Tour de France Stage 15 Preview

Up and down all day and it’s live on TV from start to finish. This is a promising stage given the hilly terrain suits a breakaway and the difficulty of the Grand Colombier, climbed twice in the finish.

Stage 15 Wrap: three factors ensured a slow stage: the block headwind, the flat profile and today’s stage because anyone attacking yesterday diminished their chances today. Alex Howes, Cesare Bennedetti, Jérémy Roy and Martin Elmiger took off to the relief of the race organisers and TV producers who didn’t have to film one peloton all day.

Mark Cavendish won the sprint. Marcel Kittel appealed to the commissaires. You could see why they reviewed the finish, you could see why they gave it Cavendish. In the run to the line it was a pleasant surprise to see a white jersey and John Degenkolb, he’s still got that blue plastic splint on his finger.

The Route: don’t call this the Alps, today’s stage is in the Jura mountains instead. Since the whole stage is live on TV from start to finish we’ll go through the stage with a bit more detail in case you want info on what’s coming up next during the broadcast.

After yesterday’s horizontal route this puts the emphasis on the vertical, 160km and 4,100m of vertical gain. Right from the start the road rises and falls even before they reach the Ain valley and tackle the Col du Berthiand (6km at 8%), a long and even drag up a big wide road for 6km. A breakaway will try and force its way clear here but it’s hard to get out of sight. A fast and regular descent follows before an unmarked climb to Peyriat, nothing big 4-5%.

There’s a descent that follows with warning signs of 15% but it’s not that steep, the obstacle instead is the corrugated road surface, the rippled tarmac will make riders bounce across the road before they arrive in Cerdon.

The Col du Sappel (8.8km at 5.6%) is in three parts. First is a steep and narrow road out of Cerdon, then a long drag on a main road past a huge memorial the Résistance and then a turning onto a smaller, narrow road with a stretch at 13% before the top of the climb.

The Col de Pisseloup (4.9km at 5.8%) is more regular, a road lost in the middle of woodland with a steeper finish towards the top. Then comes a gentle descent and one of the rare flat sections of the race as they head to Hauteville-Lompnes, birthplace of 1967 Tour de France winner Roger Pingeon.

The Col de la Rochette is a steady climb (5.1km at 5.4%) to a tiny ski station before a regular descent and then an awkward unmarked climb out of Hotonnes, 4.5km at 6.5% which makes it harder than some of the previous marked climbs.

Grand Colombier Lochieu profile

With 60km to go they reach Lochieu and the start of the Grand Colombier (12.8km at 6.8% but with a brief descent mid-way). A gentle slope for a moment and then the road switches to 10-11% for the next 5km, all on a narrow, grippy road. It drops for a moment and then resumes with 2km at 10%, eases for a moment then tackles the final section to the top with 3km at close to 9%.

They descend the Grand Colombier at speed, the road has long ramps at 12-14% and some wide hairpins. With 38km to go they turn onto the finishing circuit and begin a very sketchy descent, a side road off the Grand Colombier through woodland, it’s shaded and has off-camber bends, steep sections and a rough, granular surface.

With 32.5km to go they reach the end of the descent and ride along the Rhone valley to Culoz and cross the finish line with 23.5km to go. They then begin climbing the Grand Colombier again, this time the southern flank and on a steep road with regular 10% sections. Then come the famous lacets or hairpins, a snaking section of road that jut out on the corner of the mountain, climbed first the Tour de France in 2012. Once past the last of the hairpins the gradient slowly eases before a right turn and the same sketchy descent again.

The Finish: after the descent they pick up a larger road which keeps heading downhill, it’s fast and open with two small uphill bumps on the way to the finish, which pose no more challenge than one gear change. As they come into town there’s a roundabout that’s not in the roadbook – has it been demolished? – and then a flat finishing straight of 250m.

The Scenario: they’ll be a scrap to get in the breakaway today, this is The Day all the breakaway specialists will have marked in their diaries so it’s unlikely the first attackers are left to get on with it, they’ll be a fight up and over the first climb and possibly longer.

If all the earlier climbs suit punchy riders the Grand Colombier is a much bigger climb, the equal to anything in the Alps or Pyrenees and a sustained effort. So as much as many will try to crowd the final breakaway the finish is reserved for those who can climb well.

Watch out for the second race among the yellow jersey group too the slopes and the descent can allow riders in and around the top-10 to make their move. There’s the chance of some teams using this as ambush country to turn the race upside down but let’s not get out hopes up. Team Sky’s challengers may not be up to it: Astana haven’t looked strong so far, BMC Racing race conservatively and Movistar might still be licking their wounds too before the Alps.

The Contenders: Stephen Cummings has won one stage and here’s another opportunity for the opportunist. It’s hilly and selective and as we saw on the Aspin he can hold Vincenzo Nibali and Dani Navarro at bay. Team mate Serge Pauwels is suited to this too.

Rafał Majka and Vincenzo Nibali are two big names to watch today. Majka though didn’t go in the moves on the stage to Mont Ventoux which is surprising given he was, and still is, in the hunt for mountains points. Is something not right? Or maybe we’ll see him up the road again today and using the Grand Colombier as his launchpad. Nibali’s proving enigmatic this race but should feature and the descending today suits him.

Remember Julian Alaphilippe? Of course you do, he was hot property in the opening week but has dropped out of contention since but this hilly yet not altitude stage suits him well. Jarlinson Pantano won the final stage of the Tour of Switzerland by climbing over the mountains and using his sprint. That bodes well but his win rate is low. Another strong rider with a low success rate is Rui Costa who is good for today.

