Tour de France Stage 7 Preview

The Pyrenees are here with the Col d’Aspin climbed from its harder side. This is no summit finish but cross the top of the pass with 30 seconds and the stage is yours.

Stage 6 Wrap: only two riders went in the early move, Jan Barta (Bora-Argon 18) and Yukiya Arashiro (Lampre-Merida). Arashiro used to live near the finish when he was an U23 chasing a pro contract so perhaps that was a motivation, otherwise it was just going to be a slog for them. BMC Racing did the minimum possible and the sprinters teams took over.

The inevitable sprint finish arrived and the twisting streets of Montauban were enough to unpick the sprint trains but thankfully not to cause any crashes. Mark Cavendish got Marcel Kittel’s wheel and then got the better of him. Until this week Cavendish had never beaten Kittel in a sprint, now he’s done it three times. Fortuneo-Vital Concept’s Daniel McClay was a surprise third thanks to good positioning and a surge off Cavendish’s wheel. He’s still just a second year pro on the lowest budget team in the race which is impressive and if you look at him you see room for improvement.

The Route: 162.5km heading south-west across the Gers region, home to Team Sky DS Nicolas Portal. It’s gentle countryside with rolling roads which begin to rise and fall. The first marked climb to Capvern is long for a 4th category climb at 7km and the first of the Pyrenean foothills as the race climbs to the Neste valley and the run in to the Col d’Aspin.

The Col d’Aspin is 12km at 6.5% and with a steep middle section, pretty much as the profile suggests which isn’t always the case with these climbs. The road is wide and regular with a few big sweeping hairpin bends.

The Finish: the descent is shorter and steeper, 8% on the way down which makes it fast and means it’s hard to chase, someone who takes 20 seconds over the top can keep it on the way down, at least until the point the descent ends. It’s here they arrive in Payolle – little more than a few houses, buildings and inns – and do a sharp U-turn to pass under the 1km to go banner. There’s a flat section around the turn and the banner and then it rises up to the line at 3-4%.

The Scenario: will the break stick?

  • Yes: Any move going clear early will hope the main GC teams sit back for as long as possible before they pick up the pace. This gives the breakaway a good chance as long as it has some heavy hitters to tow it away across the plains of the Gers.
  • No: To argue the opposite case it’s more likely that big breakaways go tomorrow and the day after as the climbers and stage hunters look to exploit the mountains and bag polka-dot points, consequently the move lacks the horsepower to stay away and the GC teams do their thing to try to take control of the race and guide their leaders into the Col d’Aspin and set an infernal pace on the climb that no breakaway can resist.

I think it’ll be a yes to the break with the big teams keen to save energy for the next two days but as ever the peloton’s mood is up to them.

The Contenders: Dan Martin climbs and sprints well from a small group, especially in an uphill finish. Julian Alaphilippe is another option but he was struggling in the Massif Central a touch so Martin looks the safer pick between the two.

Alejandro Valverde sprints well too and doesn’t need an uphill run to the line to beat a select group. If he can shepherd Nairo Quintana to Payolle then he can go for the stage win in the final kilometre. Joaquim Rodriguez has had a poor season, by some measures his worst ever so far, but he looked frisky two days ago.

Once again Adam Yates has a good sprint too from a small group and if Geraint Thomas is there he could pop up for the win.

Romain Bardet tried a late attack in Le Lioran and was quickly marked. His modus operandi of a late attack over the top of a climb and exploitation of the ensuing descent are becoming obvious and he’s not going to get much room as he sits tight on GC. I was thinking of tipping Tony Gallopin too but during last night’s The Cycling Podcast the Tour’s voice of radio course Seb Piquet he was on duty fetching water bottles for the team which suggests he wasn’t taking it easy for today’s big test. Less likely to win in Thibaut Pinot but watch to see how he fares, there are doubts over his form and there’s no hiding on the Aspin.

Will Chris Froome deliver a knockout blow? It’s possible that Team Sky set an asphyxiating pace into the steepest section of the Aspin at which point Froome attacks and maintains his lead on the descent. Unlikely though and we should see the main contenders mark each other. Richie Porte is the exception here, he has the zip in his legs to clip away and some may not chase him knowing if they do then Tejay van Garderen can counter.

