Tour de France Stage 16 Preview

The first of three mountain stages in the Pyrenees, this one should be for the breakaway meaning a ferocious start to the stage just to hitch a ride on the wagon for the day and then three sharp climbs to help pick the winner later. The GC riders will probably aim to conserve energy ahead of tomorrow’s stage but that’s a tall order on this long day.

The Route: 218km south into the Pyrenees and the best part of 150km across the plains and foothills before the climbing starts. It’s not easy going, the road rises and falls with two marked climbs and several more as well as the charming cave road of Le Mas d’Azil, a natural cave that has had a road put through it.

The Col de Portet d’Aspet is a short climb but steep with slopes over 10% in the final kilometres. It’s steeper still on the descent and the danger marked by the two memorials of Fabio Casartelli. Then comes five kilometres of scenic valley road and then the Col de Menté begins. It’s a got a middle section at 11-12% that’s not on the profile above and climbs up via a series of hairpin bends. The descent is fast and and also has its memorial to tragedy too before the valley and a drag uphill for the best part of 20km and into Spain (why into Spain? It does allow for a climb and descent into Luchon but also the Tour’s owners ASO own the Vuelta a Espana and tonight much of the peloton will be staying in Spanish hotels in a bid… expect the Vuelta to return in 2019 and it’s like the same edition of the Spanish race has a stage to Pau).

The Portillon’s Spanish side is a wide road with several large hairpins and the profile above represents it well, it’s a big steady ascent.

The Finish: downhill off the Col de Portillon, this is a fast 8km descent with several hairpins interspersed by sets of hairpin bends. With 2km to go the slope eases and the final kilometre is flat with a sweeping left hand corner with just 200m to go.

The Contenders: only eight teams have a stage win so far and plenty of team managers will be keen to send riders up the road to try and win today. Throwing riders up the road won’t be easy given the likely battle to get in the day’s move but once the move goes it’ll have to contain proven climbers who can profit from the finish. The climbs here are steep but not too long so Julian Alaphilippe (Quick Step) has a good chance here to repeat his win a week ago in Le Grand Bornand, he can harvest points along the way and either use his punch on the final climb to go solo or save himself for the sprint. Mikel Nieve (Mitchelton-Scott) is in good climbing form and team mate Adam Yates can try too. Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) was in the break the other day and could try, the same for Rafał Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe). But it’s not easy to pick, as likely as these names sound they have to get in the move to start with. Warren Barguil (Fortuneo-Samsic) could go in the move for points but his team really want a stage win more than the jersey. By contrast Omar Fraile (Astana) is a pick again, he’s a good stage hunter.

Can the GC contenders make a difference today? Yes but the day’s breakaway is likely to contest the stage win given the distance and the relatively small climbs later. Plus the big names will be worried about tomorrow where one mistake could see them pay in cash. You might watch for Romain Bardet who could jump late but if much is made of his descending skills but he’s exploited this in the past precisely because he’s struggled for opportunities on the climbs, in other words he’s attacked downhill because he couldn’t uphill. Now he can as we saw on Alpe d’Huez and he’s likely to save energy for tomorrow. Instead Primož Roglič could be the one to try, he’s got an explosive jump as we saw in Mende.

Julian Alaphilippe, Omar Fraile
Majka, Nieve, Barguil, Yates, Mollema

Weather: hot and sunny in the plains, 30°C but the chance of rain in the mountains later.

TV: live from the start at 11.30am CEST with the finish forecast for 5.20pm CEST. Tune in early if you can because it’s going to be a fight to get in the breakaway. The Portet d’Aspet should start around 3.15pm and the Portillon at 4.45pm.

72 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 16 Preview”

  1. With Moscon leaving it feels like the other team now have to start to pry open that tiny chink in their armour. Pouls looks to have been getting rested for these days so they do have strong team members left. Other teams should be forcing Sky to work as much as possible today in advance of tomorrow’s stage, forcing the pace from the start to exhaust guys like Rowe and Castroviejo who have been drilling it the last couple of weeks.