Despite his strong ride at La Pierre St Martin last year Tony Gallopin has eschewed the overall classification for stage wins, a brave decision. He’s won in the Jura before and can climb and sprint well from a breakaway. He’s looked nervous in some stages but given Lotto-Soudal already have a stage win maybe he can put his poker face on and take the stage win the French are waiting for.

There’s also the chance we get the big names contesting the win after the early break doesn’t get enough time or even some big names light the touchpaper early. Among the current top-10 Adam Yates, Alejandro Valverde and Dan Martin all have a fast finish. Romain Bardet could do his thing on the descent too.

Stephen Cummings, Alejandro Valverde
D Martin, Bardet, Majka, Yates, Nibali, Pantano, Gallopin

Weather: sunny, 27°C and the wind has stopped blowing.

TV: live on TV from 12.55 Euro time and the finish is forecast for 5.35pm. It should be worth watching the break form at the start, there’s likely to be a lull in the middle once a move’s established before the action at the end.

99 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 15 Preview”

  1. It’s nice to see racers actually targeting the KOM jersey for once rather than it being a default jersey for a GC contender. All three riders at the top of the KOM competition are within striking distance of each other and a fan can hope that once again they’ll fight it out with a fair number of points on offer today.

    As far as stage 14 and Cavendish’s fourth victory are concerned, Dimension Data has been trying to downplay the rumors that Cav planned to pull out of the race before Paris. With 4 wins in the coffers and a possible two more bunch finishes before the end, we may yet see a true battle to the line for the points jersey. Dimension Data must be loving life as sponsors of a bike team with success far beyond what they could have imagined!

    • They’ve spaced out the sprint finishes, if Cavendish makes it through today then there’s a reward tomorrow. Unfortunately there’s then a long stretch through the Alps to Paris but the Champs Elysées are worth waiting for.

  2. Thanks as ever for the preview.

    One small correction – Steve Cummings held Nibali at bay on the Aspin, not the Peyresourde.


  3. Thanks for yet another excellent and comprehensive review, very much appreciated. Sounds very much as if you have ridden these roads recently !

  4. Very apt that you focus on the breakaway today Inrng, given the memorial to the French Resistance was to commemorate their efforts in aiding escapers during World War II.
    (As a side note, the Great Escape by Allied POW’s took place from Stalag Luft III, which was near the then German town of…Sagan – now Zagan, Poland).

    So I’m going for a breakaway today and Steve Cummings. Take it away Steve

  5. What about Zakarin and Keldermann?
    They climb well and is totally out of the GC.

    Tom Domoulin is 4th in mountain jersey atm. Could he give it a go today going for hes 3th win?

    Pauwels is rankning 6th in mountain jersey and is looking better and better as the tour moves forward.

    Im doubting Rui can keep up with the other climbers on the two last climbs in the breakaway?

    Im also on doubt that Nibali will leave Aru today. Aru looks like he need Nibali’s help and Nibali seems stronger than Aru atm, but he althou looked weak in the breakaway last week.

  6. Majka didn’t go in the moves on the stage to Mont Ventoux because thats was too short climb for him. He is waiting for stage where is more summits to conquer, and more points to take. Today he will be in the front from the begining, but not sure to the end. To be honest no chance for Stephen Cummings, he will lost 2-3 minutes to Froom/Quintanta.

  7. Thank you Inrng for the excellent daily coverage which is becoming so part of my morning routine I will be lost next week. Today could be a classic, lets hope so. Cavendish looked extremely relaxed after yesterdays win, cock a hoop with success.

  8. Im was just thinking about Astana/Sky/Movistar. Who will they proberly sent into a breakaway, either for the stage win or just too be free from working too much in the front.
    Landa or Nieve could be a smart move?
    Fuglsang if Nibali is needed at Aru?
    Ion or Anacona?

  9. Find the ongoing polemic about Froome pausing the race after Stannard’s crash odd. Yes, he shouldn’t have done it, but more importantly the others should not have let him do it. The question is for them – why did they? Valverde seemed to complain – why not tell his team to keep riding? And tell Froome that he can’t stop for a wee.

    • Because Valverde and Froome have apparently become personal friends, as reported, among others, by López-Egea in El Periódico last week.

      I thought I had noticed something when Valverde sat up from the break last weekend, even if someone here was saying that the handshaking and all was business as usual in similar conditions.
      Well, then it turned out to be something a bit friendlier than custom etiquette.

      I suppose (or hope) that such situation won’t stop the Murcian from attacking in *normal* sporting terms, but for sure he won’t do something which might look – how could I say? – impolite…?

      • If Valverde was annoyed – and he seemed so – by Froome being allowed to stop to go to the toilet he should have told Froome ‘No’ and kept riding. So maybe your ‘friendship’ idea is the reason. Who knows – Movistar might as well not be here.
        No doubt they’re aiming at the team prize. Again.
        No doubt Valverde is aiming to hang on and come third, as ever.

    • Why shouldn’t he? It’s surely the maillot jaune’s prerogative and up to the other teams to decide whether or not to go along with it. There are *no* rules about this.

  10. You keep saying this – ‘He’s looked nervous’ – about Gallopin. Interested to know what it is that has suggested this to you?

  11. Good to see Movistar sticking to the same tactics – not pushing early to reduce the number of Froome’s helpers. Once again, Froome’s mountain domestiques get to rest at the beginning of the stage, so he’ll have many later. Still, at least Movistar have those two riders up front in the break to do absolutely nothing with.

