Tour de France Stage 12 Preview

The longest stage of the race and a surprisingly hard one too, this is also the vintage stage that will pay tribute to days past.

Sydney-Poitiers: the flag dropped and Matthieu Ladagnous jumped away, he had no one for company and it looked like you could turn off the TV and do something productive. Only soon after a Stefan Küng, Oliver Naesen, Jasper Stuyven, Lukas Pöstlberger, Michael Gogl and Tom Van Asbroeck sprang out of the peloton like it was Gent-Wevelgem and there were 18km to go. Deceuninck-Quickstep sprang into action and shut the move down, better to put an end to it quickly than late. In the finish a few more riders restless legs with a late move from Pöstlberger again, this time marked by Kasper Asgreen and Bob Jungels from Quickstep. They too were swept up before the 2km point. In the sprint Peter Sagan needed to shoulder check Wout van Aert out of the way and you can argue he did it for safety, and presumably his team tried, but he got relegated and was docked points. Besides the rulebook is clear: a shoulder blow = relegation. There are no more sprint stages until Friday week so the upcoming days suit Sagan but he’ll need the form of 2014-2016 to try and claw back the 68 point deficit to Sam Bennett, starting today. Out of the maelstrom came Caleb Ewan to win with late surge, again out of sight until the last moment. Is he the best sprinter? With two wins it’s hard to argue against and he’s certainly most dependable right now.

The Route: 218km south-east and the vintage tribute stage, beginning with in a square recently renamed in honour of Raymond Poulidor who died last November. There’s a flat start and the intermediate sprint is gently uphill. After 100km terrain changes, a steep descent down to the river Vienne, a narrow bridge and straight up the sharp climb up through Saint-Martin. Then it’s to Saint-Léonard, long time home of Raymond Poulidor and then another climb and soon after comes Linards, once home to legendary L’Equipe columnist Antoine Blondin, a novelist and playwright given free reign to write about something each stage and his work covered four decades of the Tour. The Limousin region here is famous in France for its russet cattle, but for the peloton infamous for its rasping road surfaces only today the route sticks to wider, smoother roads for the most part. Instead the difficulty is the way the roads constantly rise and fall, the terrain gets hilly with along uncategorised climb through Surdoux. The Côte de la Croix de Pey is 98% of the Col de Lestards and harder than the profile and stats suggest.

The race drops into Chaumeil and there’s a tight turn for the Suc au May, the day’s big difficulty and full details here. This is a narrow uncategorised forestry road and, listed at 3.8km at 7.8%, it’s much harder, with 3km at 10% and long sections of 12-14%, all on a rough road and there’s a small descent before road kicks up for the mountains point. From here there’s 25km to go and the descent is on a bigger road but it’s bumpy in places with some tight turns through villages before picking up a larger road. This twists and turns with some more climbs after Saint-Augustin.

The Finish: the race reaches Sarran, population 302, a tiny place but home to Jacques Chirac‘s family château and also more recently presidential museum and the region has paid to put this on your mind’s map. There’s a sharp left turn and it’s under the flamme rouge, the road dips a little and then from 800m to go it climbs at 4% before easing just before the line.

The Contenders: enough of the past, what of today’s future? When the route was announced last October this looked like a “Sagan stage”, a sprint from a reduced peloton but on inspection it’s too hilly for most of the sprinters. So the likes of Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quickstep), Oliver Naesen (Ag2r La Mondiale), Matteo Trentin and Greg Van Avermaet (CCC), Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott), Bryan Coquard (B&B Hotels-Vital Concept) and maybe Edvald Boasson Hagen (NTT) could probably win with their sprint, but most likely out of a breakaway.

Otherwise sprinkle some of the names above with the usual breakaway baroudeurs like Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Alessandro de Marchi (CCC), half of Sunweb like Tiesj Benoot, Marc Hirshi, Søren Kragh Andersen, Quicksteppers like Bob Jungels and Rémi Cavagna, or Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ). If these riders don’t get in the move today they can try tomorrow.

Julian Alaphilippe, Greg Van Avermaet, Thomas De Gendt
Daryl Impey, Matteo Trentin, Marc Hirschi, Oliver Naesen
De Marchi, Madouas, Peters, Cavagna, Benoot, SKA, Jungels

Comment: three stars here but not three star certainty, it’s just to give the names more space

Weather: warm and sunny, a few clouds and the lightest of tailwind.

