For all the talk of a certain Vincenzo Nibali victory we’ve only had one real mountain stage so far. Now here’s the first of the two Alpine stages, one of the decisive days. The Col de Palaquit is new to the Tour de France and a nasty surprise for some before the surprisingly tough finish to Chamrousse.
Stage 12 Wrap
A win for Alexander Kristoff. Forced into the wind early but he’s a tough rider and won by a length. Another close one for Peter Sagan but this time there was little the Slovak could do. Worse, there’s little he can do in the upcoming stages for a stage win. He could repeat Thor Hushovd’s feat from 2005 of winning the green jersey without winning a stage.
OPQS led out Matteo Trentin but the Italian took out John Degenkolb, switching across the road to block the German’s run to the line. Trentin was fined and relegated but you wonder what threat a 200 Swiss franc fine is. The whole UCI fine table needs to be revised whether it’s sprint switching or littering. But the cash component isn’t the big thing, the peloton is a small society and if someone tries too hard to often they won’t last long.
Tony Gallopin finished over five minutes down and fell out of the top-10. Several riders are ill at the moment, notably Rui Costa, Arthur Vichot and Christophe Riblon.
- Km 24.0 – Col de la Croix de Montvieux, 8 kilometre-long climb at 4.1% – category 3
- Km 152.0 – Col de Palaquit (1 154 m), 14.1 kilometre-long climb at 6.1% – category 1
- Km 197.5 – Montée de Chamrousse (1 730 m), 18.2 kilometre-long climb at 7.3% – category H
An uphill start out of St Etienne takes the race around the side of Mont Pilat, a good place for an breakaway to pull clear. Then the route flattens out and across the plains of the Dauphiné for the best part of 100km.
The Col de Palaquit’s average of 6.1% would be enough to soften up the race but it’s got a two kilometre descent. The road climbs round the back of the town of St. Egrève with some narrow pinch-points, awkward for anyone not already in position at the front. The road eases as it leaves town, crosses a bridge and the climb starts proper. There are a series of ramps at 10-12% between hairpins and then a long climb to the village of Quaix, hard work but then a breather on a fast descent. The climb resumes, softly at first and on a wide road before the gradient pitches up. Some sections have been resurfaced ahead of the race further up on the steep sections it’s rough in places with holes from frost damage. As soon as the riders see the sigh to mark entry into the village of Sarcenas the gradient eases (more detail on the climb at Roads to Ride: Col de Palaquit). The descent is fast and not for demon descenders. It’s the kind that’s easier in a group with long straight sections where riders can tuck into each other’s slipstreams.
Glance at the profile and it looks like the road goes down and then up for the final climb but in fact the race skirts Grenoble, crosses the valley and drags up to the spa town of Uriage-les-Bains, a section where a lone rider or a small group can lose a minute or more to a chasing pack.
The final climb is a tough one. 18km is as long as the mighty Galibier and if it lacks the altitude it’s got the attitude with a variety in the gradient. It is still a ski station access road so it’s wide and reasonable smooth but the gradient is constantly changing. The steep first half will cause plenty of riders in the front group to get dropped before the pace picks up. It’s an awkward climb with the varying slope, this is not a “how much have you got” W/kg climb, instead the changes of pace have to be managed and there are places where sitting on a right wheel brings energy savings.
The Finish:the slope eases as it comes into town. There are two hairpins in the final kilometre and the final straight climbs gently to the line to finish below the ski slopes.
The Scenario: let’s see who goes up the road early but their chances of staying away are slim. They’ll need to take a lot of time in the first 130km because the bunch behind will hit the Col de Palaquit fast, climb it fast and there’s the tricky no man’s land between the descent to cross Grenoble and head to the final climb.
Otherwise it’s a showdown on the two climbs. The Palaquit is hard and it’d be good to see some moves but I suspect it won’t happen; if it does maybe someone like Pierre Rolland goes because he has the margin to jump away but also he’s a gambler who doesn’t play the same odds.
The final climb is steep and selective early on but less so towards the top, it’s likely we get a sprint among the small group of GC contenders for the stage win.
The Contenders: let’s start with a question. Is Vincenzo Nibali the prime pick? Yes his win on the Planche des Belles Fille was impressive but he only launched his move once all his Astana team mates had vanished. His aggression had a defensive touch, go clear to avoid being attacked. Yes he had the jump on the others but only took 15 seconds over three kilometres. He’s looking strong but in simple W/kg he’s on the same level as others. So the answer is he’s probably the best but only just.
Alejandro Valverde is the stealth pick. If he can match the others on the final climb then the last few metres are ideal for his finishing skills. But after such a long climb sprinting ability is more dependent on what’s left in the tank than particular abilities. Maybe he’ll hide in plain sight again?
Thibaut Pinot is next. Second on the Planche des Belles Filles was no fluke, the French climber is in excellent condition and here’s stage that will suit him even more with the long just right for him. It’ll be interesting to see the team dynamic at A2gr, they are genuinely big on collaboration as opposed to mere cohabitation so we’ll see what the attacking Romain Bardet can do with Jean-Christophe Péraud as back-up; both might find the long climb to the final tough.
What about Richie Porte? If he wants to win the race he needs to take time off Nibali but he might be content to wait and see if his rival cracks. As such today’s stage should allow us to see what he can do as much as he discovers this himself. The same for Tejay van Garderen, he might not the jump to win a sprint at the finish today but he could well turn on the power. Watch Leopold König for the outside pick.
Otherwise if a break is to survive then Joaquim Rodriguez, Pierre Rolland and Nicolas Roche could be worth watching. Rodriguez in particular needs do something to hold onto his points jersey, he has 51 points in the mountain competition but today’s finish offers 50 points to the winner. Also lanky Frenchman Brice Feillu is in top shape, he won a stage in the Pyrenees as a neo-pro and hasn’t done much since but is strong right now, converting this to a win is a big ask.
|Alejandro Valverde, Richie Porte
|Romain Bardet, Tejay van Garderen, Leopold König
|Brice Feillu, Péraud, Rodriguez, Rodriguez, Roche
Weather: hot as the race crosses the plans and heads up the Isère valley. Temperatures will reach 35°C.
TV: live from 2.00pm Euro time onwards. The race starts the Col de Palaquit around 3.40pm so tune in to watch the attrition from here. The finish is expected for 5.20pm.