    • haha… i know… what are the non-Sky GC teams trying to do? It’s like they don’t want to win. What’s the point of GC teams finishing the stage with 2 riders in the GC group?

      Or, why didn’t the other GC men attack Team Sky? If you attack and it fails, you might fall from 6th to 8th (or whatever), but that’s better than not riding to win.

      If these guys are waiting for Froome to have a bad day it won’t happen if they don’t put him into difficulty. The other leaders just let Poels crush them for 50+km.

      • Aru, Valverde and Bardet all attacked but we saw the result, they were reeled in by Team Sky with Wout Poels doing the work. Many others were probably on the limit, Adam Yates looked close to being dropped and van Garderen was dropped. Even if, say, Bardet had taken 20 seconds on the climb and then a further 20 on the descent he’d have had hard time holding this alone on the valley road to the finish.

        • Movistar ride hard from the start of the stage and try to isolate Froome from his domestiques. Try to make it just CF vs NQ. Might well not work. Might end in NQ losing more time. But doing nothing like this will definitely result in NQ not winning. Movistar haven’t tried any other tactic. There are other tactics available – and Contador would be trying them, successfuly or otherwise.

          • Herrada was ill and abandoned during the stage, Anacona was dropped early and others were floundering too. Movistar do not have the team to do this. Astana tried later in the stage but we saw the results, in the end Nieve and Thomas were missing but this was because Nieve crashed on the descent and Thomas punctured.

          • Movistar has a solid team. Two Movistar men finished with the GC group, therefore could have sacrificed one of the GC men to drill the GC group.

            When one team has a top climbing domestique sit on the front for 50km it is pretty clear either this domestique is a mutant, or the other GC men are sitting in.

          • Movistar haven’t done anything in two weeks.
            Best thing NQ can do is get out of that team. They ballsed it up for him last year, riding for Valverde’s 3rd place and holding him back.
            This year, they’ve been similarly conserative.
            Could be that they know he doesn’t have the form, but they’d ride like this anyway – it’s what they always do and always have done.
            They do not have one single tactic other than ‘sit on bike and wait’.
            They’re also awful on the flat, which is his biggest weakness.

        • Yes, a handful of them did attack, but you still saw Movistar, for example, finish with 2 GC men… Valverde could’ve drilled the front to drop Poels and then ridden home himself.

          The attacks appeared half-hearted, as if guys are already giving in to their current position on GC.

    • Agreed, I’m a Team Sky fan & even I can see they are strangling the race. This isn’t their fault, it’s the tactical ineptitude of the other GC teams. When Astana upped the pace & 2-3 sky riders were pinged out the back. Movistar & Astana are the only 2 GC teams with the climbing ability to apply pressure early on, they seem unwilling to do this to try & isolate Froome or at least trim down the super domestiques.

      • it’s the tactical ineptitude of the other GC teams

        What would you have them do? They don’t have the power of Sky, and they aren’t going to get it in the next few days. The best you can do is maximize your GC finish, or work several other goals if possible within the event. And that’s if you are leader material. If you are a worker, well, your job is well defined and has nothing to do with placing well.

    • From the beginning, all the other ‘GC contenders’ have not been riding for victory.
      They might be right that they can’t win, but it’s utterly depressing watching them ride for a slightly bigger next contract.
      LIke many, I used to say that Sky were boring to watch, now the others are more boring.
      Chapeau to Pantano: in this race it’s the non-GC race that provides all the interest. Again.

    • Are you all blind? Don’t you see what is going on? You can’t attack or do anything if the speed is too high and you haven’t got the power to attack. And to attack, while sky leads with rouleurs in the mountain is just suicide and there is no coming back from that. You can’t do that and let your whole team down, that trained for months for this, which depends on you to arrive in Paris and that needs the primes and exposure. Seriously!!! That’s no childplay or computergame. sky surely are NOT strangling the race with their “tactic” .

      • Not a lot of exposure for Movistar, Trek, etc. with Poels’ Team Sky jersey blasted on the front of the GC group for 50km and 2 mountain passes.

      • People are acting like Poels is super-human and that no-one could possibly get past him. Did anyone make any real effort at an attack? Or were they just riding so they could say ‘I tried attacking’? Valverde and Aru finished with the lead group, so they certainly didn’t put all their efforts in. (I missed the Valverde/Aru attack – TV went to a break, but it can’t have been too impressive if it didn’t even last for the adverts.) So, that shows that Valverde is not fully committed to Quintana.

        • Honestly, J.Evans, how do you jump from Valverde making an attack to “Valverde isn’t committed to Quintana”? No, sorry, it PROVES it! The best or nicest I can say is: Calm down, get some distance. You have your very fixed opinion about everything, that’s fine. But that is all a bit much. Especially as once it is proven in your opinion you carry on from that conclusion and take it as launchpad for other conclusions. That makes it a very shaky building of conclusions. And very honestly: this is not said to annoy you.

          • Valverde could finish with the front group, therefore he didn’t put all his energy into that attack. Similar situations on other stages. Hence he’s just behing Quintana on GC. Doesn’t look 100% committed to Quintana’s cause.
            It’s easy to criticise others when you’re called Anonymous and thus no-one can criticise anything you have said.

      • Do it from far enough out – or multiple mountains – from the finish, and it could have the desired effect – e.g. when Stannard and Rowe are blasting up the first Cat 1 climb of the day, it’s necessary to make it already GC pace and get rid of them. Force Poels to ride from 100km is different to making him ride for last 30-40 (1hr).