TV: live coverage from the start at 11.50 CEST. The Poulidor tribute will reach its peak at 2.45pm, the serious climbing begins at 4.00pm and the Suc au May 30 minutes later. The finish is forecast for approximately 5.150pm Euro time.

51 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 12 Preview”

  1. JV may want a large group to go up the road today and stay away, the last thing the GC teams will want is a high pace on narrow roads leading to the Suc au May.

  2. The UCI was correct to relegate Sagan. Seems like some of the newer sprinters like Ewan, Bennett, WvA take much straighter, cleaner lines these days, compared to sprinters in the past. The old school argy-bargy, big elbowing, head-butting, weaving like a drunkard sprinters should be relegated or ejected immediately. In years past sprinters crossed half the width of the roadway without relegation or ejection, unless they caused a crash. Those days have to be over. Sagan is off the pace this year and was trying to squeeze through a gap that wasn’t really big enough. He ended up WAY left of where he started. Indeed, he veered so far left that WvA was boxed in and couldn’t really finish his sprint properly. The UCI should give Sagan a warning so the next time he does something like that, he’s ejected from the race, though I don’t know if the rules allow for that.

    • Agreed – for a great example of how to win cleanly through a very similar gap to Sagan, Ackermann’s win at stage 1 of Tirreno-Adriatico earlier this week is great. Not sure about the 2 strikes and you’re out, I’d assume there would need to be firm rules on this.

    • A pretty accurate summation. It’s no longer acceptable to manufacture a gap, by barging/pushing/head butting another rider. Riders, fans, commentators need to realise this; we know cycling is a conservative sport that doesn’t like change, but after what happened in Poland, especially, these actions shouldn’t be tolerated.
      A proactive governing body would actually announce what is and isn’t allowed; for example, if there isn’t a gap, then there isn’t a gap; sit up and wait for another day. It happens in horse racing quite often – a jockey looking for space, which never comes and has to sit and suffer.

      • Regarding the sprint of Sagan, or actualyl the sprint of this stage and safety, Stef Clement made a rather good analysis on Dutch television yesterday evening, concluding:
        – WvA is less a “true” sprinter and seem to let a little bit more space between himself and the barriers.
        – Sagan maybe tried to avoid the selfie-stick + phone and as a reflex bodychecked into WvA.
        I think relegation of Sagan is OK in this case, as long as this will be the start of an equal judgement on other issues, not just in the TdF, but in all UCI races.

        On the other hand, UCI/ASO really needs to do something about the barriers at the finish. Cees Bol couldn’t avoid a phone in the same sprint. This isn’t something new (Yorkshire 2014, and even before smartphones they handed out big cardboard hands to cheer with which led to injuries as well), and yes, one of the charming things of cycling is the ability to be close to the riders, but a second barrier about 1m of the first barrier to hold back the spectators becomes necessary. It’s like standing on the lines of a football pitch, but than with players passing by at 60-70 km/h.

        • My take on it was that Sagan’s position was compromised by a number of factors converging and so took drastic action to give himself space – before I get into that I recognise that the correct approach would have been to slacken off and not barge into WVA.
          The first was the bend in the road with about 50m to go. This was a slight bend which if WVA had take a straight line would have given Sagan more space on the inside. Instead of travelling dead straight WVA maintained his distance to the road side – I don’t blame him for doing so but Sagan may have calculated on this small fraction of space.
          Another factor in play was that the crash bollards ‘popped out’ on the road. Sagan has said that he bumped WVA because of these and you can certainly see that as the road curved and the space reduced the square bollards became a much more real prospect for Sagan.
          I’m not here to dispute the penalty, but just that the characterisation of Sagan being dangerous is a little unfair. I should add that I’m of the mind that the accident with Cavendish was really Mark’s fault (as with yesterday, and he moved up the inside and had his space taken away by narrowing barriers). Sagan just reacted instinctively to him.

  3. What about schacmann? Could he be up for something today? or Lurzenko? I believe stuyven would be in the same category as EBH. If Bettiol is hoiing to do anything this tour, today must be one of hes best chances.

  4. By the rule book is the correct decision… trouble is they’ve largely ignored that rule book up to here. I’m all for clear rules, but the UCI seems incapable of consistency and they’ll likely go back to mostly allowing this type of sprint after the Jakobsen and Evenepoel incidents fade from people’s memory.

