Tour de France Stage 14 Preview

A transitional stage to Rodez and the chance for Team Sunweb to make it two in a row with an uphill finish that’s perfect for Michael Matthews and out of reach for the pure sprinters. But everyone knows this so maybe their rivals will send riders up the road knowing one or teams can’t bring the breakaway back.

Stage 13 Review: an attack at the KM0 point from Thomas Voeckler and Warren Barguil. It looked like too much too soon and it was, the pair got reeled in. Barguil tried again and managed to get over the first climb first just as Alberto Contador and Mikel Landa caught up. Barguil took more points and the trio took off with BMC’s Alessandro De Marchi for company. Behind the group was being thinned out by the pace and Fabio Aru losing team mates.

Onto the Col d’Agnès and Contador and Landa took off on the early slopes. Barguil had been sprinting for the points for two days now so you could excuse him from being tired but he paced himself and was joined by Michał Kwiatkowski and Nairo Quintana and latched on to them. They almost got Contador and Landa at the foot of the Col de Péguère only to lose ground. Kwiatkowski couldn’t follow the pace as Barguil and Quintana made it to the two leaders to form a quartet.

Behind Team Sky had options but what was the plan with Landa? Make others chase presumably but few behind had team mates left to chase and nobody wanted to do much work and besides do Team Sky really want Landa to become the leader? On every count, be it commercial, national, political, tactical they’d surely prefer Froome. Dan Martin led up the Col de Péguère, his lower back is sore so it was a way to control the pace and the pain. Froome tried to attacks, he didn’t shake anyone but it was as if he was trying to show he could still put the pressure on. Come the descent and Bardet, Urán and Froome tried a few tentative moves but the only main change on GC was George Bennett slipping out on the top-10. Michał Kwiatkowski was a big help for Froome and the others, his efforts to bring attacks back and keep the pace up ensured Landa did not take too much time. The Pole was not chasing Landa, more his acts to contain the Froome group from attacks by Bardet, Urán and others meant the group’s speed was higher.

Up ahead the quartet arrived in Foix. Who was going to win? It wasn’t an obvious sprint and Contador led out, keen to get to the tight U-turn first but Warren Barguil matched him and had more power in the finish to take the win. Just two months ago he’d crashed out of the Tour de Romandie with a fractured pelvis. It was the first Bastille Day win for a French rider since David Moncoutié in 2005 but as Romain Bardet said the other day it’s like the 14 July for all the French riders given the big crowds cheering them on.

The Route: 181.5km. They leave the aerospace town of Blagnac for a fast, flat start as they ride up the Garonne valley, it’s all on big wide roads that are straight and lined with poplar trees for long sections passing by large fields of corn and sunflowers as they cross over to the Tarn valley to approach the intermediate sprint, again all on a fast and flat road. They continue to Gaillac – another of the wine areas on this year’s route – and here the road gets a bit rougher and smaller. The two climbs are significant, 2.3km at 7.3% and 2.3km at 7.7% respectively. There’s an extra climb on the approach to Rodez which tops out around 15km to go, it’s not steep at 5% nor new because they tackled it in the 2015 Tour de France but it drags on for a good 5km as they climb out of the Viaur valley.

The Finish: the same as 2015. A downhill run and then the uphill sprint. The profile doesn’t look like much but this has a big uphill kick to the line, 9.6% for 560m. It’s all on a wide road and finishes outside the HQ of RAGT, the agricultural firm that sponsors the Tour’s team prize.

The Contenders: Michael Matthews is the obvious pick today but almost too certain, rival teams know this so they’re likely to fire riders in the breakaway and force Tean Sunweb to chase knowing that few other squads will join them.

One team to chase will be BMC Racing because Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) won here in 2015 putting an end to countless second places he used to rack up. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) is good for these finishes too. John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) is an outside pick, this uphill finish can suit him but his problem is that if he’s in the mix then surely so are the two names above. UAE Emirates’ Ben Swift is another sprinter who is good in the uphill finishes.