As for the breakaway picks we’ve yet to discover who are the riders with the kind of form that allows them to go in the moves time after time so instead it’s by reputation and being far down on GC instead. So Stephen Cummings, Jarlinson Pantano and Rui Costa are three picks. More leftfield options are Nicolas Edet and Fabrice Jeandesboz as two unheralded climbers.

Dan Martin, Alejandro Valverde
Rodriguez, Alaphilippe, Bardet, Yates, Thomas

Weather: warm and sunny with a top temperature of 26°C and the chance of a rain shower in the mountains if the clouds swell up in the heat.

TV: the intermediate sprint is forecast for 4.40pm and the foot of the Aspin in Arreau ten minutes later. The finish is forecast for 5.20pm Euro time.

61 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 7 Preview”

  1. Terrific performance from Dan McLay yesterday. It’ll be interesting to see how he develops over the next 2 – 3 years, with perhaps another GT or 2 under his belt.

    • His team claim that he is contracted to them for 2017 but, if he can survive the next 3 days and continue sprinting well, a WT team will surely come knocking. Maybe he needs – at 25 next year – a better programme that Fortuneo can offer.

      • Most impressive for me about McLay were that after his top-10s in the first couple of days, he said that he was going to stop following others and trust his own instincts more. It clearly worked. You do have to think that a WT will come calling, contract or not, but he’s made a really decent progression at Fortuneo. Check out footage of Le Samyn earlier this year as he sticks with the leaders in absolutely foul conditions.

        Wider shout-out to Fortuneo as well. It can sometimes feel that home-team wild-cards surf along from year-to-year with a reliance on a GT invite but there has been real progression in the team since the rather fallow one that turned up at the Tour two years ago. Riders who’ve been on the team all that time are clearly stronger and they’ve blended in some other really good recruits.

      • Not sure a move to WT is wise, might be better to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond. Besides, Fortuneo-Vital Concept is invited to most of the big Belgian races (Omloop, Kuurne, Flanders, Scheldeprijs), in addition to all the French (including a near certain invite to le Tour), which makes for a pretty good programme.

    • And a shout out for Tim Harris, one of the unsung good guys in British cycling. Track record of looking after not just McLay in Harris’s house in Belgium, but other young Brits who go to Belgium to try their fortune.

    • Saw him up close winning a local crit race last year – Otley GP. Great to see him doing so well.

      hopefully he keeps on improving, he has taken the old school route for a British rider, in that he hasn’t come through British Cycling program or from the track. He basically took himself over to Europe and found himself a team.

  2. I don’t think Thomas has either the sprint speed or the form to feature at the end of today’s stage. Plus 1 for Dan McLay. An exciting sprint prospect for the future.

  3. What about Nibali Inrng?
    Unclear if he is really out of form or just took it easy after loosing the GC group.
    If he can climb, a late attack near the top (that no one need to follow) with his descending skills is a good combination.

    • Agree that this could suit Nibbles and being so far back no one will feel the need to try hold his wheel on the decent. Unless he is on “team duty” for Aru…

      • Yeah, I have a few quid riding on Nibali at 30/1! I think he’s an outside bet but he so obviously sat up yesterday it made me think he might be saving his legs. He’s so far down in GC that Astana could send him up the road in a tactical move and if he could get over the Aspin with a gap you can’t see anyone catching him…

  4. Will the break stick? I guess it depends on whether BMC is willing to defend yellow on the flat part, and of course on the composition of the break.
    Ine interesting thing to note is that despite (or thanks to) all the complaints about safety, there is still no DNF or DNS after 6 days. Apparently that is a new record.

    • It makes a refreshing change from recent years first week carnage. Dan McLay the hottest sprinting property on the market soon surely. Fantastic finish yesterday, I wonder where all those who were writing Cav’s obituary have gone? something I never understood really.

      • I put my hand up as one who openly considered Cav’s best sprinting days were behind him, I am only to pleased to be proven wrong. Gone are the days of the bike length gap on his initial kick, followed by a second, later kick. Replaced with courage, intuition, sustained speed and guile. Bike racing is full of people like me who make the wrong call – it’s what makes the sport so endlessly exciting.