    If they get one or two riders in a break who Sky will want to chase down (although them being allowed to get away is another matter…) and then perhaps Dumoulin and Haga to go on the descent of Col de Mente and TT the pace to the final climb, this might be enough to get Sky to spend some pennies that they wanted to save for tomorrow.

    • Who could get in a break who would worry Sky? Valverde, Kruiswijk or Latour, I guess but other teams would be just as worried.

      • Valverde, Kruiswijk and Fuglsang maybe seem the best bet looking at the current GC. Agree that it’s a challenge but if Movistar still have any interest in the GC then the time for hail marys is upon us surely. Sky have repeatedly proven that they can shut down attacks on long mountain climbs using their domestiques up. Other teams need to wear these domestiques down wherever possible in advance, not waiting for the one big stage and then getting reeled back in.

    • Moscon is not a big loss. A lot of other teams have lost riders and he is not so key in tempo setting in the final climbs. In most tours losing a rider isn’t a big thing.

    • A lot of riders and teams will think about tomorrow, it’s the stage where a real difference can be made which suggests they’ll try to stay fresh for trouble. All the more reason for someone to try a surprise move though. We’re likely to see some longer shots to try a move, eg Guillaume Martin can take the white jersey by getting in a move that takes 10 minutes etc.

  2. As Dave Brailsford is neither the owner of Team Sky nor a DS, I’m struggling to see how he is utterly indispensable to the organisation. Surely I’m not the first to think the team might be better off without him, with his remarks over the weekend just being the latest controversy.

    • During Wiggins’s excellent interview on ITV over the weekend he was asked to name his dream team. He chose Brailsford as his DS, so, despite their history, he still rates him.

    • He has been indispensable to the team. I can’t remember which scandal it was but his position was under review and the upshot was that if he went then James Murdoch could end the whole team.

      Sky is changing ownership at the moment, the Murdochs are selling out and the new owners will probably review all their marketing, including the cycling team.

      • Interesting to know. Just my opinion, but I don’t think Brailsford came out of the Wiggins/Jiffy-bag thing looking good, and his 2010-era boasts about running the most transparent team in cycling seem to ring pretty hollow these days. And as has been discussed here it’s stupid and offensive to malign an entire nation because of a few drunken idiots by the side of the road. My point being that Froome seems to credit DS Nicolas Portal with his success and the only time one seems to read about Brailsford is in response to, or instigating something controversial so I was wondering if he really is indispensable to Sky or if this is just a line that’s trotted out.

      • Said before that Sky is over… but maybe not this year as thought when the AAF was a live issue.
        Worth considering what the wider economic effect might be on the pro peloton if/when Sky does take its megabucks away. Its riders may well be on the market, plus none of the other team owners will have any interest in following the upward trend of salaries.
        This is where the hate seeded by Sky will come back to bite all the sport.
        The team won’t be picked up by the new owners because its job to push market penetration for the subscriptions and broadband is so over and anyway its image and the whole ‘marginal gains’ thing has become completely counter-productive.
        Would any organisation put up the readies to take the team on to another sponsor? [and is the team constituted actually to be a saleable item?]
        …and is Team Wiggins or any other follow-on from Sky likely to get one of those wildcards from ASO anytime soon, when they give Hinault so much media licence to say what he does?
        The riders will have to go to Continental or domestic teams, unless they are marquee riders. And sad to say that nationality will play a role: eg; Kwiatkowski to BMC/CCC seems logical but so many Brits, even the top ones, won’t be touched by teams of other nationalities because it would alienate their current sponsors, their publics and stick in the craw of any MPCC team management. This is bad and it could be a corollary of so much that went on when British Cycling and Sky were conjoined.
        Will we come to look back on the days of Sky as a golden age? And is gold all it’s cracked up to be?

        • This is all a bit previous. Sky exists because of James Murdoch’s interest in cycling not because of the company Sky which is merely a company the Murdoch’s happened to control they could use to fund the cycling team. James Murdoch will still have companies to run when Sky is sold and, should his interest continue, then why wouldn’t another Murdoch company take over running the team instead?