        The downside to this, is probably you’ll also decimate your own support… so need to be willing to lose. No-one left in the race is willing to lose.
        Mollema – target top 5 – 3rd place must be defended now.
        Yates – just surprised to be up there, looked bad today, needs to concentrate on defending his high GC position
        Quintana – should adopt Bertie tactics of all or nothing, but maybe he’s not feeling good?
        Piti – here to help and likely to suffer a bad day sooner or later
        Bardet/Aru – they’re too far back to trouble SKY – only to rescue their podium or top 5 opportunities..

        So who will attack out of this lot?? Quintana is not the guy to do multiple attacks – after Ventoux turned into chaos (shortened & with no legs on the day), his best bet is to attack on Forclaz and keep going. Probably not going to happen, but someone attacking on Forclaz is going to make Wednesday’s stage very hard.

        • Yup.
          Quintana has nothing to lose. Another 2nd place means nothing.
          And Valverde shouldn’t be in the team if he’s not working 100% for Quintana. That should have been demanded from the start: same with Nibali for Aru and TVG for Porte.

        • They did it today. The pace on the 1st climb was crazy and most of the Sky riders were dropped… (including Stannard, Rowe and Kiry) as most of the peloton, generally speaking.

          The problem is that just after that nobody could take the responsibility to go on with the forcing and Sky was again all together – it’s when you see the break flying away.
          Most teams with both GC *and* stage interests- rightly so or less rightly so – weren’t interested at all in GC, they were thinking about winning the stage with the break (Katusha, Ag2R, Tinkoff, Etixx…).
          Astana then forced a decent pace on the Grand Colombier, but they couldn’t do that on their own, Rosa did a remarkable job but it wasn’t enough, Fuglsang had to work but he suddenly didn’t feel the legs.
          A couple more of men (from Astana or any other team) would have been needed to really turn the screw in the only appropriate climb (more than 30′).
          Then the Lacets were a crazy Poels show. Really fast. A full-gas attack (which nobody did and which nobody was apparently willing to do) would have reasonably allowed a top climber to gain some 30″-40″, pretty much useless with the descent and the flat.

          However, as I’ve said elsewhere, it must be noted that Sky is shifting their workers pretty well. Poels takes rest days in the flats where most GC climbers have to suffer to stay in the front groups, and had a quite calm first week. The strength of Sky during this Tour lies in having more than enough strength with *half* a team to manage most situations. What’s working especially well is that anyone is ready when he’s needed, while the risk of this strategy (as seen in the past) is that if one of the two or three that have been prepared to work in a given section (or for a given stage) have a jour-sans, you could find yourself in troubles.

          Obviously, other teams are doing or trying to do the same (notably, Astana and Movistar) but they haven’t had the same luck. Movistar paid a higher price for some falls and a ill rider; Astana’s got Fuglsang who, for example, failed today right when he was expected to shift the rhythm, Tiralongo who’s seeking form or just old, Nibali who isn’t fully on team duties (even if today he did a bit of nice work), LL Sánchez who isn’t in his best form, either.

          Besides, Movistar is spending a lot of energies to send guys up the road in search of… what? Today the commenters on Spanish TV were absurdely excited about Team GC – I really hope it’s not that silly obsession once again.

          If you have a strong team on paper, and you’re lucky enough to have your preparation and turns working like a Swiss stopwatch (when human biology is involved, that’s being good at it as much as being lucky, if you push your options like this: it worked well for other teams in other races, anyway) – in that case, the only thing the other teams could do is cooperate between them.
          I don’t see any real interest in it, I’d say. They wouldn’t win all of them at the same time, hence they prefer not taking risk and going for a podium, which is what they might get in any case. A podium, or even a top-5, is *huge* for a Yates, for a Mollema, for a Dan Martin, for a Porte, even for a Bardet… why should they look for anything else?

          • Never thought I would say it, but this is what I think and believe:
            I am unconvinced. To me sky is at a level which is for me not believable anymore. At least not within the legal rules of cycling. I also notice their changed and bizarre personal behaviour. The over-confidence, the bullying. This is not the sport I want to see. And if they should ease up in the next days, because the show is ruined and it gets too obvious, it won’t change my belief either.

            It is high time we see another president, because this way, with a weak president who is publically behind some teams and very publically behind sky, while he condemns others, it all will come tumbling down again. Most of the trust that was built in the public has vanished again in the course of this year.

          • Can’t see much difference between this Sky team and the ones from previous years (which isn’t making a judgement either way). They’ve dominated like this for quite a while.
            And domestiques rest, whereas GC riders can’t do that (did Landa do anything today? – I didn’t see him and he came in 20 minutes down). Plus they do have better riders than the other teams (e.g. Landa – a potential GT winner). Because they can afford them. And – as Gabriele says – they haven’t been challenged much this year.
            2015 Giro, a lot of people were saying the same things about Astana. And I gave much the same reasons then.

    • Any suggestions of how to actually win the race then?
      Quintana, for one, has nothing to gain by another place.
      Better to try and fail badly than not to try and just fail.

      • Right now, Quintana seems to have the best seat in the house to watch Froome win the TdF. Valverde has, for once in his career, played the loyal sidekick, and Movistar has placed riders up ahead several times. But NQ just sits behind the Sky train and watches. I’m beginning to think he doesn’t have the legs.