Ag2r La Mondiale probably have two cards to play today, Oliver Naesen for the breakaway and Jan Bakelants for the uphill sprint.

If there’s a break see if Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie) joins in. He’s the local rider today as the bunch goes near his home in Albi and if he got in the action early yesterday he shut things down. Winning is the hard part but the unmarked climb mentioned above is perfect for his power.

Michael Matthews
GVA, Tony Gallopin, EBH
Calmejane, Degenkolb, Ulissi, Swift, Gilbert, Colbrelli, Bevin

Weather: sunshine and a pleasant 26°C with a 20km/h crosswind.

TV: live from the start at 1.00pm CET with the finish forecast for 5.40pm CET. Watch it all live? Maybe not, it’s up to the peloton if the start has fireworks or just sees a couple of wildcard riders embark on a doomed move.

73 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 14 Preview”

  1. Does anyone know if there’s a rhyme or reason behind the placement of the intermediate sprints? They mostly seem to be early in the stage, but sometimes they aren’t, like on stage 9 where the sprint was after two HC climbs.

    Also it was interesting to see that Quintana got up the road yesterday and none of the GC contenders seemed that bothered. Is that showing how little they rate him as a threat in the Alps to come?

    • On the two mountain top finishes, one short and one more demanding, Quintana dropped both times. I would imagine they expect him to do so again on the Col d’Izoard, if not the Galibier the day before.

      • Not too bothered, but one suggestion for Sky not giving Landa more time was to keep Quintana a couple of minutes down, rather than right in play.

        • that’s sensible, yet Landa continued to push on in the group of 4 once Quintana had bridged across. An audition for his role @ Movistar next year??

          • Good point. Perhaps the plan was always for Landa to go up the road and he decided to take more advantage than was strictly reasonable in the teams eyes. I don’t Sky are playing 4 dimensional chess, but the other teams will be genuinely nervous if they see Landa up the road again.

    • The intermediate sprints are placed to help stir the race up a little so that the sprinters have to do something on the first part of the stage, or at least that’s the thought and as ever it’ll be a side story to what the big story of the stage is.

      As for Quintana, he’s still looking sluggish but the longer ago the Giro gets there’s a chance he comes around, or that everyone else who didn’t do the Giro is getting wooden legs just like him so the difference is getting closer and he’s only 2 minutes down on GC.

      • Possibly, but in past years Froome would respond to every move Quintana tried to make except for that final stage in 2015 up L’Alpe d’huez when he was just managing the gap. Sky seem sure that it’s Bardet and Aru that they must follow this year. Sky also probably take consolation in Quintana’s abysmal time trailing at the Giro and are confident Froome can put at 60-90 seconds into him even over a comparatively short route with a climb in it.

  2. I mentioned the intermediate sprints placement the other day too; they’ve been Sagan-ized, to allow the sprinters to be able to keep competing.
    Take today, a wide flat road at 55km out with only a smaller climb in-between. So, whilst Sagan would have been a natural for the win today, a sprinter could have off-set his points.

    The breakaway group containing Landa, Quintana and Contador was almost like a mobile public health warning on the dangers of the Giro / Tour mix?

    • Allowed to ride for himself, absent the early crash in the Giro (which wasn’t his fault), I actually think Landa could legitimately claim he could have been on the podium in both races. I don’t know which step, but his powers of recovery are incredible.

  3. it’ll be interesting to see who Quick Step use today to counter Matthews’ attempts at a win and protect Kittel’s points lead.
    Gilbert, I guess. Is today too much for Stybar?

    • Gilbert seems to have lost quite a bit of his ‘snappiness’ Styby can match GVA on most terrain on a good day but he’s been working hard for Kittel already, so, to be frank, I don’t see one of the laminate guys winning this one in a mano a mano sprint against the 2 big favourites, but from a smaller group anything is possible.

      Anybody else noticed that GVA came home yesterday at only abt 5 minutes? His form must be great and he must have been hiding that for 13 days already.

  4. Matthews should just take a teammate or two into the breakaway to avoid the risk of the team not being able to bring back any moves.