        • Easy, we’re looking at today’s stage, not armageddon in the transfer market at some possible point in the future. I can see CCC making an offer for Kwiatkowski but how much are they willing to beat Sky? As for the future Sky’s management seem close to Ford as a replacement for the future.

          As for the MPCC, it’s almost job done if the UCI incorporates the promised ban on Tramadol and Cortisone abuse, all teams will be forced to sign up for this

        • All sporting teams’ success goes in cycles, and all the more so in the case of professional road cycling.
          Team Sky’s end could well come with the change of owners but, so what, that’s the way of things?
          Of course any ownership deal could include a clause to continue the team for X years.
          I don’t get your point about the British riders being untouchable after any sale of Team Sky though?

        • At some point Sky will pull out, whether because of change of ownership or simply changing marketing strategies or whatever. The Team “Sky” management have always known that and I would guess have already made plans for that. I would guess they have already got some potential sponsors lined up. It is a fact of life for cycling teams that no sponsor is around forever. Some team principles seem adept at managing this, Patrick Lefevere would be a good example, whether Dave Brailsford will be equally adept we shall have to see.

        • Team Wiggins is a feeder/development team made up primarily of teenagers. They wont be moving up to pro-conti or applying for a wildcard any time soon.

          • My understanding, from sources ‘in the know’, is that Team Wiggins won’t continue beyond this year. But a famous British brand will be creating its own development team, which will help counter this loss. As you say though, development teams are never going to get a GT wildcard

      • Sky’s PR over the last couple of years has been shocking, especially with this Froome case. They haven’t tried to explain what happened. If I was accused of something I hadn’t done I’d try my best to explain why I was innocent. Sky have just took a pretty arrogant ‘we know we’ve done nothing wrong, if you’re stupid enough to think we have you don’t deserve an explanation’ kind of approach. They are widely hated by a lot of cycling fans. Although it won’t effect their core business of monopolising the UK satellite tv market surely they are only in the cycling game for the PR, and if it’s all bad why bother?

        • At risk of lighting the blue touch paper yet again, what about “their case” don’t you understand? Ken Fitch (inventor of the test) laid it out quite concisely: they showed that the Salbutamol you put in is not directly related to the amount you excrete (which is what the test assumes).

          Now if I understand that from what has come out since the ruling then why can’t everyone else?

          PS I understand Sky I have benefitted greatly from the publicity created around the team and that its been financially worth it for them to be involved.

          • Salbutamol issues aside, I think the underlying question is: Owning a team is for PR, Sky team seems to be hated, so why even bother with it? Unless you think that “there is no bad publicity”.
            Which brings my question, that you may be able to answer: Is Sky team hated/loved/indifferent in the UK? Is there a different perception between the cycling fans and the public at large? I honestly don’t know, I don’t live in the UK and I am not British.

          • Did they explain that, or is the report just out there? If they explained it themselves, and said ‘look, this is Chris is salbutamol use in the days leading up to the test, its no more than normal, this report backs up that this kind of thing can happen’ then that’s fair enough.

            Sky in the UK I would say are still seen quite positively. They are a sort of Man Utd of cycling, the name most none serious fans will associate with the sport. And Bradley Wiggins is a sort of David Beckham to Chris Froome’s Ryan Giggs or Paul Scholes. Probably not as good but with a much better public image. You see lots of fat men and young kids with their kit on, more than any other trade team certainly. I think they aren’t as popular as they were though. More because they are no longer a team of predominantly British riders than because of the Froome and Wiggins scandals. I’d say their peak period of popularity and goodwill with long time cyclists will have been 2010-2012/13. That’s just my opinion though.

          • Re “… they showed that the Salbutamol you put in is not directly related to the amount you excrete (which is what the test assumes). Now if I understand that from what has come out since the ruling then why can’t everyone else? …”. Because it is not as simple as you have suggested. Included in the methodology that supports Froome’s case is the acceptance of his word on the amounts of salbutamol he inhaled throughout the Vuelta. This part of the methodology requires trust and credibility. Professional road cycling has not been a winner when it comes to credibility! Also be aware that officialdom have not explained their reasoning in detail. So added to trust and credibility is the matter of transparency. Then couple this with the arrogance of those involved and what have you got? There is a disconnect with the cycling public who are told that it is not their business to know and just go away and watch the races. But the public is asking: just what are we watching? My comment about salbutamol is based on

        • To be fair, Froome did explain, but there isn’t very much to the explanation: he simply said, “I know the rules so I’m very careful with my doses, and I took an amount under the limit”. They then found evidence to show that sometimes a legal dose can result in an excessive reading.

