The race heads into the Pyrenees with two hard climbs, this should give us a fight for the breakaway but the main GC contenders will aim for a steady introduction ahead of tomorrow’s time trial
Stage 11 Review: a four rider breakaway in what Tour director Thierry Gouvenou calls a “4×4” with four riders getting four minutes and this blog’s tempted to raise it as a 4x4x4 with four riders getting no more more than four minutes in a forlorn move. Still they tried and two locals in Lilian Calmejane and Anthony Perez making sure the regional press had something to write about. With the breeze fluttering the peloton got nervous and a crash with 30km took down several riders including Nairo Quintana and Richie Porte, and took out Niki Terpstra. Soon after we got the expected sprint finish and Caleb Ewan won, he’s been top-3 in every sprint stage so far and so the most regular of the sprinters but without a win until Toulouse. It’s taken time to convert this into a win, much like the Giro in May but he’s also a man in a hurry being one of the few riders to have won stages in all three grand tours and he’s only 25. Note Michael Matthews didn’t contest the intermediate sprint nor the finish, he had started the day second to Peter Sagan in the points competition but seems to have dropped the contest.
The Route: 209km south-west into the Pyrenees. After rolling through the Bagatelle quarter of Toulouse – a tough part of town, the Tour visits deliberately to try and show it can visit all of France – the first 130km sees the peloton stick to small side roads. Once past Saint-Gaudens after 85km the route picks an easy way through the Comminges foothills – the training roads of Pavel Sivakov among others – to reach Bagnères-de-Luchon.
The Col de Peyresourde is a mountain highway, a steady climb on a wide road that saps energy rather than shreds the race. It’s followed by a fast descent and then a short section along the valley before flicking left for the Hourquette d’Ancizan, listed as 7.5% for 9.9km but the whole climb is more like 8% and has a steeper start: it’s hard. There’s a fast descent on a narrow road with bumps that make taking a sip of water risky during the long straight sections but also some uphill sections, it’s 4km downhill from the pass and then a kilometre uphill at 5-6% before another 4km down and another uphill section but with a gentler gradient on the more regular descent of the Col d’Aspin. Then the descent reaches the familiar valley road from Campan to Bagnères-de-Bigorre.
The Finish: a loop around Bagnères-de-Bigorre with the same format as the Tour’s last stage finish here in 2013 when Dan Martin smoked Jacob Fuglsang. It’s flat and the final bend is crucial, coming just 150m before the finish line.
The Contenders: the breakaway has a great chance today because it can take time early and the final two climbs will probably see the GC riders watch each other closely, they’ll ride fast but it’s more to see who gets dropped from the front group rather than who can put in the biggest attack, especially as tomorrow’s the crucial Pau time trial. There’s also the self-reinforcing aspect that the upcoming summit finishes could be reserved for the GC contenders so for any baroudeurs wanting a stage win it’s today or next Wednesday’s stage to Gap. We can expect, or rather hope, there’s a huge battle to get in the break.
The two climbs mean the day’s winner will have to be on the lighter side but not a mountain goat, the Peyresourde rolls well and if someone loses a minute on the Hourquette d’Ancizan there’s still a chance to come back. Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) is an obvious pick but the long descent and flat finish aren’t ideal for him, he’d have to go solo from afar while team mate Tiesj Benoot
can try again too has a sore knee. Bahrain-Merida have options with Matej Mohorič, Dylan Teuns and maybe Vincenzo Nibali too. The Sicilian has been losing time but his problem is that some of this is not deliberate, he’s more off the pace than he wanted to be, in his own words to La Gazzetta today he’s a bit “over” as in over done.
It’ll be interesting to see if the GC teams send riders ahead, this is a common tactic for Astana but they’ve not deployed it so far but Omar Fraile and veteran Luis Leon Sanchez are suited.
Alejandro Valverde has been on team duties for Movistar but if he wants a mountain stage this is the course for him, but maybe Movistar can deploy someone else like Carlos Verona today.
Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quickstep) has a shot at the stage today, you can see a scenario where the breakaway is brought back and even if dropped on the Hourquette he could take back time on the descent and then win the sprint. But his problem is how hard his team will work today, they’ve contributed to containing the sprints, how much will they chase today?
|Thomas De Gendt, Vincenzo Nibali, Alejandro Valverde, Dylan Teuns|
|Gallopin, Rui Costa, Alaphilippe, Woods, Kangert, Verona, Valgren|
Yellow story: it’s said the yellow jersey gives a rider extra strength… but it doesn’t make a rider invincible. Ten riders have quit the Tour de France while wearing the yellow jersey with Francis Pélissier the first in 1927 and Tony Martin (pictured) the most recent in 2015. Two more in Michel Pollentier and Michael Rasmussen also surrendered the jersey, not through injury but disgrace with Pollentier failing a doping test and Rasmussen being forced to quit the race by his Rabobank team.
Weather: sunshine and clouds and a top temperature of 25°C.
TV: a long day as the stage starts at 11.30am CEST and finish is forecast for 5.10pm CEST / Euro time. We should plenty of action at the start to get in the breakaway and the Hourquette d’Ancizan begins around 4.00pm CEST.