Tour de France Stage 15 Preview

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.

48 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 15 Preview”

  1. Surely Bling Matthews is a good chance to double up today. He has demonstrated his ability over big climbs already this tour and also mixed it up admirably in the pure sprints. He should be amongst the fastest to get over the climbs. I think Sunweb will work hard to keep the break in check.

    • Why shouldn’t Matthews try and get in the break? Presumably QS will try to keep it under control in that scenario but surely Kittel has no chance of even holding on until the intermediate sprint. However, even if he did make it, I would expect Matthews to get dropped on the steep slopes of the final major climb by breakaway colleagues like Cummings etc.

      Another curve-ball is if Contador decides to rip things up early on. That could be fun. There was a stage a number of years ago where Garmin caused chaos. As far as I can remember, it had a similar kind of profile to today. Query which team would play that role under current circumstances?

      • Quintana has said he wants to try and take time back today!

        But surely Sky won’t let him go today! They have the jersey back, and no need to make things explode!

        Also, they have the power to bring him back if they choose to…

        The chaos was a big possibility when Astana was “controlling” things, but now that Sky is back they are the only team that can cause chaos!

  2. Anybody make much of the Michael Valgren interview? He actually smiled and said “Good” when we was told Aru lost yellow. The whole time he seems to be openly critical of Aru. Not a good showing of team spirit for a contender who already has a weak team relative to Sky.

    • The “good” could be “good, I don’t have to work as hard tomorrow” rather than delight at a rival taking the race lead. Like any workplace you may not like some colleagues and want to holiday with them but Valgren’s in line for win bonuses, prize money and a good line on his CV if he can get Aru in yellow for Paris.

      • Valgren is a from Denmark, same as his training partner and good friend Fuglsang, so he’s probably disappointed about now working for Aru, since he was tasked with working for fuglsang earlier…

        That being said, he is very professional, and a team player who will do whatever he is told. He also makes a lot of fun in interviews. Haven’t seen the interview, but maybe he was being sarcastic? Or maybe he’s trying to sell the vague team story that they don’t mind Froome having the jersey back…?

    • Michael Valgren @MichaelValgren

      Sorry if people misunderstood my post race interview. Sad to loose the jersey but don’t think it is bad for us.

      Michael Valgren @MichaelValgren

      That said. Yes I should look after Fabio, and I tried. Sorry folks

  3. So we are back to the men in white leading the peloton around La France profonde. Clearly a surprise all round. Since loosing the jersey, with the arguable exception of the descent into Foix, Sky have riden an excellent race. I suspect the plan was to take back the lead today but I doubt they will complain about the turn of events.

    Fabio Aru looks weak and vulnerable. The others teams, not just Sky, will seek to exploit this. Richie Porte made a comment after Belle Filles that Fabio Aru would struggle later in the race. I thought the comment a little odd at the time but perhaps he was right.

    Today does have breakaway written all over it but that has been the case with some previous stages and the GC (ie Sky) teams pulled it back. Not sure that will happen here. I guess neither Luke Rowe or Christian Knees will make it up the first climb so the resources for setting a consistent high pace might be less. Maybe let the break go and then try to split the GC group on the second cat 1 climb. AG2R might well be having similar thoughts. It could well be in a lot of teams interest to drop Fabio Aru on the final 40km.

    Who to pick for the win. Michael Matthews has shown he can climb. Tuesday offers possibilities too, plus the intermediates in the Alps. It is a long shot but I doubt they will give up. He will be marked but if a big break does go might be difficult to stop. INRNG’s list is as good as always but there is a big random element too so someone totally left field could come through to take the stage.

  4. In theory, could the tactical option of Landa be used by Sky today, even late on in the stage?
    Not necessarily for the win, but just a move on a late climb to keep Aru under pressure.
    He’s got a little wiggle room, as far as Froome’s lead is concerned but he’d certainly cause the rest to have to work.

    It’ll be interesting to see what Sky do with Aru today.
    Let the break go and give everyone a rest, or try something and keep the pressure on?
    Sky are down to eight riders but it hasn’t made one iota of difference – Kwiatkowski has ridden for two men. Awesome, especially after the Spring he had too.

    • Throwing Landa up the road at the end offers bait for a GC counterattack, and don’t think Sky would want to be trying to contain that today.

      Would normally expect this to remain fairly neutralised, but with a rest day tomorrow and nobody really sure what state Aru is in I can see some GC attacks early on to see what the deal is. Bardet and Uran might not expect to shift Froome today, but if Aru is weak then they’ll want to try and put him out of contention. Sky will want to have bodies together to cover that.

    • This”Use Landa to force the others to chase” tactic only has limited use in my view. And that’s because its a bluff. Froome wants to win. Sky would prefer it if Froome won. So Aru, Bardet, Uran, Martin, just refuse to chase, follow Froome and say, in so many words, “Either you chase or we all lose”. And Froome will chase in the end because although he has a bit of wiggle room due to a superior TT its not an exact science putting your team mate exactly where it makes everybody happy.

      • Interesting psychology there RonDe.
        I can see your point but I’m not sure that I’d be totally happy watching £300k in podium prize money going down the Swanee?

        • Its routine on forums and blogs for the people below the line to criticise riders who ride “to protect their podium place”. I think Uran and Dan Martin would be very happy with a podium. I’m not so sure Aru and Bardet would.