    I actually thought it was good to see Sagan back to somewhere himself… fast and aggressive and obviously improving as the race continues. Heard Mitch Docker predicting that the old heads are going to come into their own in the second half of a very hard Tour and a messed up season – Sagan looks to be doing that.

    As for Ewan, he can head butt and barge with the best of them, but the way he’s winning his sprints with a depleted train and hanging back in the pack and trusting his finish is really impressive.

    Also fantastic to see the respect between him and his training buddy, Bennett.

    • Agree on your Caleb comments. He’s been giving a masterclass in positioning and timing in his two wins in this tour. Significantly, both have been headwind wins, and both times he has given up a ‘good’ position to drift back in the last kilometer – trusting that gaps would open and riders would tire in the last 100m.

      He is allowing himself to go from first five to barely being in the top 20 in the last km…. I’ve never seen this done so deliberately before by other sprinters. ….and then he has the speed to cut through like a hot knife through butter, only hitting the front in the last 50 meters.

      Like with his aero sprinting position, Caleb looks at the science of what it takes to hit the front at 70km/hr. Obviously, others do it too, but Caleb really thinks about the problem and comes up with his own take on it. So far his confidence and skill set has given him two finely crafted wins.

  5. Regarding Sagan – he has definitely come into the tour undercooked, that has been pretty clear for all to see. Now, was yesterdays rejuvenation of his top gear related to his form coming up, or mostly to do with the fact that much of the stage just pottered along at 35-40 and he had super fresh legs after riding the peloton all day, or a combination of these? It’s really hard to tell based off this one stage.

    This stage has an Alaphilippe/Hirsch/GvA vibe all over it, will be interesting to see the composition of the breaks and who allows who to get away….

    This could be one of the most tactically interesting stages of the tour if the players play, it is no walk in the park!

  6. Surely, with the excellent form he showed when taking the win at stage 6 to Privas, Lutsentko are among the strongest contenders to win from a break-away?

  7. Peter Sagan has form when it comes to barging in sprints at the Tour. Maybe it was ever thus but with all the video images from different angles, slow motion replays etc there is far less chance of this sort of riding going unpunished. Clearly there is also a much higher sensitivity on the safety angle at the moment. I know a good few will disagree but I have increasingly found the whole “Sagan circus” irritating. Perhaps I am wrong but it does seem that outside of the TdF green jersey his results have been less than stellar in recent years.

    Lots seem to think that the remaining stages suit PS, not sure about that. Most of the intermediate sprints are before any of the climbs (stage 18 after just 14km) so Sam Bennett should be able to keep picking up points. DQS need to be very attentive at the starts to ensure PS does not get into a break. It should add interest to the early part of the stages, which is surely what ASO want.

    Today is a roll of the dice and unlike some of the preceding stages there should be a big fight to get in the break.Julian Alaphilippe is a good a pick as any.

    • well, 2018 he won P-R, Gent-Wevelgem, 3 stages of the Tour over a field including Gaviria and Groenewegen, as well as top 10 placings at Strade, MSR, Flanders, Amstel. really it’s just last year that was off by his standards. hard to draw anything meaningful from this strange, truncated season. of course it could be that he’s just past his best but I’d reserve judgment. I also wouldn’t be surprised if he shifts away from bunch sprints and points jerseys to focus more heavily on classics over the home stretch of his career as the fast-twitch fades.

      I’ve always enjoyed Sagan’s personality (at least, since he matured out of nonsense like goosing a podium girl) and other people are welcome not to, but it strikes me as the same kind of joylessness as people who complain about athletes celebrating or being anything besides dour. tho I suppose taking joy in joylessness is part of cycling’s cult of suffering.

      the relegation was well-deserved, no issue there, tho as others have said if rules about safety are going to be enforced, as they should be, it would be nice to see them enforced consistently, lest we continue this endless of cycle of bad crash-heightened vigilance-memory of crash fades-enforcement slackens-rinse and repeat.

      • No issue with anyone celebrating a win or whatever and no need for sports folk to be dour. A big part of the attraction of bike racing is the personalities behind the racing, the life stories of rags to riches (or not so many riches in times past), the twists and turns, the various underhand tactics employed etc. However there is something about the way Peter Sagan comes over or at least is presented in the media which grates with me and it always has done.

