A lively stage that promises action from start to finish. The Tour’s theme of steep climbs continues with a triptych of short climbs on Bastille Day, France’s national holiday so we can expect big crowds.
Stage 12 Review: 214km across the Pyrenees and it came down to a sprint in the final straight. A strong breakaway went clear including Marcel Kittel and Michael Matthews, presumably Kittel isn’t worried about fatigue at all by covering his distant rival for the green jersey. Otherwise Diego Ulissi, Thomas De Gendt and Stephen Cummings were stage hunting. They got six minutes but this was a slender leader once Team Sky’s steamroller picked up the pace. They might have changed to white jerseys but the tactics haven’t and work by Vasil Kiryienka and Michał Kwiatkowski reeled in Stephen Cummings on the Col de Peyresourde. Minutes before Mikel Nieve, Chris Froome and Fabio Aru avoided a crash as they reached the Peyresourde and messed up the corner.
Nobody in the yellow jersey wanted to attack. Presumably they couldn’t with two Sky riders setting the pace and to try a move just risked being caught and dropped. This is exactly what happened to Alberto Contador, he tried a quick burst on the Port de Balès only to finish the stage in 14th place over two minutes down. Nairo Quintana didn’t attack but lost more time. So we got the sprint. George Bennett tried a move, perhaps hoping he would not be marked but he was quickly pulled back. The final climb up the runway was so steep they were zigzagging but while Fabio Aru accelerated Romain Bardet zagged less and surged past in what seemed like a slow motion finish as the it an age for the Frenchman to reach the finish line. He celebrated and finished seconds clear of Rigobert Uran and Fabio Aru, the new yellow jersey wearer.
One thing to note was the Peyresourde junction when Froome and Aru went off course. These accidents can get the adrenalin flowing and the blood sugar rising but this means energy levels will drop after the rush. Was this Froome’s problem? Or is he genuinely slower atop a summit finish?
This isn’t uncharted territory but seeing Froome surrender the yellow jersey to a GC rival is a first. It’s not like he’s lost minutes: he’s six seconds behind Fabio and this is fine if he can hold this slender deficit all the way to Marseille where the time trial will see him back in the lead. But it’s the holding that’s the question, there’s today’s stage and the Alps to come, can he hold on now that the others will be keen to test him. Aru meanwhile is riding solo after Jacob Fuglsang’s injuries are proving too much so he’s much more open to attack.
The Route: 101km, 2,600m of vertical gain and a race for everyone, whether they want a stage win, to take time or GC or others just hoping to make the time cut. They head up the Salat valley on a fast road to the first intermediate sprint. It’s uphill but a “whitewater road”, the route tracks the mountain river up the valley so a gentle but constant gradient. After the intermediate sprint the road gets particularly scenic and quieter as they ride up the gorges de Ribaouto.
The Col de Latrape is 5.6km at 7.3% but with a gentle first kilometre and a gentle final kilometre it means the middle section is 8% with some 10%. It feels fast to ride and is followed a fast descent with some hairpins down to Aulus-les-Bains.
The Col d’Agnès bites from the start, the 9% on the profile above is more like 10% as the road tracks the valley wall on a long road with one of those rough rural surfaces but at least it’s open, the road was washed away by floods in the spring but locals make a point of showing their open for the Tour and everyone else so there’s a brand new road. The second half has a good series of hairpin bends as it rises up to the pass. The comes a 16km descent all along a small rural road but it’s not technical, just long and there’s an uphill section that the roadbook profile doesn’t show and a gentle 3-4% slope for the final kilometres into Massat.
Mur sounds better than col, “wall” rather than “pass” and it’s a label invented by the race because it’s normally the Col de Péguère for locals. The climb out of Massat to the Col de Four and it’s a steady road. It pitches up more to the Col des Caognous again on a wide road. Then they turn off for the Mur which featured in the 2012 Tour de France. It was supposed to feature in the 1973 edition but the riders went on strike to protest at it because the road was a mess. It’s still not easy, a very narrow road and double digit percentages with portions of 16% and 18%. This time it’s closed to spectators to stop riders being blocked on this narrow road.
It’s then followed by a varied descent, a bigger road but the slope varies, the first part of the descent is gentle forcing the riders to pedal hard which is not good for anyone dropped on the way up because they must keep going. It’s only later that they drop down to the Col de Marrous does the slope get steep with 10%. It bends and twists through the forest, there’s rarely much visibility of what’s coming up and it was here in 2012 that Luis-Leon Sanchez launched his winning move to win the stage. That day they also rode to Foix but did a loop around the town to extend the route, this time it’s direct into town.
The Finish: they descend into Foix on a gentle slope and the road levels out in town. They go one way down the main street and just before the Ariège river they do a U-turn on a wide 180° bend, it’s not a dead turn but it’s slow and on the exit there’s just 200m to the finish line.
The Contenders: the short distance and tomorrow’s more processional stage means this should be a lively stage from start to finish. It’s not obvious what the tactics will be, we might imagine action from start to finish from the big names à la Dauphiné but none of the top names will want to go too early for fear of being overhauled, especially if Team Sky controls the race. So the more likely idea is a big breakaway goes clear that’s been well filtered by the top teams to ensure it is not threatening and the GC guys can duke it out later in the stage.
Who to pick? Let’s spin the roulette wheel… Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal) is good for a stage like this, he can do quick climbs and sprints well and team mates Tim Wellens and Tiesj Benoot can try again, Wellens has gone early on stages and paid but his style suits. Jarlinson Pantano (Trek-Segafredo) can try again now that Contador’s overall challenge is over. Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie) will be marked this time but could try. I’m curious to see what Tony Martin (Katusha) does because on a good day he can handle a mountain raid and surely he can’t just want for Marseille?
If the main GC contenders come in then Rigoberto Urán (Cannondale-Drapac) has a good sprint while Simon Yates (Orica-Scott) could hang on and finishes fast too. Dan Martin says his crash injuries are still costing him and so he’s less of a pick, he could pay on the Mur or just in the sprint.
|Tony Gallopin, Rigoberto Urán
|T Martin, Pantano, Wellens, Benoot, Calmejane
Weather: a pleasant 23°C and mostly sunny.
TV: live from the start at 2.35pm CET with the finish forecast for 5.35pm CET.