videos, one conclusion is clear, everybody is way, way, way thinner. And I don’t believe that in the 80s they didn’t do everything possible to stay light. Now, I’ve been hearing AICAR is detectable since 2009, but not one positive has occurred, whereas we have had cases of GW1516. My guess is that Aicar is not being detected and the whole pro peloton is on it, and trying to develop the expertise to make the most of it.

      • Sky has a magic way to turn solid riders into world beaters.
        Who’d have thunk it’s all from using power meters and warming down after the stage…..

  11. I just truly hope for the sake of cycling that Team Sky is legit and clean. Their performances raise some eyebrows but I really hope it is simply a better training regime

  12. You have to hand it to Quintana. He forced Sky to chase hard and probably made the big engines drop off earlier than they wanted. Movistar’s leader, Valverde, couldn’t match Froome and Porte at the end, but Quintana’s ride allowed his leader gain best of the rest. Wonder what would have happened if Quintana had waited until the last climb!

    • 3 Fastest times up Ax-3-Domaines:
      1. Laiseka 2001 22:57
      2. Armstrong 22:59 2001
      3. Froome 23:14 2013

      2 from the EPO-LA era and 1 from the Sky era.

      • and presumably you have taken into consideration the state of the race, the tactics on the day, the weather, the wind direction, and the teams involved, for all the races where Ax was included (there aren’t that many, so it shouldn’t take you too long)


    That’s the video for the 2001 stage 12. Armstrong was “paced up” by Jan Ullrich most of the climb. He attacked over halfway up the climb, putting 20 sec into Ullrich and about 4 minutes into race leader François Simon.

    But according to P&P, Lance was less concerned with Simon than with Ullrich at the time. And on the following day Lance somehow managed to eat up the remaining 9 minutes of Simon’s lead and went into yellow.

    • Though over the years, bikes had become much lighter. Not only that, wheels and cranks had became much stiffer as well. So riders today would go up the mountain carrying 2~3 kg less in weight and a bike which transfers power much more efficiently.

      • Not true. The GC riders of the late 1990s had bikes that weighed 7kg or so.

        As for drivetrain efficiency, wouldn’t be more than a couple of watts in it.

        • What I am saying is this time thing can be read in either way. There’s many similarities between today’s ride and Lance’s ride in 2001, but there are often differences. It proves nothing and disproves nothing.

          Is Sky doping? Only time and better tests can tell and everybody’s entitled to be suspicious. What can we do before time and better tests tell the truth? Voice our suspicions and/or enjoy the race. Some may argue the criticisms would not be fair for the guys if they were indeed innocent. But since they signed up for the sport, they should know what goes with the territory.

          P.S. If I really want to prove that Sky’s innocent, I’d argue that Lance didn’t put in 100% effort on that day. He was not even interested in stage win but merely marking Ullich. And if you really want to have an objective analysis, w/kg (even the estimated ones) would be a far better data to look at than this time business.

  14. Let’s just say that today’s performance by Froome and Porte is suspicious and eyebrow raising. Hopefully, for the sake of the sport, they are clean. Lets all just take a step back and wait to see how they do the rest of the Tour. If they are truly clean then they used a lot of energy today and will struggle in the Alps. If there is no drop at all, well then……..

  15. Well, at least he doesn’t look like a linebacker. As much as I, and clearly many others, want to believe, it seems we all need another level of transparency to unquestionably enjoy the sport anymore.

  16. Best ticker on stage 8 from Cycling News.
    16:30:05 CEST
    After 500 metres of climbing, Quintana has decided he’s had enough of Rolland’s company and takes his life. He climbs out of the saddle for one, short acceleration to burst clear, and then settles back into his own infernal rhythm.

  17. The question here is of credibility. The company for whom he rides, is owned by a group that meddles too deeply into UK and US politics as kingmakers, obfuscates reality, delves into conspiracy theories such as birthers, wiretaps the phones of the Royals and others, has a reporter they pay embedded with Sky, etc., They are not terribly trustworthy or know boundaries.
    Then when the comment is made whether Froome won naturally, he said 100%
    Maybe so, but there is doubt due to the company he keeps, or, perhaps, due to who keeps him.

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