  5. Do you reckon if can Avarmaet got in the break the ‘GC’ teams would let it stay away? I mean even if he took another 5 minutes he’s not a real threat. It’d be interesting if he did just for the sake of novelty.

    I think Nibali or Bardet today. Just because something is predictable doesn’t mean anyone can do anything about it.

    • If he gets to the foot of the Aspin he should be able to limit his losses to less than 5mins on the climb, especially if he’s got some team support. For pros going full gas the climb is fast with pacing.

    • It would be a good move from BMC if GVA is strong enough. They could then relinquish their front duty on the peloton and give Porte and TVG an easier run-in.
      You also wonder just how hard Movistar and Sky would follow; do they want the burden of the maillot jaune themselves at this early point? I suspect not.
      It could potentially be a good day for BMC if they were up for it – keep yellow / stage win / retain GC interest?

  6. “Froome attacks and maintains his lead on the descent.”
    Nice one Mr Ring, I have to admit that I got a good laugh out of that!

      • This is true, but a lot of these attacks are phoned in efforts and usually only meant to win a handful of seconds over his rivals. But well, repeat this a few times and don’t crack under the attacks of others and you win the tour of course…

        • Regardless of what you might think of Froome, I wouldn’t say his attacks are phoned in. In 2013 on Ventoux and last year at LPSM they were full blooded, surprising and pretty much unstoppable. And took more than a handful of seconds to boot.

    • Seeing froome in recent races, i think its very likely that he’ll at least attack so as to be in the top two going down the descent.

      He doesnt like descending from behind.

      He hates it.

      He told me.

    • Indeed. If Froome could and would take a (small) lead on the climb, he’d get one of the best descenders of the peloton chasing him down on the descent. It seems Valverde and Quintana have a downhill buddy system going on: Valverde takes the lead and Quintana mirrors everything Valverde does. Was on camera for a short while near the end of stage 5 (I think). The two of them actually managed to get away from the favourites group for a little while.

      Froome isn’t a bad descender himself nowadays, but mostly when he can follow a good descender. I don’t see him get a big enough gap on the climb to stay ahead of Valverde (and possibly even Bardet, Nibali if they’re still around), isolated. Moreover, I doubt whether Sky even want to have him isolated in any situation other than the relative safety of a an uphill finish or time trial.

        • That… but also Valverde being up there in GC means Skynet robots will have to respond to Valverde is he tries anything. Ideally for Movistar, that could then lead to a head to head situation between Quintana and Froome up some steep and long mountain.

      • I thiunk Somers point is that he might put himself in the front as he feels most comfortable descending that way, not as a plan to try and distance rivals etc…

        • Surely, positioning before the descent makes sense if you’re not the best descender. However – but this might now turn into a game of defintions – that’s not what I would call an attack. That’s positioning. I’m sure Froome will do his utmost to position himself before a descent, as he should. But attack? Not in this stage I’d say. Not enough to gain and too much risk.

          An attack is to gain time, or tire your opponents so that you can gain time later on. Positioning is to prevent losing time.

          Also, since it looks like you may have missed this: My reaction was not to Somers. It was to GeorgeY. This can be seen if you follow the indentation level of the comments. Mine is on the same level as Somers’, and is therefore not a response to Somers 😉

    • If Froome has cracked his opponents I wouldn’t put it past him to increase his lead on the descent. He’s nowhere near as bad a descender as his detractors claim and descending gets harder the more tired a rider is. And let’s be honest, if Froome has attacked, none of the other contenders are likely to have anyone around to help them descend – if Froome manages to distance Quintana, then Quintana will have already used up Valverde, surely.

      I suspect both Froome and Quintana will keep their powder dry though.

  7. Well another win for Cav! I’ll be first to admit I’d written him off as a threat and saw him as a diminishing force but I’m happy to lap up my humble pie as always loved Cav 🙂

    He seems to race a lot smarter and was clever as he surfed the wheels without a proper lead out train and making his move from Kittel’s wheel at the right time. Giving he has an eye on gold at Rio do you think he will still drop out of the race giving the success he has had in this first week? Giving there are probably 4 or 5 stages he could potentially have a chance of winning again?

