The return of the mythical Mont Ventoux, home to fantasies, legends and clichés – more of which later today. There’s a race on and a decisive summit finish. The final climb has been abbreviated because of the windy conditions and this only means more stress on the approach roads.
Stage 11 Wrap: part sailing contest, part obstacle course. The stage was nervous from the start with the high winds. It prompted a series of crashes, one of which saw Jurgen Van Den Broeck leave the race overnight. The race split and regrouped several times, often with riders spread in diagonal formation from gutter to gutter. In the finish several teams were taking turns, Trek-Segafredo took one and then Tinkoff followed with Sagan and Bodnar who accelerated and got a gap with Chris Froome surging across and then Geraint Thomas. Suddenly there were four and they stayed away, in part thanks to their efforts and surprise but helped by the lack of a chase behind, nobody seemed to do anything and it took a while before Katusha and others took up the work.
There have been questions by email and Twitter whether Froome’s move was premeditated, I doubt it, if anything it’s interesting many people view each move by a Team Sky rider as part of some scripted event, a masterplan. Instead that Peter Sagan forced the pace with his team mate Maciej Bodnar and Froome saw an opportunity. It’s the kind of decision your lizard brain takes rather than something mapped out in the morning briefing. In the end Sagan won, the human whirlwind too much for the mere crosswinds and Chris Froome took second, six seconds and a six second time bonus and beaucoup applause too. Sagan might have wanted Bodnar to win but this is the Tour and so far only the big names are winning.
The finish was thrilling but had consequences. On a stage promised to the sprinters Sagan took maximum points for the green jersey while Joaquim Rodriguez and Louis Meintjes lost 1m9s and fell out of the top-10.
The Route: 184km east across to the Rhone valley at the mercy of the Mistral wind. It’s easy to look at the profile and just see Mont Ventoux but there’s a lot of ground to cover on the way. It might be flat but it’s exposed and it’ll be fraught.
The two climbs after Gordes are really one and the same road as they scale a flank of Vaucluse mountains on a narrow and irregular road before a descent on a bigger road past fields of lavender and vineyards which leads the race towards Mazan and Bédoin, the gateway to Mont Ventoux.
The Finish: don’t adjust your set, the faded graphic represents the abbreviated climb with the new finish at Chaley Reynard. The finish has been cut short because of forecast winds. It’s hardly any easier. The profile above shows the climb to Chalet Reynard… but excludes the approach from Bédoin, 3.5km at 5% and an awkward road that rises and dips before reaching the hairpin bend at St. Estève.
The race then enters the forest section and begins a 10km that’s consistently between 9-10% making for a very hard climb. The exact finish location isn’t clear but likely to be on the flat section by the Chalet Reynard car park rather than on the slopes before or after.
The Scenario: it’s Bastille Day in France, the national day and much is expected of the French riders but they haven’t won on this day since David Moncoutié in 2005 and taking the win today looks a tall order. Instead we can expect big crowds given many have the day off and the roads cross popular holiday areas. This is a crucial stage but the time trial tomorrow will weigh on people’s minds, the paradox of an important, decisive finish yet people don’t want to do any damage to their legs ahead of the TT so late attacks are likely from the GC contenders rather than bold moves out of Bédoin. Meanwhile it’s likely an early move forms and tries to stay away with the likes of Thibaut Pinot and Rafał Majka both chasing KoM points but if a move goes clear the nervous peloton may not sit up in the crosswinds.
The Contenders: at this rate Chris Froome‘s going to take off solo early in the stage. Just teasing but his confidence is being reinforced every day with his bold racing. Some say his small gains so far reflect nervousness about Nairo Quintana, that he needs to take time for fear of the Colombian. But it seems the opposite, he’s jumping away because he can. Team mate Sergio Henao is another contender, he’s been opening the road for Froome but could feature.
Nairo Quintana‘s been following the wheels so far but when will he strike? He’s been wanting to win on Mont Ventoux ever since being countered by Chris Froome in 2013 and now’s the chance to launch his bid for the overall win. The later he leaves his move the more time he’ll have to take back later in the race and we’ll finally see what is climbing form is like. However he risks being run ragged across the plains on the way. He’s not the stereotype Colombian, he can hold his own in the bunch but he’d surely pick a calmer day if possible.
Dan Martin‘s in scintillating form, much is being made of Chris Froome 3.0 (Mr Invisible 1.0, The Skybot 2.0 etc) but Martin’s come on a lot since swapping Slipstream for Etixx-Quickstep and has the searing sprint to take the stage win as long as there’s no breakaway up the road. He kept attacking for no gain on the climb to Arcalis but should sit tight to snipe the stage win on this steeper climb.
Richie Porte is BMC Racing’s best bet, the more explosive of their two leaders, he’s got the jump but a stage win here seems possible but only just given the opposition above.
Bastille Day hopes rest on Romain Bardet. Part of his pre-Tour prep included a visit to Ventoux where he rode up in training in an hour on what wasn’t a fast day either. This doesn’t guarantee a win but he could feature. A rider with a faster finish is Adam Yates who is sitting second overall at 28s for a reason and hasn’t taken a time bonus so far. He’s got a good finish as his kick in Arcalis showed. The question is how long he can keep it up but he seems relaxed an unfazed.
Rafał Majka’s down on the overall classification but not out. He and Thibaut Pinot will both be trying to infiltrate the day’s breakaway because of the double goal of the stage win and the points on offer for this “summit” finish. Between the two Majka is the stronger and Pinot himself has acknowledged this but the Frenchman can still surprise.
If you want three left field for Bastille Day names then Fabrice Jeandesboz, Pierre-Luc Périchon and Nicolas Edet are each there for the three French wildcard teams.
|Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana, Dan Martin
|Rafał Majka, Adam Yates, Richie Porte
|Pinot, Pauwels, Bardet, Henao, Cummings, Nibali, Landa
Weather: sunny and warm with a top temperature of 26°C on the flat sections. The Mistral wind is the major factor, a NNW forecast at 45km/h for the plains and gusting to 80km/h.
- A note on the wind, it howls on Mont Ventoux and if you’ve ridden it a few times chance are at least one occasion saw you struggling to stay upright. There’s a strange phenomenon where it can feel windy on the upper parts but nothing wild more only for you to approach the top, the part with the first café on the left and then the final hairpin that bends to the summit. Suddenly it’s like you’ve ridden into the jet stream, put a cleated foot down and you can be blown across the road and struggle to hold your bike. So if people say it’s calm at Chalet Reynard it could still be wild higher up
TV: the finish was forecast for 5.10pm Euro time. It’s likely to stay this way and they shunt the start but keep an eye on events given the change in circumsances. Better still, tune in early to watch the race in the crosswinds and then the tension as they approach Mont Ventoux.