    • Today I imagine (in my fevered mind) Matthews, GVA, EBH and a Quickstepper in a decent sized break. None of them are GC threats. But deep into the stage, maybe around one of the two cat 3 climbs, maybe later, Landa or Froome attacks. If that happened who would chase? Who could chase? It might only gain a few seconds or even be brought back. But by who? There are a lot of vulnerable riders with big ambitions and weakened or non-existent teams out there.

  5. Betancur should be off duty and be allowed to go free. I also suspect Ulissi will try to get in the break.

    Certainly it looked like Froome needed to contain Landa and ensure he doesn’t get yellow. Many of his attacks were likely to show his own team who the top dog is, saying that Aru is benefitting from it all

    • It seemed very odd to me to have kwiatkowski chasing landa’s group. what is the disadvantage to having landa in yellow? if it stays close then sky have options – landa is obviously climbing better, froome is superior in the TT. if landa had got 3 minutes then it would have been aru, bardet and uran pulling, not just martin and yates.

      i would have thought a professional sports team would be above personality politics – they only care about winning. does it matter if it’s froome or landa in front come paris?

      • As Canocola pointed out above, all the time Landa was gaining time, so was Quintana. Had Landa taken enough to get yellow, Quintana would have closed to within a minute – too close for comfort.

        I think the ideal situation for Sky would have been for Landa to get to 30-40 seconds – close enough to force Astana/AG2R to chase if he attacks – leaving Quintana at 1:30-40 – still with a lot to do. Hard to have that much control over the exact gap given the race situation, though.

      • It very much mattered a few years ago when it was froome and wiggo 1-2. It was quite obvious to anyone that froome was told to hold back and wait for wiggo. And he obliged. Part of sky’s receipe for success has always been the commitment to just one leader. I think part of Sky’s ‘weakness’ this year is landa riding for nobody but himself.

    • One question: when did this “chasing” (which implies commitment and focus) actually occur? Froome and Kwiato were part of a GC group on the final descent. At no point did they set off in pursuit of Landa, seeming more concerned mainly to maintain Froome’s position in this group. This, like many things Team Sky, has been exaggerated out of all proportion. The day before Froome had apparently “cracked” and was done for when, in reality, he hadn’t had a kick on the final 200 meters. If that’s all his rivals have to combat Froome with against him and his team (a big part of his strength at this Tour) then Froome is still sitting relatively pretty. I think that Sky will probably end up with two guys on the podium at the end because the other GC guys are basically riding alone at the back end of mountain stages. Something has to give and it will be one of them before the Sky boys in all likelihood.

      • Agree. There seems to be a big attempt to turn the Froome / Landa thing into a drama. Its a quick and cheap story with the parallels to Froome / Wiggins.

        On the run-in after the last climb Froome did launch a number of attacks but their work looked to be to distance / tire Aru or contain the other contenders. Froome mainly sat up when Aru reeled him.

        Also i dont think Froome is cool-headed enough to play bluff tactics – his nature seems to be either attack or chase down.

        • Yes, the point about Froome’s personality is a good one… he almost threw away the Tour last year chasing Bardet. He’s basically an open book… he looks twitchy on his bike and his tactics seem like an extension of that.

  6. Not sure this will be a popular view but I dont think there should be too many stages like yesterday, they are more a novelty rather than GT stages. The nature of the race yesterday was dictated as much by Sky attacking rather than the course itself.

    In terms of the GC, maybe tomorrow has possibilities though it is difficult to see any of the contenders getting away. I suspect we might see little change until we get to the slopes of the Galibier.

    I guess the race will be less controlled today. Sky will be far less inclined to be involved in policing duties, Astana dont seem to have the capacity, perhaps Quick Step will try though maybe they are more inclined to send Philippe Gilbert into the break? It is not impossible a largish break will go and Michael Matthews will manage to get into in it.

    One thing that might shake things up is any crosswinds. Fabio Aru could be very much at risk if wind becomes an issue. Crosswinds have played a significant part in 3 of the past 4 tours so even if not today then are still a number of stage where this could come into play.