        • Well unless you are in the market for a new showerhead literally no-one will care for your feelings towards Sagan. He’s become a marketing tool for Hansgrohe and he knows it, and maybe that’s why he’s not enjoying himself?

        • I used to dislike Sagan when he first came on the scene but after he learned English and his interviews no longer had to be translated I thought he came across much better (and is quite funny!). In his pomp he was great to watch racing.

  8. I think there’s little doubt Ewan is the strongest sprinter in the world at this moment, if we are to assume the very best are present at the TdF. What he’s doing with a depleted team, and the manner in which he’s doing it, is pretty impressive.

    • Don’t think he is the ‘strongest’, WVA probably takes that description. Caleb has just been showing he is the best at bunch sprints, especially if it’s a headwind.

      • Sure, strongest is a pretty subjective term, but when I speak of sprinters, I happen to default the term with bunch sprinting, since it is a skill that requires far more than pure power. Chris Hoy would be the best World Tour sprinter if it was purely about power.

  9. Hoping for a breakaway di lusso to get away with a massive 10 minute lead and then split up and race themselves over the closing hills like a mini classic. Hoping for De Gendt, Alaphilippe, Van Avarmaet, Lutsenko, Naesen, et al and maybe Luis Leon Sanchez and Boassan-Hagan for old times sake.
    Re yesterday, you can’t have all that wailing about safety and the self reflection following Jakobsens accident and then allow Sagan to shoulder barge whoever he wants out the way at over 30mph. He messed it up and was boxed in and should’ve just rolled over in 5th or 6th. After watching it I was secretly hoping that a little feud would develop between WVA and Sagan in the classics. Then I remembered Sagan isn’t doing them.

  10. Would be nice for Ineos to let Kwiatkowski have a go, but I’m guessing not! What about Mohorič? Guess there’s a big list of contenders for this and he’s not a frequent winner.

    • Exactly, there are so many names here. But to save on them I pulled a lot of the names likely to be on team duty out, the likes of Kwiatkowski, van Aert etc are going to be needed in the coming days for more and 200km up the road is a big ask. They’re also useful directly today for helping their leaders over the Suc au May and guiding them to the finish.

  11. What chance Bora try to control things and drop Bennett and Ewan? Looks like WVA or a few others may be able to beat Sagan in the finale, but a chance to slash the gap back down.

    • They might try but a) do they have the power still? Muhlberger went home, maybe Schachmann end Buchman don’t want to sacrifice what remains of their fitness in order to go for themselves one of the next stages and b) will Sagan anno 2020 get over that steep mountain himself?

      If you’re looking for teams with barnstorming plans I think you’d have to eye EF, Trek or Sunweb, they’re all without stage win yet but have shown good form.

  12. Adam Yates is said to have no GC ambition and will now be looking for stage wins. If that’s really the case, he has spent precious energy over the past two stages to finish in the lead group when losing minutes would have been easier.

    • DJW – that thought crossed my mind too. I’m sure I saw him interviewed after losing yellow saying he’d probably need to lose 10 minutes to go stage hunting so he’d probably just ‘let go’ on a stage. Perhaps, Mitchelton-Scott have changed their minds and can see the potential for a high GC placing in Paris (especially if a team has to leave due to covid).

  13. Van Aert is in front of the field and sprinting in a straight line. The jury exists, of course, to protect his right to do that without fear of injury or impediment from another rider.

  14. it seams ridiculous that MS let Ewan go because they didn’t want to take a sprinter to the Tour due to their GC focus.. fast forward two years and they go into the tour focusing on winning stages and Ewan wins two stages with hardly any support with a lotto jersey on.

    • They probably needed a seven figure budget to retain him, plus to commit to bringing a train of support riders with him to grand tours. Also Lotto-Soudal have lost two riders but the remaining core is his lead out train.

      • It seems the job done by Kluge and De Buyst is somewhat underappreciated here. They very craftily drop their rocket in the pockets of Sagan, Bennet or Bol

  15. Not the most original of calls but seeing Alaphilippe sit up yesterday onthe run into Poitiers makes me think he’s conserving himself for a big push today (or potentially tomorrow). Lutsenko is my other pick, each way at attractive odds with the bookies

  16. I can see the picture of that 4 coming to line becoming a defining image of this era of sprinters. Even if an era is a rolling thing. Says so much about the individual riders and there ability.

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