The race heads into the Pyrenees via a series of hard climbs ending in an even harder finish. This is a long day for the riders and even for television viewers with over six hours of racing ahead.
Stage 11 Review: Kittel won. As tempting as it is to leave it at that, let’s note some more points quickly:
- a crash in the feedzone took out Dario Cataldo, one of the crucial support riders for Fabio Aru and Jacob Fuglsang
- Kittel is on 335 points to Michael Matthews on 202 so he’s looking good for green. The mountains are an issue for him sometimes but he looks very strong, note how he popped up to win the intermediate sprint on Stage 8 after the climb, a sign of his all round form
- why did Lotto-Soudal and Katusha work so much? You do wonder if Quick Step should send over some champagne to thank these teams for their help. Jokes aside one suggestion is sprinters run on confidence and if the likes of Greipel and Kristoff saw their teams saying “we’re not backing you today, sorry” then this would only make things worse for them
- Maciej Bodnar was a deserving winner of the day’s combativity prize, going in the early breakaway and then attacking his colleagues to go solo and was only caught in the final metres.
The Route: 214km. It’s easy to Tarbes but the roads soon begin to rise and fall more than the profile suggests. The road to Capvern is a marked climb, 7.7km at 3.1% and a steady climb that tracks the autoroute. It’s then flat as the cross the Comminges area to take the Garonne valley and the intermediate sprint, a flat and straight road.
The first mountain pass is the Col des Ares and gentle introduction to the mountains, 7.4km at 4.6% and it’s purpose is to go up and over into the next valley so they can then climb back over the Col de Menté, 6.9km at a steep 8.1% average but this includes a gentle start and a descent section so to compensate the road pitches up regularly to 11% via hairpins for much of the second half. The descent is technical with a series of hairpins – including one with the tribute to Luis Ocaña after he crashed here in 1971 while wearing the yellow jersey – and it’s steep but compared to the Jura last weekend this is a touch more predictable, a hairpin is more obvious than a blind bend. Then it’s back down the Garonne valley on the opposite side they rode up 90 minutes earlier.
The Port de Balès is a hard climb, arguably one of the hardest in the Pyrenees. It’s 11.7km a 7.7% and with several steep sections, all on a narrow road. It’s a “new” climb or rather the old road, little more than a forestry track, was resurfaced for the Tour de France in 2006. The descent is long and not too technical, this is hard place for a Bardet style move, the lack of corners makes it difficult to exploit the road and the flat sections on the way down don’t suit a lone rider as they drop down to the Peyresourde.
The Peyresourde is where Froome went solo on the descent last year. Now they climb back up, it’s a long and linear climb on wide roads, 9.7km at 7.8% and plenty of slopes above 8% followed by a straight descent for 2.5km.
The Finish: a final climb of 2.4km at 8.4%. Normally that would be hard enough to separate riders but instead there’s a sting in the tail. The ski station of Peyragudes has featured in the Tour in 2012 but this time it’s very different. Instead of taking the road into the ski station they use the “altiport” airport runway which has been resurfaced earlier this year and the slope hits 20% with the final 200m averaging 16% just before the road levels out to the line. This promises a slow motion end.
The Contenders: this is a good day for the breakaway to stay away. If today is hard, tomorrow’s 100km sprint across the Pyrenees will have the GC riders and their teams wanting to stay as fresh as possible. But all the more reason for some teams to send outsiders up the road and put pressure on.
When the breakaway goes clear only a strong climber can hope to win the stage. It’ll be the usual lottery to go clear, it needs the right riders going away at the right time. Warren Barguil is 14 minutes down and in the hunt for more polka dot points. He’s climbing very well and at ease on any kind of slope, from long climbs to sharp walls which means he’s good for the finishing straight. Pierre Rolland could show but can he go in the break now that team mate Uran has a shot at the podium? This and the Giro in his legs makes him a low pick. Fellow girino Thibaut Pinot is still looking a little short of form but should try today as his chances are higher than tomorrow. Stephen Cummings was many people’s pick for Stage 8, perhaps he’ll try today, he can climb very well but today could still be a tall order. Now they’re without their leader BMC Racing will attack and Alessandro De Marchi is a good mountain raider but it’s been a long time since he’s won, maybe because he’s been riding for others while Damiano Caruso rode for himself to take second place in the Tour de Suisse so he looks a better pick.
Back to the GC contenders and if they and their teams keep the race tight then like last Sunday they could have the breakaway brought back. All the top GC contenders seem to be climbing at a very similar rate. Chris Froome looked strong on the Mont du Chat and is an obvious contender for the stage win, does he track his rivals and try to snipe the win in the finishing straight and pocket the time bonus or launch a longer range move on the Peyresourde to land knock-out punch he’s still to deliver to his rivals? Fabio Aru can try another attack, we can debate the etiquette of his opportunist move on the Mont du Chat but tactically it was a bad idea, a sudden acceleration on such a steep climb required a huge increase in power and he paid for it, now he can try to pick his moment more carefully but can he count on Jacob Fuglsang? The Dane has two broken bones after a crash yesterday. Dan Martin could have won in Chambéry were it not for Richie Porte crashing in front of him and we’ll see how sore he still is but otherwise he’s in top form and keeps coming close in Flèche Wallonne atop the Mur de Huy so the steep finish is perfect for him. Rigoberto Urán is in the form of his life and even Chris Froome needs to worry about the Colombian, especially as he’s got a punchy finish and if a win still seems unlikely but so did him hanging in the front group so he could be close. Romain Bardet could be close but he’s an infrequent winner and all of his five career wins have come solo when he’s jumped away and used a descent before the finish but this time he’s unlikely to get much space nor does the Peyresourde descent or even the Balès descent suit.
|Chris Froome, Dan Martin, Warren Barguil, Fabio Aru
|Uran, Bardet, Pinot, Caruso, Cummings, Rolland, De Marchi
Weather: rain will clear to leave sunshine and clouds, a mild 22°C in the valleys and cooler in the summits.
TV: live from the start at 10.55am CET with the finish forecast for 5.10pm CET.