          But that sounds contradictory, and there’s no satisfying explanation along the lines of “I can’t have been in city A, look at this picture of me in city B at the time”, so it rings hollow. However, if he did genuinely take a dose below the threshold which gave rise to a result above the threshold, what more could he/they say? They don’t know *why* the test doesn’t work, sometimes it just doesn’t.

          • “They don’t know *why* the test doesn’t work, sometimes it just doesn’t.”

            I think they do – the guy who came up with it did so based on testing fully hydrated swimmers, not dehydrated endurance athletes. Less hydration leads to a higher concentration – putting 1ml into 100 ml of water would be a higher concentration that 1ml in 500 ml

          • That’s one of the problems I have with this. The way I understood this, if an athlete is above the limit on the test, this means it is up to the athlete to explain why he/she is above the limit. With a very good, reasonably certain explanation. Or pass a lab test, which is not easy seeing that other athletes have failed this.
            And that the limit is already quite high and allows for a lot of variability. Already “generous”.
            Now Froome did not do the lab test, and (as far as we know) only put doubt in the test, instead of explaining his own case, why he was above the limit that day. He just successfully argued that it *may* be possible to be over the test limit with the legal dose, instead of explaining why/proving why he was above the limit with legal dose, which again should have been the spirit of this process as I understood this.
            And maybe his argument relies on his word when he gave the inhaled dosages of the other days.
            Then apparently, the test is not that reliable (why this was not discovered in earlier cases?) but the anti-doping authorities say that the test is somehow still valid?
            To answer Snoop, Froome benefited (somewhat retroactively…) from a new rule where they take into account urine concentration. But was still above the limit. Now dehydration might have other physiological effects, but then again why does WADA say that the test is still valid, if that’s the case?

          • I think part of the problem WADA have is that their rule as it stands is nonsensical. It requires that the athlete prove that their reading resulted from a legal dose, which is literally impossible, pharmacokinetic study or not. So they’ve effectively recognised that it’s possible to exceed the threshold legally, and that you should not be punished for doing so, but provided no workable recourse for an athlete who does. That seems unreasonable, and unlikely to survive a court challenge by anyone who can show a reasonable possibility that they did so. So rather than risk the rule being overturned in its entirety they simply pretended that the rule said something it didn’t and accepted the explanation.

          • “So they’ve effectively recognised that it’s possible to exceed the threshold legally.”

            Yes, and from what I can understand they had good reason for doing so, as Froome had a series of prior tests that tended to support that conclusion. I was surprised to learn how little scientific confidence there was that the threshold was high enough to preclude punishing an innocent rider. The defense that Froome’s team used in the case contradicted that assumption about the threshold concentration, so it’s no wonder that the rule did not explicitly allow for such a defense.

          • WADA probably needs to save face and prevent a flood gate opening before they can fix the test.

            As to the difference between proving “it might be possible under legal dosage” and explaining “why your reading is that high on that day”; it is worth noting that a successful lab test only proves that “it might be possible to obtain a high reading with legal dosage”.

            In no way success in a lab test proves that the high reading on the day was caused by the same conditions. Simply too many variables at play here.

            Whatever the wording in the actual document, the lab test procedures as set out does mean WADA in spirit would deem proving “I might get that reading with a legal dose” enough to exornarate an athelete.

          • Jovelo –
            It has always been about concentration levels, and WADA has recognised that it isn’t actually that accurate which is why they have allowed a greater margin of error.
            The scientist who came up with the test himself said that it is flawed and doesn’t work for endurance athletes. My guess is WADA don’t want to admit it and find a number of previously banned athletes like Petacchi suing them, nor risk current athletes seeing it as an opening to use however much they like.