    • I’m of the opposite view regarding these short stages, I really like them.
      What they lack in length and attrition, they make up for in intensity and stress.
      To me, the better option would have been a shorter Mont du Chat stage, like the Dauphine.
      You had the perfect steep last climb and technical descent; that’s where 90% of the action occurred in any case.

      As it was, that stage 9 produced a severe toll on the race. I read something in The Guardian like 11 x crashes on the day, a host of injuries and abandons (and riders outside the finishing cut).
      OK, the wet weather didn’t help, but I’m sure that the riders’ fatigue was a major factor too.
      I’d have at least one short stage every week, maybe even two.
      Intensity over tempo any time.

      • Short stages:

        Perhsps not “too many stages like yesterday”

        -But 1 in most (all) GT’s would be good. They definitely add an element.

  7. Here’s a hypothetical for people to ponder (as I did last night). This is a very close Tour de France. I even read that, at this stage, its the closest there has ever been. Imagine, for sake of argument, that after stage 20 there is a matter of single digits between 1st and 2nd place… or even between the top 3. Would you, not being in that 1st place, accept your defeat after the time trial or go into Paris fully intending to keep racing? What would you do? What, in this Tour of controversies about “unwritten rules,” would be the correct etiquette?

  8. Aru has yellow but how does he keep it, especially when Sky are clearly the strongest team here by a mile? They are going to deploy Landa again for certain, maybe on the Galibier and, if not then, certainly on the Col d’Izoard. But who will chase him? Even if you say Sky want Froome to win for every conceivable reason, they would, I’m sure, still like to engineer Landa onto the podium too. Here Froome’s superior time trial comes into play because there is a window they can pop Landa into which gives him a chance in a time trial against the other rivals for the podium but doesn’t endanger Froome himself. That window is Landa gaining another 1.30 or so against the top four. It gives Landa 20 seconds or so over Aru and about a minute over Uran and about 50 seconds over Bardet. It also gives him about half a minute over Froome but Froome would expect to overcome that in a time trial. Sky have finished 1 +2 in the Tour before of course in another “contentious” Tour for their team, in 2012, when Froome was the supposedly unsettled domestique rather than the anointed son.

    If and when Landa attacks in the Alps, who chases him down though, because, as we have seen, the other GC guys are basically alone and cannot afford to give an effort for fear of losing what they already have. Should he get the golden 1.30 SKy may be looking at a double podium and as long as Froome can sit in he has the “get out of jail free” time trial card still in his back pocket.

    • AG2R may not be on the same level as Sky, but they are strong and so is their leader. He will chase if not strike preemptively himself.

      • Yes. I agree. Bardet is the most likely GC respondee to any games Sky play with Landa. But I also see him as the one with most to lose considering his very weak , almost Andy Schleck-like, TT ability. Bardet almost has to risk everything if he wants to win. He will only go backwards on stage 20.

    • You’re very sure of Froomes time trial here, and of Landa’s willingness to be his lap dog. I think as you say Landa will be up the road at least a couple more times. But the team that chase him will probably be Sky! If Froome isn’t at his best he wouldnt want to he relying on a scant 22km TT to pull too much back.

      • Two 20% ramps, both in the last 200 meters of stages, are scant evidence that “Froome is not at his best”. As I keep repeating, if this is all his opponents have then Froome wins. He seems happy enough pacing up long climbs and its the ability of opponents to distance him there (by themselves since they are without team mates) and put one minute into him that will lose him this Tour not comedy sprints for 20 seconds gain. I really do wonder which GC contender will be prepared to lose everything to distance Froome. As you say, perhaps they guy will end up being his own. Either way, Sky wins.

        • I think it is. Whether he’s far enough off his best to beaten we’ll have to wait and see. Plus you don’t have to be the strongest to win. With this being so close tactics could win it for someone. Sky have the tactical advantage if they are willing to risk Froome not winning.

