Tour de France Stage 9 Preview

Yesterday was supposed to give some insight into climbing form but the stage brought such conclusive results that it’s tempting to see the next two weeks as a victory lap of France for Chris Froome. He’s in the ideal position after one mounain stage but there’s a long way to go and others have been calculating their race on the final week. So be careful not to extrapolate too much from one day, a point that’s valid for results, tactics and performance.

Today’s stage is another in the Pyrenees but quite different to yesterday’s summit suspense. A series of climbs make for a tough day that could be hard to control and finally time for a breakaway to stick.

Stage 8 Review
An early break went but with four riders it was doomed, impossible for four riders to hold off the chasing bunch and they were reeled in on the Port de Pailhères. An attack from Gesink looked wild but with hindsight it showed a Belkin team plan. A Voeckler move showed no plan, just an impulsion. Then Nairo Quintana took off, taking a minute by the top of the climb, his style insouciant.

The group when over the top but Pinot got left behind on the descent. It’s one thing to let gaps open up and waste energy sprinting to close them again but the French hope was distanced on the descent, his mind blocked.

The climb from Ax began with Quintana’s lead halved. Behind Sky’s mountain train was working although with fewer wagons than predicted. Peter Kennaugh was once tipped as Britain’s Tour winner in 2010 when Team Sky was launched and was thinning the group as big name riders were dropping. Alberto Contador was one visibly in trouble, perched forward on the saddle and confirming the laboured impression he’s given most of the year.

Froome reportedly set the third fastest time ever up the climb, beating rides done by the likes of Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich in a kind of Strava contest only there are no bragging rights, it just invites questions. The answers? This makes the point about needing power data stronger because time is not equal to effort. Now Froome could have ridden into a headwind meaning his effort was record-breaking; or in the other direction he could have been paced more or perhaps the road had been repaired yesterday meaning a faster ride? Personally I’d suggest gathering more data over more climbs to make for richer analysis but this could be a theme that will run on.

Still the reaction Twitter was instant. Debating whether a rider is clean is part of cycling today. For all Sky’s boasts of leading sports science and resources, their PR effort often leaves me wondering. Witness the mess last year when they were forced to react with a ghost-written piece into the British media proclaiming why Bradley Wiggins could not dope. They’ll get more questions and it’ll be interesting to see how they deal with this… and whether other teams are held to the same standards too.

Belkin with Bauke Mollema and Laurens Ten Dam who had a great day. BMC didn’t, with Cadel “Cuddles” Evans needing a hug after losing four minutes but Tejay van Garderen lost over 12 minutes. Finally a question: if Quintana had not attacked early then what could he have done on the final climb? Maybe we’ll get the answer on Mont Ventoux?

Stage 9 Preview

  • Km 28.5 – Col de Portet d’Aspet (1 069 m) 5.4km at 6.9% – category 2
  • Km 44.0 – Col de Menté (1 349 m) 7km at 7.7% – category 1
  • Km 90.0 – Col de Peyresourde (1 569 m) 13.2km at 7% – category 1
  • Km 110.5 – Col de Val Louron-Azet (1 580 m) 7.4km at 8.3% – category 1
  • Km 138.0 – La Hourquette d’Ancizan (1 564 m) 9.9km at 7.5% – category 1

A big day in the Pyrenees. Yes there’s no summit finish but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Cross the final climb with 30km to go and times by very quickly. The route had been threatened by recent floods but everything is open.

Each climb has its particularities. The Menté is climbed on the easier side with a steep and technical descent. The Peyresourde is wide and regular but long. The Col d’Azet is ascended via the best side where a series of hairpin bends allow the road to rise up quickly.

The Hourquette d’Ancizan is narrow and scenic, a steep start and a road used by farmers or cycle-tourists in search of an alternative to the Col d’Aspin.