    • I’m not completely sure today’s stage was all that suited to attacking in the GC group. It looked potentially really dangerous, but I’d doubt that any light weight climbers would have liked to race the last flat(ish) 9 kms with Chris Froome and domestiques just 20 seconds behind them. They’d have had to isolate him really early, to have a chance and, judging from the noises coming from the Sky camp yesterday, they had targeted this stage as one they needed to have numbers around Chris Froome, so had been resting key mountain men in previous stages.

      Short of the race splitting to pieces on or before the penultimate climb, I suspect today was all about putting hard km into the riders’ legs.

  12. So if Bardet was going to attack before the summit, why didn’t Vuillermoz get called back to add a domestique? He did get a 3rd and a podium spot, but maybe I just don’t understand team GC tactics.

  13. Wout Poels! Pretty dominant performance. How long was he on the front of GC group? And not a single GC man could put him in difficulty…

          • If you are trying to poison the well and compare Lance to Froome, it might be worth seeing just how many eyewitnesses there were who were prepared to witness against him even just a year a year after his amazing first victory. Then count up the amount of eyewitnesses lined up to help convict Froome in a far longer time in his career.

            You know the cynical saying there’s no smoke without fire? Well thus far there hasn’t be a hint of the merest wisp of smoke. The position is quite literally too bad for a cynic to make a credible argument for it.

            Everyone knew Lance was doping because we had a long line of people who saw him do it, and were willing to talk about it.

            Everyone who knows Froome is doping seem to know it because he usually (but not always) is a little better than his competitors having rode the race in a way that Sky feel will maximise his strengths and minimise his weaknesses. Because, as we all know, if you have the strongest team behind you, it’s all but impossible if you do clean if you do that.

            Now all that doesn’t mean he doesn’t dope. It just means that there is no credible evidence whatsoever to suggest it does.

          • @ATB
            I don’t want to imply anything about Froome and Sky, I’m quite sure they’ve been using borderline *legal* products, but that’s science, isn’t it? Then one might start questioning how and why some substances end up in the banned list while others *which comply with every due characteristic* simply don’t, but that’s a long story and you could even lose faith in professional sport and/or human nature if you walk down that path.
            That said, as I commented elsewhere, I’ve gone Schrödingerian on the whole cycling and doping question, hence I’m not worried about Sky possibly using *also* forbidden substances. In any case, it wouldn’t be the only and decisive factor, at least not as much as all the different consequences of a possible collusion with cycling powers and institutions – which is what really fosters team doping, at the end of the day.
            Besides, clean or not, that wouldn’t change much a lot of technical questions.

            Long premise to state that I’m not saying what follows to accuse Sky: however, not only you’re (at least partly) wrong about Lance, as someone else pointed out, but what’s more relevant is that *a lot* of other riders were doping at the same time or in other periods and no *eyewitness* ever showed up. They were caught after years because of bank operations or involvement in other investigations. Yet, no eyewitness was ever available – in the vast majority of the cases, I’d add – to suggest doping.
            You may start to feel reasonably suspicious if eyewitnesses accuse some rider or team of doping, but it’s not like the lack of that can end up implying that there’s *nothing* suggesting doping.

            The first hint is IMHO a certain *mentality*: the abuse of not-banned doping-like products suggests that you haven’t got any moral barrier about that (something I really don’t expect in pro sport…). If anything, you’re more worried about something “being banned or not” and “taking maximum advantage” than about your riders’ health or any form of competition *in the sporting terrain*, but that’s very close, albeit different, to “doping is when you’re caught”.
            The hiring of known responsible of team doping is another bad feature, which isn’t emended by – later – massively firing them for PR reasons.
            Add to that, but this starts to be marginal, a statistically and technically *peculiar* personal evolution of Froome’s career, or the rarely seen rapid shift in riders’ physiological features.
            Plus, the favourable circumstances, that is, tight relationships with the present top powers in cycling.
            In short, no evidence, for sure. But as for “facts which might suggest or hint”, well, no lack of them. Are they doping? Aren’t they? I *really* don’t know, and since there are a lot of other relevant factors in cycling which *are known* and we might worry about, I prefer to focus myself on the latter and not on that possible and however quite limited shift in pure performance which would be generated by a hypothetical use of banned substances.

          • Gabriele, again, as said below, ask David Walsh about when the evidence against Lance piled up.

            You’re comparing apples to oranges by talking about the other riders who took an age to get caught and without eyewitnesses etc. With Froome you are talking about someone who has been very loudly called a doper for what, 5 years now? Someone who had the same level of suspicion as Lance did, if not more so. Someone who has a very vocal part of the cycling ‘fanbase’ trying to actively prove he cheats. There has been a climate of suspicion around him that the other riders you are trying to compare him to weren’t under.

            You mention the people that Sky fired for (in your opinion) PR reasons. It’s pretty well known that some of them didn’t take to it gladly. Don’t you think it likely that if there were doping going on, some hint of it might have spilled out from disgruntled ex employees?

            For context, initially with Froome I was dubious, but the length of time this has gone on with people actively trying to prove he cheats, and yet without producing a single shred of evidence, has led me to conclude that the conspiracy required to keep this hidden is just too great at this point for me not to consider him clean. Which actually makes me feel a bit more positive about the direction cycling must be moving in.

          • @ATB
            No comparable “climate of suspicion” in the late ’90s and 2000s’? Do you *vaguely* remember that?
            The only difference is that, before Lance, the UCI wasn’t on anyone’s side, they were just threatening or blackmailing whoever they deemed opportune depending on current politics and their own agenda.