        • evidence that froome is not at his best (maybe for good?)is that hes about to go into third week without having distanced his rivals. he never failed to do this in the tours he won. and the third week has never been his favourite attacking point, quite the opposite.
          but he probably hasnt lost that much, just the edgde to dominate his rivals like he used to. he is still the favourite to win but not by much.

          • You’re presuming he’s kept his training / schedule the same and is weaker than previous years.
            What if he’s changed his training / schedule to be stronger in the third week than usual?

            Interesting times!

          • Yes of course could be, but i dont buy it. Its unlikely. He knows his main strengths and has done very well with them so far. Why relay on the last day and inspire your opponents to attack all three weeks, doesnt sound like a plan from froome or sky. Anyway this is speculation and we will only now in paris

    • I think Longwy was more of a pronounced climb, I’ve put Bevin in as a stealth pick but he’s yet to show a big uphill sprint that was his trademark in the amateur and Asian races he did so well in before joining the World Tour.

  9. I’m not sure about this whole Giro/Tour double impossibility. Landa was one of if not the most active rider in the last week of the Giro and he’s floating at the Tour. Also the gap between the Tour and the Vuelta is smaller but somehow that’s not an issue. I think it’s an excuse to hide behind.
    One think I’ll say about this race now is that Landa is definitely riding for himself. He’s a minute down and when we get to the Alps all it takes is for Contador or someone to try another long one and he’ll be away on his wheel. Even if it doesn’t work I predict a Landa will be up the road and at the very least virtual leader at leart one more time. It’d be perfect for Sky if it wasn’t Froome who was their other GC threat. I bet we’ll see Kwiatkowski pulling him back again at some point.
    Gilbert for today be the way.

    • I think the difference between Giro/Tour and Tour/Vuelta is the fact that nobody is explicitly targeting the Vuelta at the start of the season, meaning the riders are down a notch in terms of form in comparison to the Giro. Giro and Tour are heavily contested with riders trying to peak for these events, whereas in the Vuelta we see riders who either failed at the Tour or were injured before or have already peaked (either at the Tour or the Giro). That’s why I think it is easier to do the double here than in May/July, although still difficult to engineer.

    • Landa finished about 40 mins down in the Giro. If he had been fighting for GC he would have been a bit more physically drained and a lot more mentally drained as well.

  10. I think Landa, who knows his lesson from Astana, is more likely to twist Brailsford’s arm into putting the team also to his service than Froome to force Landa into behaving like a lieutenant. Contador’s role as the anarchist bomber is very interesting too.

    • Surely their agendas actually align? Landa has been the last worker bee in line anyway. If he fires off up the road instead of pulling he’s still had the benefit of Kwiato, Henao and Nieve before him. I suspect Landa won’t cry over a podium in the end because, remember, he didn’t even want to be here.

  11. Can someone explain how Landa finished two seconds down if there is a new three second rule this year? Surely he should have had the same time as Barguil et al.

  12. We’ve seen Froome attack on climbs and not being able to distance anyone.

    While the great tactic discussed here appears to be sending Landa up the rode. What happens if, on a climb, Froome only has Landa left as a teammate. And then Aru/Bardet/Uran goes…

    Can Froome hold a rival’s wheel in a climb when under attack? Not Froome of 2012-2016. Froome of 2017. What if Landa gives chase but distances Froome? That’s when it gets interesting… all the others will be waiting for Froome to be alone with Landa and then go for it.

  13. If it doesn’t rain in the last ITT (aerodynamics being more important in the rain due to air density)

    Then I think Froome will only gain about 30secs vs Aru/Bardet/Uran. Again, we are not talking of Froome of 2012-2016. We’re talking about Froome who was behind Porte, Valverde and Contador in the Dauphine time trial (no rain).