The Finish
A fast run into town as the race comes off the La Hourquette d’Ancizan, a long and steady descent. The closer the race gets to the finish the more the gradient drops and the wider the Adour valley gets. Once in town there’s a sharp bend with 700m to go and then a left-hander 140m from the finish, but it’s an open bend and not one where the winner has to be first into the junction.

The Scenario
With Chris Froome looking untouchable the others contenders are left struggling and maybe hoping for that third step of the podium. It might not be long until we see some defending seventh place because of the UCI points they can earn and the salary this commands.

Watch to see if Cannondale treat the intermediate sprint as a virtual finish line, driving the pace early to shed the sprinters to the advantage of Peter Sagan.

Alberto Contador could be looking for revenge. But he’s “only” in seventh place and doesn’t have much space. If he tries something others will track him. Thibaut Pinot would be another revenge pick. Last year he wasn’t happy with the stage to the Planche des Belles Filles and, angry, set off the next day to win the stage to Porrentruy in Switzerland. Only this time his descending problems are fundamental, he could take off on the first climb but he’ll have to tackle some very difficult descents too.

Instead it could be a day for a break to stick. Think Simon Gerrans, Pierrick Fédrigo or Mikel Astarloza but take your pick from many others.

Keep an eye on the back of the race too. With repeated climbing it means riders dropped early will struggle to meet the time cut, especially as the stage is so short.

Weather: sunny and warm but not as hot as the previous day. The roads had been melting – why do they use tar that melts in summer? – with the temperatures and sunshine but today could be a little cooler with some light cloud at altitude. A light headwind awaits on the run to the finish, forecast at 10km/h but if it gets up it could ruin a solo rider’s chances.

TV: live and direct from 11.20am Euro time. Note the early finish because the riders have to catch a flight north ahead of the rest day, the stage is expected to end between 4.20-5.00pm.

59 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 9 Preview”

  1. It wasn’t just Froome who trashed everyone else but also Kennaugh and Porte were capable to drop riders like Contador and Evans on a relatively short mountain stretch. If they go on like this we could see a Sky top three jackpot in Paris.

    • Kennaugh didn’t drop any of the favourites (except Pinot on the descent!). And where is he on the overall?? Great ride but he’s not go into get podium!

  2. The stage was exciting, but the Tour has potential to be dullsville from here on–unless someone like Quintana can wreck the field with an early, killer attack. Think Andy Schleck.

    Barring that, we have two weeks to talk about whether or not Sky is doping.

    Reasons for plausibility:
    *Froome was really good last year; Saturday’s performance seems to be an example of what would have happened if he had been allowed to attack.
    *Porte has also been this strong all year. Remember how he rode away from Talansky earlier this season?
    *Mollema and Ten Dam were fourth and fifth? Nice riders, but if those guys are rounding out the top five, perhaps we should consider the possibility that other top contenders were performing poorly as much as Froome was performing well. Contador and Evans are obvious examples of guys who had bad days. Perhaps if Alberto was performing up to potential things would look different.

    Reasons to think that this is dirty:
    *As @cyclocosm has mentioned, that looked hauntingly similar to the US Postal trains that dominated the early 2000s.
    *The time and power numbers look awfully similar, too.
    *Is Porte really the clear-cut second-best climber in the world? Look at the guys he left in the dust, after eating the wind for several KM.
    *Garmin produced numbers for Martin and Talansky in the terrestrial, 5.8 W/kg range, and they weren’t even in the top ten.
    *Good night, did you see Froome ride away from the field?

    I love the idea of attacking rides smashing the field in theory. It has just happened, though, and it was the worst of all possible scenarios–a performance so dominant it was hard to believe, and time gaps that, barring catastrophe, basically end the Tour’s GC race with two weeks left to ride.

    We can hope Quintana rides away from the field today to change the calculus. I’m not holding my breath.

    • Good comment. Can we just cut and paste it for all the rest of the mountain stages?

