This surprising Tour continues with a new summit finish in the Pyrenees after a hard final 60km with tough backroad climbs. Julian Alaphilippe’s spell in the yellow jersey continues but he’s got little support and rival teams want to work him over.
Stage 14 Review: a big breakaway kept on a tight leash from the start by an ambitious Groupama-FDJ team. Vincenzo Nibali, Tim Wellens and Elie Gesbert escaped from the break over the Col du Soulor but behind Movistar cranked up the pace such that Adam Yates and Romain Bardet were among those dropped and the breakaway had no chance.
Onto the Tourmalet and Movistar kept up the pace with Dan Martin and Adam Yates dropped… then Nairo Quintana couldn’t take his team’s pace, it was if the team was brandishing their famous tridente at rivals only for a prong to fall off. After Barèges, Groupama-FDJ’s David Gaudu upped the pace and more riders were dropped like Richie Porte, Rigo Urán. Jumbo-Visma took over with Laurens De Plus and George Bennett. Emanuel Buchmann was the first GC contender to attack and his move saw Geraint Thomas dropped. Once around the final hairpin bend Thibaut Pinot opened up a small gap on the ramp to the finish that Egan Bernal couldn’t close and Pinot grabbed the stage win, another prestige summit finish for him. Julian Alaphilippe was second and Steven Kruijswijk was third, the Dutchman looked as cool as a canal.
Alaphilippe spent the day tracking Thomas, he doesn’t have a team for the high mountains so he can ride hobo on the Ineos train. On the upper slopes of the Tourmalet Alaphilippe looked to be suffering, he was grimacing one minute, his tongue hanging out the next à la Voeckler as if all steam was about to come out of his ears but paradoxically the closer he got to the finish, the better chance he was in for the stage win as he could rely on his jump and he used this to take a few extra seconds on the final ramp and with the time bonus. He’ll find it hard today because of the fatigue and if he’s in yellow this evening, the big threat is Stage 18’s marathon across the Var-Izoard-Galibier, even if he took time today it’s still premature to see him in yellow for Paris. Enric Mas cracked which helps Alaphilippe as the Spaniard’s ambitions recede even if he still has a shot at the white jersey and a decent overall finish, which, given he’s due to leave the team, still count for plenty.
Ineos don’t look like Team Sky. Their mountain train couldn’t asphyxiate the race and were on the receiving end this time from Movistar, Groupama-FDJ and Jumbo-Visma. Egan Bernal didn’t wait for Thomas. The Welshman lost 36s to Pinot but is still in a strong position, he’s second overall and it’s theoretically possible Alaphilippe cracks, Thomas collects the yellow jersey and wins again in Paris. But he wasn’t sizzling in the time trial, he had to let up on the first big mountain and rivals will have restless leg syndrome now. Jumbo-Visma won’t sit still, Steven Kruijswijk is 12 seconds behind Thomas so if the team can set a pace to sap Thomas then Kruijswijk can leapfrog into second overall and as first to inherit the lead should Alaphilippe implode.
The Route: 185km from Limoux, home of an unheralded sparkling wine. The Col des Tougnets is the first climb of the day and a gentle one for the breakaway to form on before a quick descent into Puivert and then another unmarked climb, this time 4km at 4.5%. The Col de Montségur is listed as 6.8km at 6% but the final 4km are 8% as they climb up towards the famous Cathar castle and then a long valley section to Tarascon and then up the Vicdessos valley.
The Port de Lers is 11.4km at 7% and all on a tiny backroad. The slope varies between 6% and 10% in places and it’s the longest climb of the day, followed by a reciprocal descent.
The Mur de Peguère is the Tour de France’s name for the Col de Peguère and mur sounds better than col, “wall” rather than “pass” and it’s a label invented by the race because it’s normally the Col de Péguère for locals. The climb out of Massat to the Col de Four and it’s a steady road. It pitches up more to the Col des Caognous again on a wide road. Then they turn off for the Mur which featured in the 2012 Tour de France. It was supposed to feature in the 1973 edition but the riders went on strike to protest at it because the road was a mess. It’s still not easy, a very narrow road and double digit percentages with portions of 16% and 18%.
It’s then followed by a varied descent, a bigger road but the slope varies, the first part of the descent is gentle forcing the riders to pedal hard which is not good for anyone dropped on the way up because they must keep going. It’s only later that they drop down to the Col de Marrous does the slope get steep with 10%. It bends and twists through the forest, there’s rarely much visibility of what’s coming up and it was here in 2012 that Luis-Leon Sanchez launched his winning move to win the stage
The Finish: the Prat d’Albis is a new climb for the Tour and it’s been freshly surfaced. In case you’re wondering a prat is a large field or a plateau high up. To get there it’s via a difficult climb with a slope that’s always changing, this isn’t an engineered road to a ski resort. The first six kilometres are the hardest and then the slope eases and it’s a steadier effort and the slope eases to the line.
The Contenders: the breakaway has more of a chance than yesterday but we’re talking a chance rather than a certainty. Still Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida) and Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) could aim for a repeat with team mate Jack Haig free to try too. Now that we’ve got the Jacob Fuglsang of old Astana – tenth yesterday, eighth overall – Astana are likely to fire riders forward, think Pello Bilbao. Ag2r La Mondiale need a result and Tony Gallopin is their best bet.
Julian Alaphilippe has a chance here, the climbs are shorter today and he’s got that jump for the final sprint but his problem is coping with three climbs in a row, he just needs to get to the final 4km intact. But in a tour of surprises where big names keep cracking, how long can he hold on?
Thibaut Pinot‘s form is there for all to see. Groupama-FDJ have David Gaudu too but he’s likely to work hard to help his leader.
Team Ineos had a rough day yesterday but on relative terms. Egan Bernal is still climbing well and Geraint Thomas isn’t out of the picture, he could just have had an off day after a sluggish TT and today’s finish isn’t as steep.
Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) climbing well but maybe doesn’t have the punch to win today’s flatter finish, his time should come in the Alps with the long climbs to Tignes and Val Thorens with George Bennett in the match too. Victory today for them would be to race the final two climbs at warp speed in order to destabilise Alaphilippe and derail Ineos.
Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic) had a great ascent of the Tourmalet yesterday, his attacks were premature but if he plays it cooler today a stage win could happen.
Finally Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Mikel Landa (Movistar) are shaping the race but they have to attack early for the stage win but this means they’ll get chased down and swamped. Alejandro Valverde has got a good chance too.
|Egan Bernal, Julian Alaphilippe, Geraint Thomas, Emanuel Buchmann|
|Bilbao, Valverde, De Gendt, S Yates, Barguil, Gallopin, Teuns, Haig, Landa|
Yellow story: why is the yellow jersey yellow? The story goes it’s the same colour as the paper used for the newspaper L’Auto which promoted the race but the paper was more an off-white, it was simply cheap paper that was wasn’t bleached white. Still it matched. The genesis though is because earlier in the 1919 Tour riders from the La Sportive consortium (an alliance of Peugeot, Alcyon and other French manufacturers) were using yellow sashes for riding in the night so that the team’s helpers could spot them more easily. This impressed race boss Henri Desgrange who rustled up the idea of the maillot jaune days later.
Weather: warm and sunny in the valleys with a top temperature of 29°C but things could cloud over for the stage finish and a shower or even a thunderstorm is possible.
TV: the stage starts at 12.05pm CEST and finish is forecast for 5.20pm CEST / Euro time. If you want to tune in for the final climbs then the Port de Lers starts around 3.00pm.