The hardest of the three stages in the Pyrenees with a saw-tooth profile. The stage is live on TV from start to finish.
Stage 11 Review: a stage win for Rafał Majka, the Bison of Zegartowice. After a flurry of early attacks Majka made the winning move while Dan Martin didn’t. The Irishman bridged across on the Col d’Aspin. Onto the Tourmalet and Majka rode away and from this point onwards, 50km to go, put time into everyone, turning a four minute lead into six. Behind the heat was taking its toll with several abandons.
We got a select group up the Tourmalet but on attacks going down it, predictable since Chris Froome had two team mates in Richie Porte and Geraint Thomas who could chase anyone on the long, open roads after. Yesterday’s stage should be seen as a strength-sapping exercise for today. One change from yesterday, Peter Sagan is back in green.
Another change is that Majka’s win confirms Alberto Contador’s hopes are fading fast, the team let the Pole go for the stage win rather than protect their leader. Astana briefly set the pace up the Tourmalet but it was reminiscent of FDJ doing a turn before La Pierre St Martin and equally ruinous. Vincenzo Nibali was blown away on the drag up to the finish in Cauterets. Time to think about the Vuelta or has Fabio Aru already got that in his diary?
- Km 57.5 – Col de Portet-d’Aspet (1 069 m), 4.3 kilometre-long climb at 9.7% – category 2
- Km 93.0 – Col de la Core (1 389 m), 14.1 kilometre-long climb at 5.7% – category 1
- Km 144.0 – Port de Lers (1 517 m), 12.9 kilometre-long climb at 6% – category 1
- Km 195.0 – PLATEAU DE BEILLE (1 780 m)15.8 kilometre-long climb at 7.9% – category H
The Route: the profile pic says a thousand words but let’s add some numbers: 195km and 4,500m of vertical gain.
The race starts across the Comminges on its way to the Portet d’Aspet, listed as 4.3km at 9.7% in the roadbook but that’s just the steep part, the approach road rises up with several sections at 5-6% to make things harder. There will be a sombre moment as the Tour climbs past the Fabio Casartelli memorial.
The Col de la Core is next, a typical pass of the Ariège with its cheese dairies at the foot and fine views higher up. It’s easy by itself but it’s all going to added up.
Next up is the Port de l’Hers. Port is a local word for a mountain pass and this is another scenic climb – look for the lake – with several sets of hairpins. It’s followed by a fast descent that’s awkward, instead of obvious sharp bends the road tilts left and right and at speed it’s hard to know when to brake. Then the road opens up and rides on into Tarascon.
The Finish: there’s a flat approach on the valley, the race turns onto a side road and, just like Alpe d’Huez, the road rears up right from the start. Unlike the other climbs of the day with their narrow roads and varying gradient the road to the Plateau de Beille is a much more regular climb with a wide road, albeit narrowed by the fans. It’s hard though, relentlessly at times as it climbs through woodland and only eases just before the line by which time the race is above the tree line.
The Contenders: there’s a chance the breakaway sticks. Much of the course is hard terrain for a team to chase but any group is going to need a beaucoup time for the final climb and if a winner is to emerge from the breakaway they will have to be an excellent climber. It’s likely we see Team Sky and Movistar leading the charge to the final climb. There’s also the outside chance of an ambush attack by Movistar, Tinkoff-Saxo or Astana slim given Nibali’s evaporating form and Contador’s complaints of allergies.
Another for Chris Froome? After Tuesday’s demonstration that he’s got the climbing legs so why turn down the chance to lock down the race and take another stage win? Now that Froome seems to be the patron or bwana of the race perhaps he can help his friend Richie Porte? The Tasmanian might be going to BMC Racing to help keep Tejay van Garderen on his toes but Sky will be happy with a Porte win and nobody more so than Chris Froome. However if they got a 1-2 at La Pierre St Martin this was helped by the flatter upper section which suited Porte’s stronger TT skills over Nairo Quintana.
Today is much more suited to Nairo Quintana than anything we’ve seen so far. A day full of climbing and the relentless final ascent is perfect for him, can we get the duel we wanted? Movistar are a strong team and Alejandro Valverde brings more options. As much as they will want a stage win they can also put pressure on Tejay van Garderen. BMC’s leader has gone backwards on the first climb but is still among the top names.
Robert Gesink is climbing very well, can he keep it up? The Condor of Varsseveld could soar up the slopes here. Another rider who is climbing well is Pierre Rolland and this climb suits his forceful, big gear style. Alberto Contador is suffering from allergies but if it rains he might find the air better.
By now we’re casting around for outsiders. Bauke Mollema had a go yesterday and could try again while Adam Yates is having an excellent first Tour. Rafael Valls is climbing well and will find support from his namesake Manuel Valls, the French Prime Minister who is due to visit the race today. Finally there’s Rafał Majka, he must be tired but he did put time into everyone yesterday.
|Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana
|Robert Gesink, Pierre Rolland
|Majka, Valverde, Contador
Weather: hot, hotter even with temperatures in the shade of 34˚C but there’s the chance of the heat stirring up a thunderstorm and showers.
TV: it’s live on TV from start to finish, from 11.10am Euto time with a slightly earlier finish forecast for 5.00pm.