  14. its probably been mentioned before but worth saying again…

    How good is Kwiatkowski? Superb rider, good style on a bike, seems pretty smart and a ridculously good asset for any team. Be really nice to see him get a stage win cos he will more than deserve one

  15. The tactics of this race are now fascinating. Can Froome really afford to leave it all until the TT? If not, how does he put time into Aru, who is climbing well? Sky tried to break Aru 2 days ago, but at the finish it was Froome, not Aru who did not have the legs to get away from his rival. If Aru does have the climbing edge, but has no team to really control the race he has to act as a cycling mercenary hitching rides with whoever is taking the race on and pulling away (from the other GC contenders) at the finish. If this is his best tactic how do Sky respond? If they lead the race and push it on he follows. If they pull back and ask the Yellow Jersey to set the pace he cruises waiting for one of the other GC contenders to take it on and then follows them. Is this enough for Aru? Can he gain enough time in this fashion to negate the TT? Or is it his need to gain still more time that will ignite the race as he tries to get away and really damage Froome’s chances? Who will work with him to set it up?

  16. I wonder why the UAE team was chasing so much yesterday.
    I speculate that maybe they were helping Aru, because they want him to sign with them next year, now that they received an influx of money from Fly Emirates.

    • Utterly bizarre.

      Valgren saying they tried to bring him up and he didn’t follow.

      How was Uran there when his team’s not much beyond Astana, especially for a finish like this – even Dan Martin lost his teammates wheel and managed to be there.

      Landa and Quintana also lost 15 & 22 secs.

      If Froome blows on a mountain finish though it’s more than 18secs so let’s see…

      Bardet (who lost 5secs) is benefitting most – someone has to have a go tomorrow from that first climb, Aru and Uran could be isolated so easily if Sky gang up with Orica and Quickstep and Bardet just gets on for the ride.

  17. so now the sky Froome/Landa rivalry story goes…….Oh look Landa lost 14 seconds to Froome it must be so that he has more margin to attack?

      • There’s not much of a story with Landa/Froome…?

        Sky will send Landa up the road to wear others out, Froome will take advantage, and if he can’t Landa will assume leadership.

        If ghosts of the past cause Landa to do what he wants and go for the win (fair enough) then unless Froome wilts the team will stay loyal to Froome and Landa will be on his own.

        No real conspiracy? Landa is strong and he knows it, the ball is probably in his court, but it’s likely it will only benefit Froome, who, if he’s really not strong enough, would lose with or without Landa.

        That’s seems unlikely though.

        The story is more what Bardet and AG2R will do going forward – Aru, Uran, Martin do not have the teams to mix things up, only Bardet seems to have the form and the team to give us an unusual script.

        • (And it seems Landa just lost time because he didn’t follow Kwiat and get in the mix as Froome did – it’s better for him and Sky to be close on GC because if he’s a real threat people will follow, and the name of the game is people following and him wearing them out if that is the chosen tactic and not the Sky train)

          • For what its worth I don’t think people would follow Landa anyway. This isn’t because he couldn’t win. Its because they would say to Froome and his loyal team mates, “OK, either you chase him or we all lose.” But Landa needs 2.30 now (including to cover the ITT). He’d need to be head and shoulders the strongest in the race to get that and probably not have anyone chase him. A very unlikely scenario because if Landa did go rogue then everyone would chase him.

      • Dave, as part of Team Sky he knew what Froome knew. If Landa was serious about going rouge he wouldn’t have lost time yesterday. I personally don’t think that there is much chance that he will ride for himself, two disloyalties going into a third team looks very bad.

    • A lot surely gets lost in translation and misinterpreted with Landa. He’s ambitious but there are lines he won’t cross. Just being the strongest climber and making a few headlines right now is plenty enough for him: it gets him the recognition without the weight of responsibility.

  18. This Froome/Landa debate is pure nonsence. How on earth can anyone think that anarki will develop on the most organized/controlled cycling team in the world?? It’ll NEVER happen in team Sky!
    If someone thinks that’s possible – change back to smoke normal tobacco 😉

  19. Another aspect of calculating Landa’s race, which may be included (or not) is the inference that He may join a different team next season. He may then be the designated GC rider. If that happens, He will want His support riders to be all there and with that in mind, He may not want to double cross His leader and make that an example He regrets in the future.

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