Tour de France Stage 17 Preview

A dash across the plains before a three difficult climbs and two hectic descents for a stage battle, the mountains competition and maybe some movement in the top-10 on GC. It’s also le quatorze juillet, Bastille Day in English, but a damp one.

Konradsport: a lively day’s racing at the front and more of a procession at the back until late. Patrick Konrad gave a demonstration, he’d counter-attacked from a move across to a small lead group which never even got a minutes’ lead, often hovering around a slender 30 seconds. Konrad crossed the Col de la Core just two riders left in Fabien Doubey and Jan Bakelants and on the Portet d’Aspet he went solo as Sonny Colbrelli and David Gaudu led the chase, even extending his lead on the valley roads out of the mountains. It was an impressive ride but the sort of thing a rider who has finished on the podium in the Tour de Suisse and top-10 in the Giro should do if they’re freed for stage hunting.

Behind things were quiet until Cofidis did what Ineos, Movistar and Astana didn’t and attacked the GC group, exploiting the short wall climb of Aspret-Sarrat. Wout van Aert joined in with a long pull that helped towed a group of 13 riders clear but all the top-10 overall were present, nobody caught out, an illustration of how close things are in the top-10 overall. That might change today.

The Route: 178km and over 4,000m of vertical gain and most of this backloaded. There’s a flat run out of the start, it’s often exposed and there will be a 3/4 headwind to start with but this becomes a crosswind after 35km and on a road that is part-sheltered at times, part on a ridge at other times. This will make it more than a vanilla dash to the mountains but on balance should probably do more to shape the breakaway than the GC and the route becomes more protected after 70km and Saint-Gaudens. From here it’s over the small but sheltered Col de la Hountararède into the mountains and the Garonne valley and the gradual drag to Bagnères-de-Luchon, 113km in total of relatively flat roads.

The Col de Peyresourde is where the climbing starts, 13km at 7%. Early in the climb there’s even a brief descent. Then it’s 7-8% almost all the way up. One characteristic of this climb is the wide road, it feels less like a mountain pass at times and more like a boulevard. It’s also got big visibility, riders can see groups ahead. The descent is fast and furious down into Estarvielle and Louvenvielle and then a few flat roads which twist and turn and then it’s onto Genos and the next climb.

The Col d’Azet is short at 7.4km but a steep climb with a very steep start. It’s defined by the series short ramps between the tight hairpin bends. The descent down to Azet is the most technical part of the day and arguably the most difficult descent of this year’s race. It’s steep and there are a few irregular bends at the top and then a bumpy road surface. But it’s through the village of Azet that the road resembles a luge piste, only without the cambers.

The Finish: the Col de Portet is 16km at 8.7%, a beast of a climb. It starts out with a familiar stretch, the first 6.5km out of Saint Lary is the same road to the habitual summit finish at Pla d’Adet, a wide but steep road which averages 10%. There’s a brief flat section at Espiaube and the junction to the “new” road. From here on the road is exposed on the mountain-side and steep for the most part but irregular, the slope changes every few hundred metres, any respite just means a ramp is coming in a few hundred metres. There’s a tunnel towards the top and it’s uphill all the way to the line.

The Contenders: the breakaway has a good chance again, a climber can win today but ideally they’ll need help from a team mate to launch them into the day’s move and it’s another “wheel of fortune” scenario to see who can get into the right move. The stage also overlaps with the mountains contest with double points available at the HC-rated finish today, 40 points for first place. So Wout Poels (Bahrain) and Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) come to mind, the same for Michael Woods (Israel). Remember the Tour has been here before and Quintana won then.

Ineos might still want to get Richard Carapaz onto the podium in Paris. He’s fourth overall but likely to lose time in the Libourne TT, so he needs to gain time on Vingegaard and Uràn in the next two days and easier said than done. Or do the team also try and get a stage win by sending riders ahead. But who? None of them look to be in obvious form to take the stage, perhaps Richie Porte or Geraint Thomas?

Miguel Angel Lopez (Movistar) is a long shot but suited to long steady climbs deep into the third week. Sep Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) can climb for a double stage win but could be guarding Vingegaard, plus the cold weather isn’t ideal. Esteban Chaves (Bike Exchange) has had a quiet Tour so far but is suited. David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) is probably better suited to sit tight today in order to recover for tomorrow but can still feature.

Tadej Pogačar makes a safe pick but his UAE team are unlikely to mow down the breakaway so any GC action is likely to happen behind the stage win battle. But if the break can’t form quickly or its a hectic stage he’s in with a chance and a win today and another tomorrow and he could be in the polka dot jersey too.