            And, about Lance, yeah, some news were there, but most of it didn’t have space in the media or were adequately cooked up, hence the greatest part of the public was just being prevented from becoming aware at all. Not that difficult. Have a search in any forum before… the last three or four years (!) and you’ll see armies of “he’s innocent” reasoning about that not being possible, the evidence not being conclusive and accusing more or less everyone else of being conspiranoics.

            I’ve no conclusive position about Sky (or cycling in general) and doping, what I know for sure is enough for me to dislike their methods and their mentality – surely common in other teams, too. But that’s legal.
            Is there anything more? I think it’s beyond our knowledge horizon, really.
            But being so sure only “because nobody spoke” is a bit naive.
            For example, let’s take your argument… imagine you want to go on working in cycling (like a lot of Sky’s exiles did), how do you think that people will hire you if you’re known to speak about your team’s bad practices?

          • Gabriele – you misunderstand me. When I say the climate of suspicion was different I am talking about individual riders relative to the peloton, and relative to the evidence out there.

            This may be partly down to the vagaries of language, so I’ll try to find another way to put it.

            In the late 90s and 2000s we had very hard evidence that individual riders and the peloton in general were doping. It wasn’t so much suspicion as it was pretty well founded knowledge. We knew about EPO, etc., we were regularly seeing top riders get popped. We had no need for innuendo and oblique ‘suspicions’ because we knew there was rife doping going on, it was a matter of catching them, and whether or not the higher ups wanted to catch them. Even when we didn’t have evidence someone was doping, it was reasonable to be dubious about a rider who was successful because he was beating dopers himself!

            That isn’t what I meant with the climate of suspicion about Froome. Because none of that really applies to Froome. We know that the the blood passport has been effective at (at the very least) minimising the advantage drugs cheats can gain. We’ve seen known dopers retire and leave the peloton. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but the peloton is in a lot better place than it was.

            So where as the climate before was one of suspicion backed up by evidence, the climate now is just one of suspicion.

            Does that clarify what I meant?

        • in this day and age, what is the one most important lesson future cheaters can take away from the lessons of Postal, Puerto, etc.? No witnesses, no evidence.

          If Froome and or Sky (which I doubt is cheating collectively) are cheating, it is by a method that we have not heard of. He’ll be retired before we do.

      • And a bit of a rest at various points in the last fortnight that other GC riders didn’t get – which is why he’s an hour down overall on GC.

        End result – he drops Van Garderen. Big whoop. He’s less tired than them because he’s done less work than them in the first two weeks.

        • ATB-you are confusing the timeline. It took years, before the first crack was made in the Postal/Lance armour. Before that they had the power of image, money, momentum and connections to not even create a ripple. Exactly the same as it is now. The peloton looked the other way or adapted and did the same. In the beginning it was exactly like it is now: One team ridiculously above everybody else.

          The “long line of anybody saying anything” only came to the fore one after one year after year after the peloton and journalists being ever more helpless, desperate, seeing the sport falling apart. It came after France adapting a stricter doping policy (and getting the hate of the peloton), it came after some powers in Italy having enough. It came, because Postal and Lance couldn’t keep their bullying in check anymore. It came, because there simply was no denying anymore. I lived through it. There is always a tipping point, where things get set in motion. Think Gewiss.

          • Not true. Ask David Walsh.

            It took years to get momentum against Lance, but the evidence was there from a very early stage. That’s the point.

  14. Sky is until now in too superior a physical form as a team.
    They’ve got a super-team on paper, indeed, and they’re doing well in giving some rest stage to this or that gregario to keep them up, no doubt, but IMHO they’re also over-performing (not necessarily implying team-doping).
    Obviously enough, if you always end up having 4-5 out of 20-25 riders, there’s not much the others will be able to do – unless they ally among themselves.
    What suggests super-form on Sky’s part is that the situation repeats itself on and on, and that, however good the Sky’s gregari might be (they are excellent, potential captains, indeed), still most of the time they’re consistently outnumbering a set of globally classier riders, spread throughout the other teams.

    And, yeah, they’re good, but not as good as being normally able to match, as single riders who generally are already pulling on the front, several attacks from several different GC contender.
    The GC level isn’t high, this year, yet fine guys as Poels or Henao or Nieve should be able to match one attack each from any top GC contender, nothing more than that, especially if they’ve already been working for some time. Not to speak about situations when a couple of GC rivals are trying to cooperate and still they aren’t building any significant difference.
    With so easy a first part of the Tour (there lied the mistake most other teams made…), it’s clearly harder to make the difference (note that also several relatively mediocre riders remain around, it’s not like Valverde attacks and only Froome and Poels stay with him!) – that generates a herd-effect which rewards strength in numbers.

    Add to the notable form by Sky riders, the Movistar general lack of “super-form”, along with specific troubles for a couple of key riders, plus the typical unexpected low form one or two guys are normally stroke by in any team. That makes Movistar even more defensive… and they’re hugely defensive in normal conditions. Tinkoff have got different goals, and they’re pretty much saving their Tour after losing one of their stars. BMC and Etixx just don’t have pretty much any idea about what a GC is. Astana are starting to try things, but they’re playing their best cards for a TdF rookie. Trek is saying they won’t repeat again “the error of attacking to soon”.

    Today was a different stage, even if it really ended up looking more of the same. Hope that’s the beginning of some sort of change, but I’m not that optimistic. It’s sort of an attitude thing. They know who must win and just don’t get bothered in messing things up.