            The whole thing is a mess – the test creator says the test is worthless, yet WADA have banned people for it and probably feel they can’t admit they didn’t carry adequate scrutiny of it before banning people.

      • Absolutely. DB was always the owner and controller of the narrative from BC thru to SKY. If his story fails, so does the whole story of SKY.

        On the note of new owners, an ushering out of the controversial past (Froome) to a more amenable present/future (Thomas) doesn’t seem like a bad pivot if you’re the mastermind of keeping this ball rolling…

        • Thomas became controversial when he managed to close a gap to Quintana on a mountain stage in 2015 or 16, apparently. Do keep up!

      • “I can’t remember which scandal it was”

        there are so many by now that they cant even be counted, and everyone expect more to come.

        Problem is BC and UK Olympics cometee protects the team too as the entire BC track teams history for +2 decades will be tarnished if/when braisforld falls

    • with the race now having had to be stopped as a result of the police action to deal with protestors, I suspect his latest remarks will fade into the background quite quickly. If they do get raised again, he’ll probably claim this incident as justification. Whether true or not, the issue is successfully obscured.

  3. If ever a stage was tailor made for the shark, this has to be the one. I’ll miss the sight of him descending today.

    Valverde for the win?

      • I’m constantly baffled by a team with a budget like Sky are so poor at PR. They are really terrible at it.

        Brailsford just can’t help himself sometimes and makes bad situations worse. Take the comment regarding small town Mayor a week or so back and his comments yesterday making it a very us v them attitude claiming they aren’t treated like that in Spain or Italy.

    • Portilion decent into France is not that difficult and road is well surfaced for a french pyreanee road.

      Stage 10 was better suited, yesterdays Pic Noir was better suited due top the iregular surface and the D’Abisque decent is really well suited – Steep percents and twisty roads = slow tecnical = larger gaps.

  4. After your Tour Team Prize piece the other day, I wonder how this might effect todays stage. Bahrain are only 7 minutes down and have no one to worry about GC wise. They could easily get both Izagirres and Pozzovivo into the break. If Movistar are unable to match them, I think you might see them wanting to bring it back. I also wonder how important Sky see the need to get Bernal into the top 20 for tomorrows grid start. If they want him there they’ll probably need to keep the break close too. Also we’re running out of stages to win and a couple of teams with GC riders might think today’s their best chance. Ag2R for one and as you point out, Jumbo with Roglic could add to their tally. All in all and even though it normally would have the favourites saving their legs, I think today will see the bigs fighting for the stage and Thomas might just get his 3rd.

      • I haven’t been able to find out. If it’s 10 metres then it’s not so much of an issue but they’re not wide roads so easily blocked and it’s only the first group in GC order. The rest will be ‘fighting’ for position. That could get interesting too…

      • They mentioned on ITV’s coverage in the UK yesterday that from front to back, the length of the starting grid will 80 m, so I don’t think that leaves more than a couple of metres between rows.

        • It’s not a big deal tomorrow, it’s nice theatre but all the riders will be quite close together and the first climb is the Peyresourde which is wide enough for two two buses to drive in opposing directions, in other words if a rider wants to make up a few places they can.

  5. None of these climbs are particularly steep. Even the Portet d’Aspet is climbed the easier way. I think it will be easy for Sky to control. A break is bound to form – no rings for Thomas de Gendt?

  6. Think tomorrow will be key and breakaway will have its day (Gesink?).

    Keep seeing Thomas and thinking of Simon Yates at the Giro. He’s never lasted 3 weeks without a jour sans.

  7. I can just imagine this being a stage where the GC group just trundle along. Might see Bardet or big Tom try and chip off the front before the descent.

  8. too bad no team wanted to utilize the stage to Carcasone. None of the climbs or decents today is as difficult as Pic Noire – before Noire there was plenty of terrant to make the race hard as well.

  9. No mention of the Froomedog and his demon descent into Bagneres de Luchon in 2016 (off this same descent wasn’t it?) Poor form indeed.