      Your mention of Garmin makes me realize that Sky really need to be far more transparent to recover credibility with the Twitterati. Unfortunately, I fear that goes against their ‘secret squirrel’ scientific gains strategy. So, it could be a two-week-long lynchmob. *sad face*

      • “credibility with the Twitterati”.. Why exactly should Sky be concerned about largely anonymous noisemakers on Twitter? Wasn’t one of the cycling ‘twitterati’ UCI Overlord?

        Besides, Vayer claims his analysis is within 2% of accurate (equal or better to the accuracy of most power meters) so why does he need the actual files? He can just model the data then publish everything in a peer-reviewed journal for the public.

        There is actually a way for people to get the power data they are crying for, maybe Vayer can appeal to Skins to fund it:
        1. Find the ANT ID# of Frome’s SRM (just get one guy to run along side for a few meters on a climb with a garmin on pairing mode).
        2. Supply a few hundred people on the climb with a Garmin set up to receive data from that # (I’m sure the twitterati or people from BikePure will be happy assist).
        3. Compile all the data and analyse

    • The hypotheses are interesting and make I point I’ve tried to convey before: we can all have ideas, explanations, suspicions. But these remain unproven and speculative, it’s like a Rohrshach test where see a pattern in the race.

      • Also, we can and should all have our suspicious. Though we should also expect our arguments to be scrutinised as riders do their performance.

    • Some valid points raised and the disbelief is understandable but I think people are analysing performances based on history. There has not been a road team like Sky before, it is not based on an existing setup and the staff of a certain age/mentality/background have been shed. It is highly organised, well funded with an analytical approach and they just think differently. It’s raison d’étre is to get British people riding their bikes and their approach is grounded on not breaking the trust of a nation.
      Might it be that the other teams have grasped that Sky is doing something very different and through the cycling grapevine the penny has dropped that they are actually clean. This would mean that big riders are now also trying to emulate Sky by riding clean and the legacy of the old-school methods is holding them back – hence the under-performance of some stars. It will take a few years and a new breed of coaches and managers to close this gap. I suggest the other teams start looking at other sports and abandoning some intellectual baggage and older staff members.
      Yesterdays ride was impressive, not only did they dismantle the field but put the heeby-jeebies in to the opposition and then used some headwork to derail the oppositions aspirations by being convincingly confident that there was much more to come. It may be boring for many people but if it was “your” team doing this to Sky you would think it was great – no?
      To finish: Tarmac, like Democracy, is flawed, it may melt in summer and crack in winter but there isn’t really a better alternative out there for the moment.

      • I don’t know if Sky is on drugs or not, but be careful about claiming that they are not on drugs and using as proof some kind of advanced wizardry or training methodology that they employ.

        In the Lance Armstrong days, we heard the same type of pseudo-scientific cover up for good old fashioned cheating. “Don Caitlin has observed a gain in his body’s oxygen processing efficiency” “Chris Carmichael has taught him to spin at a higher cadence” “AMD processors analyzing wind tunnel data allow equipment designs that make him more aerodynamic”

  3. Cycling is in a position where every performance will be open to discussion based on previous history, this is normal and to be expected. The really interesting comparative performances yesterday were those of Froome, Porte, Valverde, Contador, Scheck. Mollema and Ten Dam. We will all have views based on what we saw. In general I would suggest that the sport appears to be going in the right direction. Froome took less than two minutes out of the two “flat landers”, Porte a few seconds out of Valverde, not unusual or really a surprise. Performances of the others should probably be based on a change that is to be applauded, rather than a comparison with the past.

    • I was going to say something similar. One of the reasons why many people think this performance is so exceptional is because they use Contador as the yardstick, but is he really the best cyclist to use as a point of reference? Probably not.

      • exactly, he’s an ex doper, who we haven’t seen beat the best in the world since his ban, who has been struggling with form. did we suddenly expect him to be back to his best?

      • You guys are missing the point that neither Froome nor Porte are renowned climbers, and now they are the absolute class of the field.