    In an ideal world, the other teams need to work together to shift the game Sky wants to play. No super-team could match that (remember that Sky has been climbing *pretty slowly* except a couple of final climbs). Today, for example, Movistar desperately needed to work with Astana, not just trying to take advantage of the Aru move with Valverde (hoping Valverde wasn’t actually “marking” the Italian). Same must be said about Ag2R, who were intent in launching one of their best riders stage-hunting. And I could go on.

    However, it might be too late. Sky’s got a lot of fine short stage racers, and this TdF might not really have any *third week*… since the first one (or two) proved pretty much nonexistent.

  15. Today was yet another example illustrating that contenders and their teams are simply not prepared or able to make a serious attempt to try and constantly test Froome and his team. There doesn’t even appear to be a basic plan by BMC or Movistar to attempt to cause such an upset. Both these teams appear more concerned with internal competition. It would just take Froome to have one bad day for the race to be turned upside down. If teams and contenders are not prepared to probe on a regular basis, and we know riders like Port can apply pressure, but appears to chose not to, I am afraid we are going to witness a royal procession to Paris.

    Hardly the fault of Froome or SKY if the opposition is simply not physically or organizationally up to the challenge.

    • The current SKY momentum does seem constant, and perhaps inevitable.

      Its hard for the other teams to match what seems to be blog consensus, SKY/Froome will be in yellow. Other teams just don’t have the deep pockets to buy the road help necessary to compete with the SKY A-team for 3 weeks. hope i’m wrong just for entertainment sake, no disrespect to Froome or SKY.

    • Feels to me I am one of the few actually enjoying the race…
      – sprints have been quite good
      – GC attacking in the downhill + with green jersey was great to see
      – there is all kind of drama around, including the running man
      – diference between the leader and the 10th place is probably the smallest in a long time
      This is not the race where we will see those long attacks (and if we have this blog would be full of doping questions…), but rather a tense race all over to the end
      We may not like it, but Movistar is probably doing the right strategy. To beat Sky, you cant try everyday as you will just kill yourself, specialty with NQ not as strong as he should. If (and a big if) you want to win, it need to be in the right moment.
      Feels to me they are doing small atacks just to check if the day is not an off day for Froome, but not to the point f risking the race.
      They are waiting for the third week for that single shot. Some may argue (J Evans… 😉 ) that Sky has trained specifically for that, but still seems their best bet. NQ is not racing well being drooped quite often (twice in the Ventoux plus a poor TT).
      There is a few comments that a second place and a 10th is the same for NQ that I dont agree… the only ones willing to risk now are the ones closer to the 8th+ place… I can see Aru trying something (rookie + nothing to loose in terms of minutes) and maybe TvG as he is loosing time and they can still play with Porte. Valverde will definitely try something in the last week for sure to help NQ or for himself.
      There are still some mountain finishes and NQ can get to the podium.
      Mollema is happy with a podium and wont risk (probably his best bet is Froome getting sick or crashing) Yates is on his limits.
      Going back to Movistar, they are playing a strategy to be ready every day, that is why they have 1-2 guys up the road everyday. But it doesn’t mean they will use it. But again, if something happens they are ready.
      There is a few comments about the other teams joining forces, this also wont happen. Movistar and Astana maybe… but, BMC, Orica and Trek are happy with a podium and would love to the Movistar burn themselves. So if you are one of the teams is easy to see that committing to an attack waiting for the others is a very risky strategy.
      Anyway, I think every race has different things to look for, but the TdF is being quite entertaining for me.

      • ‘They are waiting for the third week for that single shot. Some may argue (J Evans… ? ) that Sky has trained specifically for that’ – yeah, I came up with that.

  16. Sky have the best rider in the strongest team, Thomas has not been as useful this year but none of the others seem to be capable of taking advantage. NQ doesn’t have the legs & is a very boring rider.

  17. By the way… have you seen the Ventoux video of the fall… from ahead?

    The moto didn’t really stop, it just slowed down. How could Porte crash so violently into it? Blinded by racing fury, I guess.
    And the fans weren’t actually involved, the road – however narrowed – offered enough room to pass, nobody crossing, no fan hit by any moto nor risking to be hit… it was just one of the *three* motos which were preceding the riders, the three very near each one to the other, slowing down and moving to a side for its own reasons, then causing a domino effect.

    • I’ve seen the pictures from the motorbike – we all have, I assume.
      It stops (or all but stops), then Porte hits it. Then Mollema (who was third in line, behind Porte then Froome) hits Porte and the moto (which has now definitely stopped). We don’t really see Froome hit the moto from that camera angle. No way Porte can be blamed – if so, what the hell was Mollema doing?
      4.56 in – I’d be interested in seeing any other viewpoint that’s available.

      • There’s a video from up ahead, made by some person in the – innocent – crowd. I thought it was all around the internet by now (I’m not following as thoroughly as I’d like).
        I saw it linked by the Italian Cicloweb web page. You can’t see very well the crash but the motos don’t look like they’re stopping, more slowing down (and in no time they go away pretty fast, indeed).
        However, the important point is that it’s very clear that nobody from the crowd is involved, I don’t know who spread the news but it’s plain false.
        Which makes most points made about the event and the crowds not so pertinent.
        I mean, the crowd was excessive, not properly managed, we’re sick with the running idiots (I prefer by a long way the running Froome 🙂 ) and so on, but that’s as true or as relevant as if this accident never happened, since it had nothing to share with it. Same goes with the theory “you had to give them back time or fans will attack the riders to make them lose races” and so on.