Wout Poels, Nairo Quintana
Woods, Pogačar, Vingegaard, Kuss, Lopez, Teuns, Carapaz, Chaves, Gaudu

Weather: cold and wet, 18°C in the valley and 10°C on the passes, more Toussaint than 14 July. Update 9.30am: the forecast 25km/h wind is more like 15km/h this morning so a mild headwind for the first 35km and when the flicks south for the next 35km/h it’ll be a crosswind in places but not strong.

TV: the stage starts at 11.50am and finish is forecast for 5.05pm CEST. It’s another likely sandwich stage with action at the start, then things calm down once into the mountain valleys before the final climb but watch out if any teams try to exploit the crosswinds.

Off on a tangent: the Col de Portet is now the highest paved pass in the French Pyrenees. Newly surfaced in time for the 2018 Tour de France, it is a tourist attraction for visiting cyclists who can bag a pass above 2,000m during a stay, siphoning visitors away from the Tourmalet. Previously it was just a dirt track under a ski lift, a service road for a ski slope. But like many ski resorts, the summer season is becoming as important as winter and cycling is a big draw to the point where resorts are now investing in roads for cyclists, much like the Col de la Loze. This can include racers, tourists but also families and others looking to rent e-bikes for a day and it’s this latter category is growing exponentially. To visit the Pyrenees is to remark on just how many people are riding uphill in that low cadence but easy giveaway movement; to visit again a year later is to see just how even more people are doing this and it’s a boon for tourism, a boom even. The Portet is a nice climb, a dead end meaning you’ll find more cattle and sheep on the road than vehicles, but because it lacks legendary status it’s not a destination yet. Which is why it’s on the Tour route today and is bound to be a fixture in the coming years too.

46 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 17 Preview”

  1. Excellent, a day working at home to enjoy a mountain stage! This blog has kept me updated on a race I’ve not been able to tune into much – many thanks again.

    In your preview you’ve misplaced the intermediate sprint after the first climb, when the profile has it in Bagneres de Luchon before it.

  2. Presumably both Michael Matthews and Sonny Colbrelli will be fighting to get in the break but it should be more straight forward for DQS to defend’ any crosswinds might help in all this. The crosswind area seems too far out and the likely section too short for any GC teams to get involved but given UAE are pretty weak it might be worth a go, even if all it achieves is to get Tadej Pogacar to expend energy.

    I know this seems like a good stage for a break but given the lack of control in the peloton I wonder if we will see the eventual break with only a small gap, if so it could well be the GC group heading up affairs from the base of the last climb.

  3. ‘Col de Portet is now the highest paved pass in the French Pyrenees’

    I’ve seen it referred to as this in a few places but if it’s a dead end then it can’t be a pass? Unless you’ve an off road bike of some description I’m guessing.

    Incidentally does Cycling Challenge Will still hang around these parts?

    • It’s definitely a proper pass. You can carry on riding down the other side, it’s just you’ll be better off with big tires, an MTB etc as it’s not surfaced. You’ll drop down into the Aure valley, there’s the Piau d’Engaly ski station and the Port de Bielsa pass / tunnel to Spain (closed to cyclists).

      • “You can carry on riding down the other side, it’s just you’ll be better off with big tires, an MTB etc as it’s not surfaced.”
        Now THERE’s a thought! If the big bike makers keep pushing “gravel” how long before we see this? Those “numbers riders” would be wetting their chamois at the thought! Some real throwback action for sure.
        As for today, someone (anyone) please try to WIN LeTour today (or tomorrow) even if you go down in flames trying. “Eternal Second” aside, fighting over second place while the leader laughs at you isn’t very becoming and in some ways kind of an insult to the leader himself.

  4. I think Pogacar would like to have a picture of him crossing the line with a victory salute while wearing the yellow jersey as a souvenir of this Tour. Today or tomorrow seem the most likely moments for that. I guess it will depend on what the breakaway does over the flat part, how hard other teams try to push on the early mountains etc but I would not be surprised if he goes for it.

  5. “This can include racers, tourists but also families and others looking to rent e-bikes for a day and it’s this latter category is growing exponentially.”

    As someone who’s recently discovered the joy of road cycling but shall we say doesn’t have the body type of a pro cyclist, I’d resigned myself to never even being able to contemplate going after somewhere like this, no matter how much fitter I get. But yeah, the idea of an e-bike up Col du Portet…while I wouldn’t have the ‘achievement’, I’d still have the views and the feeling of ascension in the open air etc. That actually sounds genuinely exciting!

