A hilly stage that sees the race cross back and forth between France and Spain, a hard day’s racing and the longest stage of the race and all on the eve of Queen Stage in the Pyrenees.
Stage 12 Wrap: a sprint but just. An early move included two Team Sky riders and it was unusual to see them up ahead. Playing their own cards or just joining a move to make Movistar work? It wasn’t just two Sky riders, several strong riders on the margins of the overall classification were in the move but it forced Movistar to work. They were reeled in and Dries Devenyns – him again – was on the attack and away solo while behind Alberto Contador tried a move. But the flat road to the finish was fatal for Devenyns’ hopes and would have been for Contador if he’d managed to get clear too. In the sprint of about 45 riders, Orica-BikeExchange’s Jens Keukeleire delivered the kind of long, powerful finish that delivered him the win in the GP La Samyn and the Nokere Koerse as a neo-pro with Cofidis back in 2010.
The Route: a full day’s racing in the Basque country, a region that includes part of France by some definitions of course. At 213km this is the longest stage in the race and hilly too with 3,720m of vertical gain as they head into the Pyrenees. There are four third category climbs and all between 5-7km at no more than 6.5%.
The Finish: there’s a finishing circuit that’s half in France and half in Spain. Original? Actually it’s a copy of the 2014 Tour of the Basque Country stage won by Tony Martin from a breakaway. The cross back into Spain and arrive in Dantxarinea, a cross-border shopping destination and the finish town but don’t cross the line, instead there’s loop taking them back into France.
It’s mostly on wider roads but there are some smaller sections and it rises and falls and the road rises at over 6% for 1.5km as they cross the border back into France with 8km to go, an unmarked but significant climb before a gradual descent into the village of Dantxarinea again. After the turning for the finish with 500m to go the road rises at 1.5-2% for 400m.
The Contenders: a good day for the breakaway. When Tony Martin won here in April 2014 he did it with help from then team mate Jan Bakelants (Ag2r La Mondiale) and the Belgian is in good form and ideal for a stage like this.
Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) is another pick and if he’s better known for asphyxiating his rivals in sharp uphill finishes he still packs a good sprint from a small group. Fabio Felline (Trek-Segafredo) can sprint even faster but tends to place more than win – third yesterday – even if he’s won a stage of the Tour of the Basque Country too. Otherwise it’s hard to keep the preview concise given the course is open to many and a section of the peloton will fancy their chances in a breakaway in the mountains so perhaps the likes of Thomas De Gendt, Tejay van Garderen and Pierre Rolland are going to sit today out? Gianni Meersman is a safe pick in case of a big sprint while Adam Hansen says he’s waiting for the second half to pick of a stage so he could be in the action too.
|Jan Bakelants, Philippe Gilbert
|Felline, Calemejane, Lampaert, Meersman, Hansen, Nielsen, Moser
Weather: sunshine and 28°C, a chance to see the Basque Country in dry summer rather than the habitual rainy images beamed every April.