          • Thanks, Gabriele.
            It’s not exactly clear (makes you wonder why all those people at the side of the road are filming – the quality is abysmal: just record the race off the TV). You can’t even see what they all hit. But the motorbikes in front are moving, so it would seem to be a stalled motorbike.

          • No available space between motos, really, and you can see quite well the side of the road. Extremely improbable that it was because of the public.

          • Well, all we can see is that the moto stopped, we can’t see what made it stop. It could have just stalled, or someone could have stepped in front of it or it could have been slightly further left than the one in front of it and so hit someone the other moto didn’t, or a hundred other things. We can’t tell. We’ve seen enough incidents where a member of the public has stepped out in front of the cyclists to discount that they might have stepped out in front of the moto.

            The riders involved certainly thought it was the crowds. Richie Porte specifically said it wasn’t the fault of the moto but rather the crowd, and he had the best angle to know of the people I’ve heard speak on the matter.

            I keep watching the video, but I really can’t tell what happened. I certainly don’t find it ‘clear’ that no-one from the crowd was involved. (Conversely I don’t find the opposite clear either.)

        • “Blinded by racing fury” is a bit strong or at least it appears to put the blame on Porte – who had every right to race as furiously and blindly up the road as he could. It should be enough for a rider to keep his bike on the paved part and the rubber lower down than the saddle, he shouldn’t have to keenly observe the movements and the fluctuations in the speed of the motorcycles just ahead of him.
          If you are saying that Porte was purposefully tailing the motorcycle and that he courted his fate by riding too close to it and therefore it was his fault, too, I don’t think I quite agree.

          I’ve watched the video on Cicloweb and I have to say that to me it doesn’t tell me any kind of definitive truth about how abruptly the third motorcycle slowed down or whether it stopped completely *prior* to Porte hitting the back of it.
          I agree – it is not difficult for me because my initial view of the incident and my opinion of the commentators’ reaction to it – was very much along the same lines: that it was a too hasty conclusion or a sort of knee-jerk reaction to assume that the overzealous fans or the narcissistic idiots (and the inability of the French police etc to control them) were to blame. To top it, the attacks of a kind of social media lynch mob on the poor innocent Polish guy really annoyed me!

          Besides, I didn’t like the decision of the commissaires for exactly the reasons you have given here. And as it happened, it robbed us – and Froome – of elements of drama that are an essential part of road cycling. How marvellous it would have been, too, to see Froome come back strongly right on the following day and to win the yellow shirt back!
          PS Actually, I am of the opinion that the result of the Yates vs. the deflatable banner incident should have stood; the three-kilometer rule should be applied to mass sprint finishes (where it has a definitive effect – for the better – on how they are raced) only. I mean, in golf a tournament can be lost because a squirrel ran across the green and stopped the ball inches from the hole! Cycling shouldn’t strive to become more “just” or “sporting” or “fair” than golf, for heavens’ sake!)

          • And what if Froome then lost the Tour by 30 seconds? (Unlikely admittedly.)
            What’s the difference between being stopped by a faulty inflatable and a motorbike?
            I’m one of those who immediately blamed the crowds. But that’s understandable because I can’t stand the crowds. They should be barriered for the last 5km (and for KoM points – so many times I’ve seen riders unable to challenge for those because of the crowds). Their behaviour should have been stopped long before it got to the running along, harrassing the riders stage.

          • Ah, ok, people are prickly these days… ^__^
            The “racing fury” was pretty much tongue-in-cheek, Porte had looked like he hadn’t shaken off his gregario times with Froome, and just when he’s pushing hard, perhaps trying a solo attack… 😉
            I didn’t mean to *blame* him, not at all, I agree that the burden is fully on the motos to behave properly.
            At the same time, to be aware and alert even under extreme effort or in complicated conditions is surely a positive skill rider can be praised for, whatever the random danger he happens to be facing. The fact of praising those who’re able to do that doesn’t imply to blame those who aren’t.
            However, that wasn’t the main point at all. The interest of the video is more about the real reasons of the crash, that is, the fact that it wasn’t about unruly fans.
            Something must be done about motos, even before tackling the problem of the crowds.
            And who did spread the false news about some fan involvement in the accident? (true question).

          • Events show that something should be done about motos, but nothing is.
            The fans also need to be barriered.
            As for who blamed the fans – everyone. Because we’ve been waiting for them to ruin a race (even if it wasn’t them this time – although that still isn’t clear: why do we still not know why the moto stopped?).

          • Some straight questions that deserve to be replied, even a bit late. (I went for an “all day ride” and watched – or what I did was watch and nod off and watch – today’s stage first.)

            J Evans:
            “And what if Froome then lost the Tour by 30 seconds?” Tough luck, the stuff of the legends, incidents happen, some natural, some “unnatural” or “man-made”.
            “What’s the difference between being stopped by a faulty inflatable and a motorbike?” None whatsoever, in my opinion, and that’s why I said I thought in both cases there should have been no time adjustment. The only difference in a strict reading of the rules is that in the case of the inflatable the rules allowed for the “same time” and in the case of the motorbike the rules didn’t – until they were interpreted to the fullest by the commissaires.
            “As for who blamed the fans – everyone.” Not a direct question, but I didn’t. I am as irritated by some fans’ behaviour as the next “proper” cycling fan, but I hate jumping to conclusions or finding the culprit without an inquiry even more.

            “And who did spread the false news about some fan involvement in the accident?” I would guess that it was someone speaking for ASO in an attempt to pass the buck. Or simply because they were told by someone who was told by someone whose friend saw it all happen.

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