        • What an odd claim. Froome has been among the best climbers in the peloton for a couple of years now.

          Hopefully, stage 9’s performance eases some minds – it doesn’t look like Sky can keep up this performance day-in, day-out.

  4. I will qualify this comment by saying that as a Brit, I want to believe but if there is some secret elixir in widespread use at Sky, Rogers as road captain would have been within the inner circle last year and benefited from its use.

    Since leaving Sky, why wouldn’t Rogers take that knowledge with him and share it with Riis at Saxo Bank? Certainly Rogers/Contador’s performance yesterday (and for most of the season) suggest to me that there is no secret sauce.

    • Because they are doing the same shirt at TST and every where else.

      I feel strongly that riders, trainers, and teams are doping better. They know how much, when and for how long, as well as what to mask with. Riders that get caught, most admit to mistakes in their regimen.

      As For AC and Cuddles, they are showing they are old has beens. Good enough to win one week stage races and still make GT podiums, but not at the top step. ANdy Schlek, I feel he has toned down his regimen in light of Franks recent positive.

      But let’s talk about tomorrow. This is a big day for the KoM competition and I suspect a solid break will stick. I feel the GC boys would rather lick their wounds from the arse-whoopin’ Froome laid on them. Better to stay in the pack than risk the entire Tour on what amounts to a medium mountain stage. Not much to be gained by attacking today. The last two climbs are not long or steep enough to provide an advantage.

      • The GC boys that took an asswhopin are gonna need to start working together to try and isolate CF. IF 2-3 guys can get over the top of the Acizan and work together, maybe, just maybe they can put some time into the Sky train. Sadly, they will probably be more worried about protecting their podium positions than trying to form an alliance.

      • You can make the case that Evans is past it, but Contador? He’s 30, generally regarded as near the peak for GC riders.

        If Rogers ever decides to write a tell-all, it’ll be an interesting one to say the least.

  5. To me it seemed that other teams were better able to handle the Sky train tactic. At the start of the final climb there was still a group of 30 riders yet Sky had burnt 6 of their matches. It was only on the final 6-7km that a real selection was formed. I had expected that on the penultimate climb.
    I have been impressed with Belkin’s form so

      • Is Belkin the only other team to engage seriously with sports science? Inrng mentioned that they were working with some Dutch universities to improve training regime.

        • OGE is filled with former trackies who’ve come through the Australian Institute of Sport system, but of course they’re not even trying to contend for GC at this point.

    • There were only two climbs. Tough, yes, but still only two. We’ll see who hangs on to the train in the Alps.

      At the moment the Sky train is being destroyed by Movistar. Froome has been isolated all day since Ritchie Porte fell out on the 1st climb. CF had to jump a gap to Movistar solo. The team went back to help RP ? SOmeone or two should have jumped up to CF.

  6. I would be surprised if Contador is not up to something today, but surely there will be others trying to solo to Bagnères-de Bigorre. There will be enough activity for Sky being obliged to do more than just set a comfortable tempo across the climbs. The Hourquette d’Ancizan is a very serious climb, and anything can happen there. If Kennaugh gets dropped, Froome & Porte’s descending skills could be challenged.

    As for releasing power data, I’m skeptical about judging possible doping based purely on performance (because performance is the very nature of the sport), I would go more for releasing other vital statistics, like weight, and especially the biologic passport. Why is it that biologic passport findings are still kept in the shade?

  7. As a Brit, I want to believe, I really do.

    In terms of possible explanations, you’ve got to consider the work Brailsford (and Peter Keen before him) has done and is doing with the Team GB track cycling team. This is a group who 10 years ago could barely afford their own kit, but now with National Lottery funding and an approach of getting every element perfect means that Team GB are by far and away the most dominant nation in track cycling. It doesn’t take much to transfer that approach, added to 3-4 years experience of road racing that Sky now have, and be successful. Consider Bradley Wiggins climbing 10s of 1000s of metres last year to ensure he had the legs for the mountains.