      • “Nick – those pedals don’t turn themselves so you’d definitely get the achievement feeling too.”
        That depends on what type of e-bike you’re renting. A few years ago on Passo Stelvio escorting some clients I was amazed at the number of people going up on these things – the vast majority of them might as well have been riding motorcycles…well…in fact they were, they were just electric ones. In most cases their legs WERE going round and round, but you could easily tell by the fact they weren’t breaking a sweat and carrying on conversations as they went that the electric motor was doing almost all of the work. I was reminded of the CBS 60 Minutes bit where their guy took his feet off the pedals and the bike kept going. They get to the top and do a fist-bump like those brave adventurers who make it all the way by twisting the throttles on their Harley-Davidson or BMW. BFD.
        For guys like Nick2: The keys to making it up these massive climbs are a) Gearing. Since I’m an old-fart a triple setup with 30 up front and a 29 (or 30 or maybe even 32) in the back lets me pedal up in mostly a straight line, though I might do some zig-zagging on the final kilometer of Passo Stelvio, but modern compact setups can yield similar low gears. Don’t be put-off by someone else’ opinion on your low gearing, Giovanni Battaglin used a triple on Tre Cime di Lavaredo back-in-the-day! b) Attitude. You’ll get there if you concentrate on just keeping the bike moving ever upwards without worrying who is going past you. If/when you really start to croak something sugary (I drink Coca-Cola solely for purposes like these) will help but I wouldn’t suggest starting that until you’re well along the climb, otherwise you’ll battle sugar highs and lows for hours and it ends up being pretty agonizing….I’ve seen it happen far too many times to count. But you’re there to have fun, to see if you can make it and perhaps get an idea of how hard it must be to RACE up these climbs, especially on a stage with a few of them in the third week of a Grand Tour. As that shoe company says, “Just do it!” 🙂

        • Hi, Larry, thanks, really useful advice here. I might add the few of us who don’t live in a mountainous country might worry about going down as well.

          Had some painful memory dragging my brake down some 18% Spanish climb with hairpin every hundred meters. It sounds a bit cowardly, but when I do this climbs, I will probably ride up and drive down.

          • Wow, the only reason I ride up the damn things is for the fun going back down! Now and then we’d have a client like you and I’d be tempted to hand them the keys and let THEM drive the support car down so I could jump on my bike if it was on the roof.
            But I’d then feel guilty for not having paid for my fun by riding up the thing.

        • It was a golfer (Julius Boros) who said “Just Do It”. He didn’t like people who fussed over their shots and puts.
          Nike plagiarized it.

          • @hoh I can emphasise with that, I live in the flatter world so big descents aren’t something i have the opportunity to practice. Some of the joy (?!) of a climb is always tempered by the knowledge I’ll have to descend. Flying down a mountain at 40+ with hundreds of metres of drop to your elbow on open roads is an acquired taste, some revel in it others tense up making it harder. I think there was a stat about ebikes that they were leading to a rise in accidents amongst the elderly who hadn’t got the experience of moving at that speed and been caught out. On a traditional bike your top speed roughly builds with experience and therefore improved bike handling, on an ebike you’re straight up to those speeds regardless of prior experience

    • As long as its not super steep you may be surprised what you can get up with the correct gearing if you are willing to pace yourself to your own abilities. That said when it gets to 10% you may need mtb gears which allow you to go us slow as 4 – 5 km/hr. A mtb can be a good choice just because of the low gears.

      When riding up a mountain always take gears a bit lower than you think you need. You won’t need bigger gears but when you need to go slower you need to go slower.

    • As Larry says. Just keep the pedals moving. These climbs can take hours, and much of it can be painful. The main thing is to distract yourself away from the pain. Countdown the km, count the number of kms
      You’ve done, estimate how long it will take you to get from point A to point B. Keep changing the goal – and before you know it you’ve made the top. You definitely need to like descending though. You’ve earned the ride down, enjoy it! (Though you’ll always get so much colder so don’t forget hour arm warmers – no matter how hot you’ll get going up)

  6. After stage 16:
    75   Deceuninck–Quick-Step
    49 Alpecin–Fenix
    41   Team Jumbo–Visma
    41  Team Bahrain Victorious
    35   Bora–Hansgrohe
    27  Trek–Segafredo
    24  UAE Team Emirates
    18   Team BikeExchange
    18 Arkéa–Samsic
    15  Movistar Team
    12  Astana–Premier Tech
    12   EF Education–Nippo
    12   Groupama–FDJ
    10  AG2R Citroën Team
    7   Israel Start-Up Nation
    6   Cofidis
    5 B&B Hotels p/b KTM
    4   Lotto–Soudal
    2   Intermarché–Wanty–Gobert Matériaux
    2   Team DSM
    1  Ineos Grenadiers
    0  Team Qhubeka Assos
    0 Team TotalEnergies

    Over the last or so I’ve come to the belief that the Team competition doesn’t reflect the race. At present it is based on a team’s best 3 riders times for each stage. This leaves much of emphasis on the mountain stages. What I would prefer a points system that treats each stage equally regardless of whether the stage is a time trial, flat, intermediate, mountain or even a team time trial. The reason for this is that cycling is a team sport where the individual gets all the credit. I am thinking of a sprint train or a mountain train have the same effect in working for the teams objective of the day.

