The first summit finish of the 2015 Tour de France and a brutal change in pace as the race switches from the plains to the mountains. After all the projection and speculation we’ll finally see what everyone has got as attitude makes way for altitude in the first of a Pyrenean trifecta.
Don’t miss the stage and its earlier than usual finish.
The Route: a one hundred kilometre high speed procession before the sudden rise upwards. There are small climbs along the way and expect those peloton-riding-past-sunflower images to appear but otherwise the landscape is predictable as it arcs north around Pau before swinging south for the mountains. Things start in Arette of all places by which time the fight will be on as teams try to place their leaders into position, using up their flatland specialists in the race to the foot of the climb.
The Finish: This is a very awkward climb and after 10 days in the big ring suddenly the legs have to spin from the start. It’s wide, a ski station access road and a minor road into Spain too but steep and long, this is a 50 minute effort which makes it greater than Alpe d’Huez.
It has long straight sections but the gradient varies a lot. The profile above tells most of the story but not all, there are ramps at 12% and riders will be working their derailleurs a lot on this climb. Note the way it levels off around the 11km point, there’s a breather section that’s softer than the graphic suggests. Here a rider sat on a wheel can save energy. Then it rises up again with 7% average but a section at 8-9% before easing right on the line.
The Contenders: before the names, let’s consider the scenario. It’s a big ask for a breakaway to stick because anyone capable of going clear early on is going pay the price on the final climb, they’d need to start with several minutes’ advantage just to hope of staying clear and that’s unlikely, even on the sprint stages last week we saw no-hope breakaways being given little space. Anyone hoping for a long range raid across the Pyrenees will be thinking of tomorrow and the day after.
The most likely outcome is the teams in mountain train formation pacing their riders into place for the climb and then chuffing up the pass for as long as possible to eliminate and weaken rivals before their leaders are left to get on with business. However the way the climb eases over the top isn’t conducive to a big attack from the main GC riders because to exploit the steep parts means to attack early and that’s risky. So we could see some cagey riding until late attacks in the final kilometre.
Chris Froome is the prime pick. Sky like to control things but he’s put in a few bold attacks over the years and could try a “long” move in a bid to put the race to bed, going clear on the 10% slopes and leaving the others watching, each hoping someone else will chase across the flatter parts. Even if he doesn’t go this bold he’ll be keen for a later move to bag the bonus seconds and put Tejay van Garderen under pressure. It’ll be interesting to see if Sky reuse the tactics they’ve deployed earlier this year (eg Andalucia) where they make a climber attack on the hard parts to force others to chase.
Tejay van Garderen has long been a diesel but like others his TT bike has probably had cobwebs at times. Instead he’s been working on the climbs and developing more explosive power, the means to turn him from nearly man backstreet boy into a front page man: a two second gap and the stage win and he’s in yellow. Easier said than done and as we saw in the Dauphiné Chris Froome was superior and risky too because if it fails he could lose time.
Nairo Quintana is tipped on reputation alone, the voodoo chile who can chop mountains down with the edge of his feet. He is a great climber but tends to win solo. Team mate Alejandro Valverde would be good for the finish if he can hang with the front group on the steep parts. Joaquim Rodriguez could be good for the finish, he had the zippy sprint up the Mur de Huy and the final kilometre today will feel just as hard or if he goes earlier the others may stick to marking each other.
We’ll get more answers from Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali today but this direct climb after the plains could be awkward, especially for Contador while Nibali said yesterday that he’s “waiting for a sign”, as if expecting some external source to help him rather than relying on his legs.
Outsiders for the win include Dan Martin who finishes well and this time his worry won’t be positioning but pacing as he tries to match the GC riders. Bauke Mollema took off when nobody was expecting in Tirreno-Adriatico and while former team mate Robert Gesink has shown promising form so far this in this race. The one nobody is talking about is Rigoberto Uran but he’s having a great race so far but you can count his road race wins on one hand in career that already goes back a decade. The Yates brothers are hunting for stages and both climb and then sprint well.
It might be Bastille Day but it’s hard to see a French win to end the 10 year drought since David Moncoutié won on the 14 juillet. Thibaut Pinot may still have the legs but he’s better suited to climbs yet to come although he’s got time on his side, at least a deficit which won’t worry the others too much. The same with Romain Bardet so perhaps Alexis Vuillermoz can surprise again? He good on the long climbs too but has said it’s all about supporting Bardet and J-C Péraud now, the latter is said to be coming into good form.
|Joaquim Rodriguez, Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde
|van Garderen, Pinot, Martin, Yates x 2,
Weather: hot and sunny with temperatures of 30˚C on the way to the climb and a light 10km/h breeze from the south.
TV: tune in around 3.30pm Euro time to watch the approach to the final climb which is due to start just before 4.00pm with the finish earlier than usual expected for 4.45pm.