    Also consider that Sky’s performance in one-day and classics racing is quite frankly, rubbish. If they were doping, wouldn’t we see a better showing in these races (I’m thinking Gewiss)?

    Finally, the performances of the likes of Mollema and Ten Dam. OK they didn’t blitz the field, but they did put in relatively strong performances up a slope where even Alberto Contador and Alejandro Valverde looked cooked.

    Or, let’s look at it the other way. To quote a certain Austrian – “The greater the lie, the greater the chance that it will be believed”. News International, Team Sky’s ultimate sponsors, have been known for some pretty nefarious practices in recent times. Is this another attempt to hoodwink the masses?

  8. I can sort of understand why SKY don’t want to release power data, but I don’t see the harm in releasing it after, say, a six month delay – the rider’s form will have changed in that time anyway. The information will be mis-used by some but that’s already happening with estimated data.

  9. Something nobody has mentioned yet with all the kerfuffle about doping or not at Sky: this looks like it is going to be a disastrous Tour for the French. Pinot’s descend seem a good metaphor for the performance of the French so far. There have been problems with French cycling for years – to much focus on national races, seemingly old-fashioned, conservative training methods – and they only seem to be getting worse instead of them catching up.

    • Except Pinot is the opposite. An international race programme, plenty of sports science and a modern outlook. His problem is a phobia, as he tells L’Equipe some people are frightened of snakes or spiders, he’s ended up scared of speed. It comes from a crash as a junior rider but he’d got over it but it comes back from time to time, he almost crashed in the Tour of the Basque Country and this seems to have set it off.

      • There are methodologies for dealing with phobias.

        Drive him to the top of a moderately steep climb. Have him chase someone down. Keep repeating with steeper descents. Visualize descending confidently.

        Unlike climbing, which is a talent, descending is a skill that can be learned and improved through repetition.

  10. I really hope after yesterday that there is still plenty of fizz left in the bottle, otherwise it could be a rather dull 2 weeks.

  11. Mollema explained his race (the last climb that is) on TV, and I think he had an interesting tactic. He was dropped quite soon after the climb started, but deliberately didn’t force himself to ride Sky’s tempo. In the end a lot of guys exploded and he made up a lot of ground.

  12. re french meltdown. it saddens me too, as i’ve long looked for the next french hope. admittedly because i believe french riders have been a yardstick for clean racing for some time. still, italian and belgian gc hopes are also on the decline – excluding nibali of course. the future seems to belong to the anglosaxons, the colombians and perhaps the dutch.

    • Well, Belgian’s cycling nadir was when Mario Aerts and Axel Merckx were the best they had. Since then they slowly have been raising new talent. You also have to take into account that for the Belgians is the classics first and only then the big Tours. On the other hand, I have this feeling the gap between the French teams (who with the notable exception of Ag2R seem to become more exclusively French every year) is still getting bigger.

      • Pierre Rolland will be a star. He may not podium a GT, but he will grab loads of KoM and stage wins.

        Will be interesting to see if he goes to a non French team. Perhaps, BMC as they have a strong French speaking contigent

  13. “and whether other teams are held to the same standards too.”

    This is the key too. People just look at sky because they were the favourites and hey, the favourites won. Surprise! Where was all this when Boonen obliterated P-R last year?

    However the alternatives to Sky at the moment are Movistar and SaxoBank. C’mon, Mr, Refrigerator Valverde being next best and Quintana going up off up the road after MONTHS off racing back in South America? Contador not looking like the “old” Contador except for early stages in the Vuelta and *that* stage after a rest day? Then there’s the unheralded Belkin duo, especiually LTD who only finished just over a minute behind. How are these performances not taken into context too? Label one, label all.

    I’m not denying that Froome needs a healthy level of skepticism but those quick to jump up and down here, when we only have an UNCONFIRMED time, no actual data, no actual info….well they need to look hard in the mirror and learn some consistency in their accusations.