          • Sure, but what if they let Landa take 2 more minutes? That gives Sky 1-2, and still with Froome in position to win…

            Sky would love that, and the rest of them fear that! Also because it gives Sky safety is Froome cracks or crashes…

          • As a purely team-centric, “belt and braces” approach you are absolutely right. But Team Sky has never been about “any rider so long as its a Sky one”. Indeed, in 2011-12 Froome himself suffered because of this, losing the Vuelta 2011 because of Sky’s fatal attraction to Wiggins. For Sky its about who their designated leader is until he fails beyond hope. Sure, you can fire Landa down the road and tell him to bite off as much as he can chew. It gives Aru, Bardet, Uran and Martin a big headache. But it gives Sky and Froome one too. Little things can go wrong and cutting it too finely risks Froome not being able to come through and finish on the top step where, from Sky’s point of view, he’s supposed to.

  5. first sentence “a quarter of Maxime Bouet, Thomas De Gent, Timo Roosen and Thomas Voeckler went clear…”

    Mr. Rng, either you wanted to say they saved themselves by holding back 3/4 or its a typo, although a funny one 😉

  6. If Contador and Quintana go early, it could force Sky to send Landa up the road with them to sit on. Then let Ag2r chase. Barguil or Cummings for the win.

  7. A break should take it as I expect Sky to ride a tempo that’ll keep Rowe and Knees there until well after the intermediate sprint. Break could have plus 15 mins by then.

    Ag2r have said this is Bardet’s home territory and he has plans with DS saying they must keep him calm.

    I think Bardet and Ag2r may light the fuse on descent to the Allier valley to thin out Team Sky for both GC and team prize reasons.

    Then the fuse may stay lit until the very end with the placement of atrack important as well as knowledge of roads.

  8. Sky will hope to let a non-dangerous break go clear, guaranteeing that in a race of seconds no bonus ones go to any rivals. Provided everyone else wants a rest we can then settle in to see who bags a stage win. Alberto and/or Nairo may change this script though and the fact of a rest day tomorrow might embolden them. Sky are the only team strong enough to drag the race along at that point in which case those fighting for GC with little team support (Aru, Uran, Dan Martin) may suffer more than most.

    I’m not buying the “Astana let the lead go on purpose” story. They were lazy, messed up and exposed their weakness. I can see Aru slipping off the podium in the end because Uran is looking solid and has a decent enough time trial and Bardet is certain to attack the Galibier descent as well as the Izoard climb because being the worst time trialler of the main contenders he has the most to lose by not doing so. The x factor is Froome. Is he “weaker than normal” as those hoping for him to fail are suggesting? Granted, he has lacked a kick at the end of the two mountain top finishes. Some are saying the small time differences prove he is weaker. But often in the past there has been at least one time trial by now which has given a more realistic picture. And then there is the fact he has the strongest team which is a big point in his favour especially when others are essentially riding for GC alone. Even if Froome is “weaker” he’s still in the lead and I personally think only a catastrophic time loss in the order of 1 minute will see him off. Froome does not need to destroy the field, merely finish in front of them in the end. So any stage which ends in stalemate is job done as far as he’s concerned.

    • People are missing A3 & Pierre St-Martin type of dominant performance where Froome dropped closest rival by at least a minute. Ironically, people used to accuse him of doping after that kind of performance.

      I agree that Froome doesn’t need to destroy the field. He mere needs to stay ahead. The more he keeps in the tank the better prospect for his Tour Vuelta double.

      • Ironicly thoe dominant peformances dispeard after Sky’s problems with TUE’s, secret pacakages etc. Guess they are beeing just a tiny bit more carfull. (Marginal gains turining to marginbal losses)

  9. Happy 53rd birthday to Big Mig himself, Miguel Indurain. During his 5 back to back Tour wins he never won a stage that wasn’t a time trial.

    • How times change. 25 years ago in the 92 Tour Indurain won a 65kms time trial by 3 minutes from the second rider on the road and caught Lauren Fignon who had started 6 minutes ahead.

      Would never happen now.

      • Yep, as long as Bardet is riding we’re unlikely to see many time trials over 25km as the ASO try and do everything they can to create a French winner.

        • Yes I figured this out about the “strange course” people keep talking about. Few TT kilometers, few mountain top finishes where a guy on a bad day might get dropped. But some intriguing descents. And Bardet is a climber who can’t time trial and is a crack descender. Bravo Monsieur Prudhomme. Doing your best for that French winner. But the might of the whole AG2R team couldn’t drop the gangly Brit today!

      • In that 1992 Tour as well as that 65km TT on stage 9 that Indurain won by 3 minutes there was a 5.5km prologue, a 63.5km team TT in the first week and a 64km TT on stage 19! If we had those kinds of distances now you’d have Froome working as Kiryenka’s super domestique! This years race is almost its ideological opposite.

        • 92 is a bit before i started cycling so have a question for those that did. Was there one dominant team then as there is now?

          • I wouldn’t say that Indurain’s team dominated in the same way that Sky do now, it was more that Indurain was so dominant on his own. His wins were based on him winning time trials by minutes. I’m not sure when dominant teams started but there are a few down the years – Rik van Looy’s Red Guard, Merckx’s Molteni team, Ti Raleigh, Renault, US Postal.

  10. For aru, uran and martin. Realistically fighting for the win of the tour in its third week and Finishing on the podium is already a great success.

  11. Michał Kwiatkowski man of the Tour so far, surely? From the first selective stage, to the high mountains, to yesterday’s classics style finish he has been awesome for Froome.

  12. Dan martin’s interview after the stage was very telling. He said that no one other than froome could have closed the gap after the rear wheel change.

  13. What a clinic schoolexample of teamwork from Sky today. Magnificent teamwork:
    Oops Froome has a puncture…oops Kwaitkowski hand him his wheel… oops Nieve pulls him the tough first part… oops Landa takes him back to the GC-group which were at full speed. Just like that!! I don’t think any other team could have done that and that’s why this superteam will win this year.
    Had Froom captained any other team this year he couldn’t win it – put one of the first 6 GC contenders in the Sky team, and he would win the race this year. Chapeau TEAM Sky today for a wonderful team performance!!

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