A long day in hot weather to Gap, this kind of day is often labelled as a “transition stage” as the race makes its way to the foot of the Alps but if only it would be as easy to ride as it sounds as this is the last day a breakaway can be certain of making it to the finish and half the peloton will have ambitions today.
Stage 15 Review: a stage win for Caleb Ewan, the first of the trio to get a second stage win and sure enough Elia Viviani was seocnd, Dylan Groenewegen third and Peter Sagan fourth. Someone should have a quiet word with Deceuninck’s Max Richeze for the way he pulls off his leadout, he’s interfering and probably knows it. Still the early breakaway put up a big fight in the end thanks to powerhouses like Alexis Gougeard, Lars Bak and Łukasz Wiśniowski. Geraint Thomas had a small crash but he was unscathed and his DS Nico Portal told the radio later “we’re used to it”. Worse happened as Jacob Fulgsang started the stage ninth overall and ended it in ambulance. A plain crash in the streets of Uzès and a reminder misfortune can strike at any time, not that the Dane needed a prompt given his crash on the opening stage or in 2017 when he also crashed out thanks to a freak accident on a plain section of road.
The Route: 200km north-east into the Alps. After a picture-postcard start at Pont-du-Gard, it’s familiar roads with views of Mont Ventoux but passing olive groves and sticking to the valleys. The fourth category climb is just one point on the road up the Ouvèze valley.
The Finish: the Tour has often visited Gap via the Col de Manse and the descent of La Rochette and this has been decisive, think how Cadel Evans took over a minute on Andy Schleck. But this is the Col de la Sentinelle, last used in 2006, and a more gentle climb of just 5.5km at 5.5% and steady. The descent is similar, 5-6% and it’s fast and technical in places but not wild. Once in town it’s on big roads and there’s a slight rise to the final bend, a wide right hand corner and then 200m to the line.
The Contenders: with the three big mountain stages coming up we could see the main GC contenders contesting the stage wins so today is the last certain chance of a breakaway and half the peloton knows it. So we can expect wave after wave of attacks and a lottery element as to which move finally sticks. Rather than listing lots of riders and their associated stories, some rapidfire bullet points:
- The prototype rider is Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) as he has the power to get away on the flat and also to ride rivals off his wheel on the final climb but might he sit tight with an eye on tomorrow’s stage where there’s a shot at the stage win and also the mountains jersey?
- Astana have had a quiet Tour so far and even if they’ve been all in for Jacob Fuglsang they’ve not fired as many riders up the road as usual. Maybe Omar Fraile is their best bet.
- Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott) is another obvious pick, he can finish fast from a small group.
- Michael Matthews has tried some sprints but today’s course suits him better
- Peter Sagan (Bora-Hangsrohe) is the safe pick, able to get in the breakaway and then hard to outwit
- We could name 80 other riders and still miss today’s winner.
Can Julian Alaphilippe attack over the final climb and use the descent to boost his lead? On paper yes but this move is obvious and he’s looking increasingly tired, he’s starting to skip media appearances.
|Peter Sagan, Thomas De Gendt|
|Matthews, Impey, Fraile, Lutsenko, Bettiol, Naesen, Garcia Cortina|
Yellow story: not everyone’s been delighted to wear the yellow jersey. Some times riders and teams conspire to unload the overall lead to someone else because it’s too much to have the jersey every day if you have ambitions of winning it later, better to engineer a scenario where a rider who won’t be a rival later on takes the lead, has their team pulling on the front and spends the next few days answering the same repetitive questions every evening. Perhaps some teams thought Julian Alaphilippe would fulfil this role only he’s proving more tenacious. Andrea Carrea must be the most unhappy wearer as took the race lead in 1952 only he was a humble gregario of Fausto Coppi and was terrified of upstaging his leader to the point of being distraught and feeling humiliated at the glory and apologising to Coppi. Fortunately for him it was only temporary as Coppi soon took the lead at Alpe d’Huez, the Tour’s first ever summit finish.
Weather: hot again, 36°C in the shade and more on the tarmac. With the heat building so will the humidity and clouds and it could break into thunderstorm towards the finish but more likely in the evening.
TV: the stage starts at 12.25pm CEST and finish is forecast for 5.25pm CEST / Euro time. This is one of those double stages where the first and last hours are probably the most rewarding to watch.