    • A lot of this was indeed predictable. Quintana, Froome and Porte have been really strong all year while likewise Contador and everyone in BMC (what’s wrong with that team?) are having a bad year. Valverde, Mollema and Kreuziger performed at the expected level. Ten Dam was surprisingly strong and Rodriguez/Moreno surprisingly weak.

  14. I have no firm view on what we saw yesterday, and I think @INRNG is right, its all Rorschach blot stuff, but Froome’s TT numbers from the 2011 Vuelta are interesting:
    That’s hour at 5.8w/kg vs 6.3 estimated for just over 20 minutes – which seems consistent enough, albeit at the end of the stage. His VAM was obviously in the same territory as some infamous performances from the height of the oxygen vector doping era, but on the other hand AX3 is a shorter climb.
    Finally there is some talk that he has lost a bit of weight since the Dauphine – not sure if that is reflected in the modelling people were doing yesterday.
    Froome certainly looks like an extraterrestrial on steep mountains and off the bike, but its all kremlinology until the skybots release more information. Strange that this kind of discussion is now an integral part of fandom, but better than the alternative fairytale.

    • Just because you are a pro cyclist doesn’t mean that you can output 6 w/kg. guarantee the old Froome and Porte weren’t even in the ballpark.

  15. I actually believe this is where Sky are being very clever (or possibly everyone else is being stupid/romantic/old-fashioned*). They know precisely how many watts each of their riders can produce over what period of time and, given that the profiles of theses stages are known to the nearest 10 cm., it doesn’t take a genius to model each rider’s theoretical performance over the stage. All they then need to do is to calculate the optimum time for each member to lead the train and at what power output and Bob’s your uncle. They just need to avoid chasing breaks, reacting to changes in acceleration etc.

    The clever bit, of course, is having sports physiologists/bio-mechanicists who realy understand how to get the most out of those watts.

    • This only works if you’ve got enough riders putting out enough watts at the bottom of the climb such that the fastest way to the top is doing what you’re suggesting, regardless of what your opponents might try. If you have zero or one teammate at the bottom the fastest way to the top of the climb will involve following the wheels of non-teammates.

  16. I think the only interesting GC question left is whether Porte can beat Froome in the time trials? That might liven things up a bit.

  17. Froome has to be doping. He looked like Landis in 2006 yesterday. Kennaugh pulling up a mountain looks equally as suspicious as when Hincapie and Andreu used to do it!

    • Froome may be doping but why does he have to be doping? Similarly Kennaugh has not appeared out of the blue and, although it’s possibly a puff piece, the link to The UK Daily Telegraph article refers to him as a mountain goat.
      Unlike some others I don’t “know” whether Sky or other teams/ team members are doping. I want to believe cycling has changed but will not be shocked if evidence, not assertions, shows otherwise. We really are in a strange place when riders are presumed guilty until proved innocent (how can the latter be proved?) but in the meantime I’ll continue to enjoy the TdF and above all cycling.

    • Watch Armstrong and Ullrich on Ax 3 Domaines in 2001 — the entire stage is on Youtube — and tell me that Froome looks the same. BTW, there was no “Postal train” there, LA was isolated, as was everyone else other than a couple of Euskies.

      And Kennaugh is a climber. He placed top 5 in Poland and Route du Sud in 2011. He took off a year for the Olympics to do track, but this is normal for him. He’s been touted as a future GT rider since 2010 at least.

  18. I guess today should help convince the doubters that SKY are probably clean !
    They found it impossible to repeat for a second day their efforts of Saturday. Froome looks nothing like the closed mouth, expressionless, smooth riding and steely eyed champions of the past, indeed exactly the opposite in every respect.

    • It goes a long way to helping change doubters thats for sure. I fully expected that if they were clean that Porte would struggle today and that Froome will start to struggle against the numerous attacks in the Alps. Time will tell

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