    Wonder if there is any conflict between Dimension Data and British Cycling who will obviously want it to come out of this tour to avoid fatigue.

    • Just my personal view, but I dont think he will go all the way to Paris. He only has this one last shot at an Olympic medal, its his single biggest goal of the year, he’s raced 6 Champs to date, and there will be more years to come. If a clincher is needed, its that as part of the package for making the GB squad he has to be ready to ride a round of the TP if they need him to. Andy Tennant, a World and European TP Champ, has missed out on making the TP squad, and they need Cav to hook up with the squad as soon as possible, from their perspective.

      So all in all, my money is on him leaving early.

      To give DiData their justice, they’ve worked out an amicable arrangement with Cav to meet his BC commitments to date. He’s netted them an incredible 3 wins in week 1 of the Tour, and both he and Aldag have attributed his resurgence at least in part to all the work he’s been doing with BC. I dont think we’ll see handbags at dawn.

    • I think he would be daft to pack in early as I don’t see him as anything other than an outside chance for the Omnium, whereas he is looking top dog sprinter in this year’s Tour.

      • He has plenty of TdF stage wins already. Is nr 2 overall in the stage wins ranking now, but chasing the nr 1 is futile, since that’s Eddy Merckx with a gazillion and one stage wins.

        However, he does not have an Olympic medal yet. He simply needs that Olympic medal if he ever wants to become “Lord Cavendish” 😉

        “An Olympic medal is the only thing missing”

          • Possible? Well of course! Anything is possible 😉

            But for that he’d fist have to get 2 more stage wins this year, which will probably not help his Olympic medal chances… And he’d have to come back next year to get an additional 3 stage wins. 4 if he wants to surpass Merckx.

            Of course that’s possible. But it’s not very likely his priority. After getting the yellow jersey, his only remaining goal is an Olympic medal. That’s not something I made up, it’s his own words. I really don’t see the point in arguing with his own words.

          • One more thing: I’m not saying he’ll pack it up today, of course 😉 If there are opportunities for more stage wins – without harming his Olympic camp – he’d be crazy not to take those opportunities.

            I’m saying – and he’s saying – that the Olymipcs are now a bigger priority than overtaking Merckx on total TdF stage wins

          • It’s clear he wants the gold, does anyone know when he planned on dropping out?

            Over factor is he’s in green at the minute but it’s likely Sagan will take lead in mountains before we return to next sprint stage

        • Cav has been ever-present at all the intermediate sprints so far. Not busting a gut, but making sure that he at least doesn’t concede more than a point or two to his sprint rivals in the Green Jersey competition.

          Also (spoiler alert – I realise that it is not quite the done thing here to discuss the day’s stage until the following day’s report / preview…) he has slipped into the breakaway today (along with Sagan) which again looks like a pre-emptive move to be in contention for the intermediate sprint.

          All of which looks to me like someone who at the very least is keeping their green jersey options open. Which in turn suggests it is not a done deal that he will pull out before Paris. He might do so, of course, but I think if he had already pre-determined that he was going to pull out, he wouldn’t bother at all with the intermediates and would keep his powder dry each day to maximise his chance of the stage win.

          To me, the stuff about really wanting an Olympic medal (such as the Daily Torygraph report above) is the kind of thing that goes down well with the British media, who somewhat fetishise Olympic success above all other. I suspect his actual view is more nuanced: in one of the podcasts, he pointed out that he was a professional cyclist, and his job was to race for his team.

          My own view is that he might pull out, he might not. But I certainly don’t think it is a done deal yet.

          Tom J

          • Good points.
            Although I said below that I thought Cavendish would leave, actually when you look at the remaining stages profiles and the Green Jersey points on offer, it could be a really close contest.
            If Cav wins either stages 10 and 11 next week, it puts him in with a good chance.

        • ocaz – don’t think that is ‘likely’ as a Cavendish has 29 points on Sagan and many of the intermediate sprint points are going to get mopped up by the break. I think he will see what happens after Wednesday and if all looks good for Green possibly hang on to the end.