    I read elsewhere that fans in France are now having their flares banned and confiscated. And here was me thinking it would take a death or serious injury for French authorities to take the sometimes rabid roadside behaviour at the Tour seriously. I read others making the lame excuse that “its only one or two idiots”. How many idiots exactly does it take to create a needless tragedy?

    • I just don’t understand letting off the flares, it’s bad enough effort they put in climbing but imagine inhaling all smoke from those flares?

    • I thought CF’s demon descent was on the other side of the valley, from the top of the Peysresourde, which is the first climb of the short stage tomorrow.

      Flares should have been banned ages ago, they are a danger the health of the riders and add absolutely nothing. It is no just a French thing though you see them at the Giro and Vuelta too.

    • was not a demon decent at all and his stupid risk pedaling is slower than a traditional tug.

      And it was from Perisyrde (north) wich is a big wide road without any tight bends or needs to accelerate out of corners. Well suited for a TT bike.

      • So everyone else was descending even slower than a traditional tug? I seem to remember he put over 20 seconds into the group behind that included some ‘demon descenders’ in Bardet etc.!

  10. I heard Quickstep might want to get Bob Jungels higher in the GC.. I can only see that happen if he goes into the breakaway today? Hes strong enough on the flat to get into the break and Alaphilippe want to go as well.. Seems like a plan.
    The same with Yates and Nieve, but for the stage win.
    I wonder if Valgren goes into the break again, but this time with Fraile. Valgren indicated on TV, that he might wanted to go into the break today, but not as clearly as the other day. Guess it depend on how much protection Fuglsang need.

  11. I guess there is also a Dumoulin/Roglic angle to all this – including the TT I guess Roglic needs to take a good 90 secs out of Dumoulin to get on the podium – although maybe less out of Froome I suppose.
    I guess my point is, that if Roglic attacks at some point – and he seems to be of that mindset – then Sunweb might have to be the ones to react first

    • And that’s exactly when Sunweb need to play poker!

      Let Roglic go… “We’re not bothered, 3rd or 4th is the same for us” should be thier line… It’ll get to the point where Sky have to chase or potentially lose the Tour.

      When it gets like this, you’ve got to be prepared to lose your spot in GC if you want to win overall.

      Movistar, Bahrain and Ag2r have faltered at this game so far this Tour – Sky must have been giggling to themselves those days when the other teams chased down attacks protecting their 6th place on GC from becoming a 7th place on GC.

  12. Sky have a strong recent-medium term history of surprising moves. Possibly kicked off properly with Froomes attack on the descent in 2016, but there are quite a few examples now, more recently the 80 km solo in the Giro. I’m rambling on, but my point is that Sky are not going to let the race ‘happen to them’. So, what is the surprise move that we are going to see? An option is that we’ll see another long solo attack from Froome (what people are waiting for… for the supposed true leader to attack Thomas), but really it will be a sacrifice to get Tom D et al to chase, then Thomas to counter to make a truly decisive lead.

  13. Look – Inrng, this prediction thing of yours’ is getting ridiculous.

    If I was a betting man, this blog would be my first reference point and I’d be tempted to take all your predictions blindly!

  14. Did anyone notice GVA making a big push for some sprint points today? Seemed utterly pointless, but then I thought he may have a plan in case tomorrow’s stage proves too hard for the remaining sprinters to make the time cut. Demare was way behind the peloton early on and finished 10 minutes behind the next slowest rider, so he was almost out today, which is obviously a much easier stage. I get the feeling GVA spent a little extra energy to set himself up for a very longshot backdoor chance at the Green Jersey. Am I crazy?

  15. It’s pretty disgusting how most of the media is towing the line and making it seem like the protesters are responsible for the riders getting pepper spray/mace in their faces, and not the police who were shown literally spraying it point blank into women’s eyes.

    And then quotes of team staff saying the protesters need to be punished further… disgusting.

    Was it the ‘tour police’ who did this or local gendarmes? I mean, what has this race become where farmer protests are not accepted as part of the experience of holding a grand tour in France? The farmers have their grievances and this is their best chance for publicity so it is very understandable action.

    Also pity nothing came of the GC race on the stage… where are you Movistar…

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