A stage for the breakaway specialists and the strong riders with something left in the legs. The penultimate climb of the Col de Peyra Taillade is tough and includes a steep “short cut” to make it harder still.
Stage 14 Review: a reminder that cycling is a team sport. A quartet of Maxime Bouet, Thomas De Gent, Timo Roosen and Thomas Voeckler went clear from the start and Reto Hollenstein bridged across soon after. The Sunweb team chased but their task was easier with so few riders up the road. The inevitable uphill sprint came and Michael Matthews won ahead of Greg Van Avermaet, the Australian having the force to attack the Belgian in the dash to the line. Meanwhile Chris Froome had been near the front with his Sky team mates, notably the invaluable Michał Kwiatkowski, throughout the final kilometres while a lone Fabio Aru was stuck at the back despite the crosswinds, a warning he needed to be up front. As the finish approached plenty of riders who weren’t going to win sat up and Aru was caught behind, he tried to close the gaps but was floundering on the flat approach to the climb trying to chase down the sprinters so he started the final climb cooked and duly lost 24 seconds and the yellow jersey to Chris Froome, a contrast with the 20 seconds he gained on him at the Planche des Belles Filles. His team isn’t strong but his only job for the day was to ride on Froome’s back wheel. There’s talk from Astana that losing the jersey isn’t so bad but surely this is spin, if Aru has ambitions to win then losing time anywhere only makes things harder.
The Route: a dash to the first climb over roads that are a bit hillier than the profile suggests. Continuing the theme the first category climb to Naves d’Aubrac is listed as 8.9km at 6.4% but the road climbs for a kilometre longer and it’s closer to 7%, all on a tough rural road that rises to the Aubrac plateau, a barren and exposed land where the roads are lined with barbed-wire strung between chestnut fenceposts that evoke Johnny Hoogerland. Soon after comes the climb out of Vieurals, listed as 3.3km at 5.9% but the road climbs for at least 5km and then it’s across the plateau to the intermediate sprint which is chased by a 10km drag up at 3-4% most of the way and then more sluggish plateau roads before a twisting descent with 6-7% slopes down to the Allier valley.
The Col de Peyra Taillade is a tough climb out of the valley. It starts with level ascent that twists its ways up for the first four kilometres. Then comes the “short cut” as the race takes the direct way uphill and it’s two kilometres at 11% average with some 14% and all on a narrow road before returning to the main road, itself still a rural road, and 7% slopes. The descent off the other side isn’t as steep which matters because someone attacking over the climb can’t exploit the descent, they have to keep pedalling a lot.
The climb out of Saint Vidal bites, it’s only 2km but amid the 6.8% average there’s some 10% and narrow too. After this the route picks up the big Route Nationale for a while before a quick detour via Polignac where there’s a climb on the way out, it’s not steep but 1km at 5% is a last launchpad for anyone worried about a sprint.
The Finish: a descent into Le Puy en Velay with some tight bends and the kind of road where it’s hard to take back time on a rider ahead until the final two kilometres and then a big boulevard to finish on.
The Contenders: long range breakaways are not proving successful this year with only Lilian Calmejane enjoying a stage win. Today should see a move go early and stay away because the sprint teams won’t be chasing and if Team Sky pick up the chase it’ll surely be to control the race rather than bring the breakaway back. The only chance of the break failing is if a team misses the early move and is forced into a “punishment chase” which only brings things back together at the expense of the chasing team. But who to pick… it’ll have to be a strong rider who can cope with some hard climbs because the road up to the Plateau d’Aubrac is selective.
Stephen Cummings (Dimension Data) is an obvious breakaway specialist who has won in the Massif Central before but he’ll be closely marked while team mate Serge Pauwels is strong on courses like this. Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal) is another stage hunter with the talent to poach the win and he can sprint well too. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) is versatile enough to win a stage like this. Pierre Rolland (Cannondale-Drapac) has had gastric problems but these can go as quickly as they come and the route suits. Jarlinson Pantano (Trek-Segafredo) is another versatile rider suited to the hilly route. Warren Barguil (Team Sunweb) can take points and says that he’s not going to waste his form, he wants to win again but perhaps the Alps are better suited?
Now to some teams. Movistar are still hunting for a stage win, they’re not having their usual powerful display but the likes of Jesus Herrada, Andrey Amador and Carlos Betancur are powerful options. Ditto BMC who are stage-hunting now and Greg Van Avermaet can cope with these climbs as we saw in Rio a year ago. UAE Emirates might have Louis Meintjes in ninth but they’ve been almost invisible. One team to watch is Ag2r La Mondiale because their second on team prize to Sky and winning this is an objective for them so firing two riders up the road can help them here. The team prize is something the general public cares little for but team managers love it (more on how the prize works here) so the likes of Oliver Naesen and Jan Bakelants are good candidates to go clear while others can stay alongside Romain Bardet in case the stage lights up among the GC contenders, Bardet is the regional rider today and he and his team have reconned this stage too. Orica-Scott have Simon Yates in white but that only means the team jersey hasn’t been so visible so far, the likes of Damien Howson and Daryl Impey come to mind as the young talent and the old captain.
It’s a rest day tomorrow so what chance the GC riders light thing up? Slim but if Fabio Aru looks weak and isolated again then this is a good chance to extinguish his hopes and the promise of the rest day tomorrow can encourage others to have a go, Alberto Contador comes to mind.
|Stephen Cummings, Tony Gallopin, GVA
|Herrada, Gilbert, Benoot, EBH, Barguil, Bettiol, Calmejane, Roglič,
Weather: warm with 30°C in the valleys, 24°C on the plateau and a northerly wind of 10-15km/h
TV: live from the start at 1.00pm CET with the finish forecast for a later than usual 6.00pm CET.