  8. Fantastic bunch gallop yesterday, one of the big big drawbacks of watching on TV is just not being there and witnessing from the barrier just how ferocious these sprints are! Like most live sport, tv makes it look all so easy.

  9. Froome looks super good so far, I think his rivals should wait and not spend too much energy attacking him.

    If Movistar ride a furious pace in the climbs to launch Quintana in the last kms, Froome may be able to counter attack and gain time.

    Better to try to lose as little time as possible on Froome and attack him later when he’ll be weaker.
    This tour offers many opportunities.

  10. CavWatch is very rewarding at the moment. His evolution from invincible sprint King to Mortal Human Racer and back to the Tour Top Step is fascinating.
    Some signs were there; he came very close to Kittel at Scheldeprise and looked quick in the last stage of the Tour of California as well, but then he got beaten by Blythe at the British Nationals and it wasn’t looking so good. He’d done a lot of work riding at the front at the Nationals though and looked to be a bit wound up.
    Now he’s looking relaxed, lean, and lethal in the sprints. The manner of his wins; the speed, intelligence, guts and committment he’s showing are amplified by the sense of greatness returning to someone who had been showing a comparable weakness, and the glory is further refined by a fair amount of humility and honest emotion.
    It’s a great time to be a fan of his.

  11. How do you think Patrick Lefevere feels about the return of the Manx Missile?

    What was the deal there anyway? Cav wasn’t delivering so Patrick felt it was time to move on and bought the hottest sprinter at the time (Kittel)?

    Poor Legevere not having much look over the last 3 TdF’s (in terms of sprint wins anyway).

    I think it is great that Cav is back, as everyone (me included) thought he was getting too old, gives hope an inspiration to all of us.

    Is it his track training that has sharpened him up then? Will we see more sprinters now incorporating track style sessions in their training?

    I think Kittle will be back to top dog next year, (but I would like to see a Greipel resurgence too).

    • It was mentioned on television yesterday that Cavendish is only 31, whereas Greipel is 34.
      If Cavendish stays in good shape, and self-motivated, it’s possible he could keep adding to the stage wins at TdF.

      As for staying on this year, there are three days of pain to come, a rest day on Monday, and then the carrot of two more sprinter stages next Tuesday 12th and Wednesday 13th, and even one on Saturday 16th. If he were to stay around, with the form he’s in at present, it’s possible that he could pick up another stage or two. Four or five stages, at that point, surely represents an excellent (and probably unexpected tbh) return.
      So another few days, or week at most, and then I think he’ll have to leave to work on the track sharpness.

    • The track develops quick thinking under pressure. It has been notable that all the bunch sprints have been pretty chaotic but in three out of four, Cav has been very well placed and decisive in his moves; only on stage 4 did he end up a bit boxed and out of contention.

      Also a little note about Dan McLay – he also has a track pedigree: he was World Madison Champion (with Simon Yates) as a junior in 2010.

      Bryan Coquard also has a track background (World Madison champion as a senior in 2015).


    • seeing as one of Lefevere’s problems was Cav spending too much time on the track I guess he’s feeling pretty humble right now

      or maybe not….

  12. Whatever Cav’s build up has been this year in terms of training, it hasn’t stunted his ability to win stages this week. Is that the talent of the man or the more suitable the training? I feel probably a combination of the two. Next year the Olympics will be in his past, the next goal will be to top Mercx’s tally, a feat that will surely be done, all being well.

  13. Kittel was lamenting the chaotic finishes rendering sprint trains useless and, big fan of his I am, I couldn’t find much sympathy. Sprint trains haven’t always existed. You could argue Cav and HTC invented that deal or at least perfected it and if that’s what you HAVE to have to win a sprint, you are really narrowing your opportunities. Cav ‘s success here can absolutely be attributed to his training on the track. Put me on the list of those that lost faith but he is being super smart in his approach. Versatile. And wicked fast. And what is up with Andre Greipel? Never even in the mix despite his team doing as well as anyone can right now again relying on the sprint train mind set.

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