    I would love to see a points system based on the F1 during the 1990s. 1st -10pts, 2nd-6pts, 3rd-4pts, 4th-3pts, 5th-2pts & 6th-1pt. Each stage has the same points. It is only the top 6 positions because it puts the emphasis on finishing very well rather than just being consistent. Plus it follows the bonus seconds for the first 3 in each stage. I will try to update the list each day to show how it could work.
    This was inspired in part by Inrng’s take on team performance over the course of a year.

    • Thanks for doing this consistently, Colin. I could quibble with your selected system and argue that the more recent F1 points scale is more appropriate for a sport with as many competitors as we have in cycling, but I won’t because I’m pettier than that… Just one little thing bugs me every morning: “Over the last [WHAT?] or so…” 🙂

      • Not saying the system I have suggested is the best however the reason I prefer this ‘model’ points system is that it emphasises winning the race. 1st is equal to 2nd + 3rd while in the in the 2021 F1 points system 1st + 8th = 2nd + 3rd. If you want reward more teams then you could use this model but increase times 10. 1st-100pts, 2nd-60, 3rd-40, 4th-30, 5th-20,6th-10 7th-9, 8th-8 down to 15th-1pt.

        Last YEAR or so. Thanks for the spot.

        • For team rankings, any points scale can be improved by counting the teams in order of their best rider’s position.

          If your team worked together to win the stage and another team got second and third, you shouldn’t need to care that you also got 8th because you can laugh at Movistar for getting 2nd and 3rd with only the 2nd place counting.

    • also thanks for me, will be interesting to see where this is at after the pyrenees. My anecdotal view is that JV are putting in more consistent effort than most. I’m also curious to see what it would look like if you put points against the intermediate sprints with the same weighting

  7. The ITV commentators were touting the idea that Matthews and/or Colbrelli might be stalking Cav in the mountains in order to take the green jersey.

    Is this a realistic scenario, or are the pundits just trying to big up the drama?

    • The problem for them, assuming Cav makes it through today & tomorrow, is that there are two “sprint” stages to come. These bring far more green jersey points. It is not impossible that Mark Cavendish can win both of those stages (the opposition is now very thin) which would bring in 100 points plus he could well pick up a few at the remaining intermediate sprints. This makes it very hard for either Michael Matthews or Sonny Colbrelli who dont appear to be in the game as far as flat bunch sprints go.

    • @Octogenerian. Hmmm, well the ITV commentators had some sort of Gaudu love-in yesterday – on and on they went about him and his tactics almost to the exclusion of the others with him. So in a way, I was just a little bit glad that he came nowhere near winning – and I don’t wish that to sound mean because I have nothing against Gaudu but I was a touch disconcerted by their fawning.

      • It it just me, or do the ITV team consistently mispronounce Gauda as ‘God-do, when it should closer to go ‘Go-do’? With the number of times they said his name yesterday it really started to bug me.

      • Exactly.
        The tv pundits are at best banal, and at worst totally confusing. Which is why one learns more from what is written both above and below the line on this site.

        • Ach, I feel that’s a bit harsh on Boulting and Millar, I find them an engaging double act and they’re having to respond in real time to the footage they’re being presented with. I’m sure they need the rest days as much as the riders!

  8. The football is over in the UK and the press are still harking back to the heroes of 66. Here it’s La Fête Nationale and the press remind us all again that the last win was Hinault’s in 85. The years pass, the espoirs come and go (Virenque, Jalabert, Moreau, Chavanel, Pinot, Bardet…) yet a winner seems more distant than ever. Gaudu, Champoussin, Paret-Peintre, Bonnamour and Martin are hailed but all are older than Pogacar and seem unlikely to emulate Hinault and Fignon. Alaphilippe is the best of the current batch but won’t win either – partly as he (rightly) won’t give up Ardennes ambition. A strange situation for a country I always saw as, with Italy and Belgium, one of the three big cycling nations (Netherlands came later with Post’s TI-Raleigh and Spain later still with Indurain and Contador). France even seems unlikely to win another stage with Démare and Bouhanni out but fingers crossed!

    • Italy, France and Spain all are in the doldrums when it comes to GT contenders it seems.
      While seeing the “traditional cycling countries” struggle is bad enough, what is really odd to me is guys like Bernal get “discovered” in Colombia by Gianni Savio, then nurtured into contenders here in Italy before being sold off like a fattened calf to INEOS.
      Spain’s Juan Ayuso’s another, nurtured by the Italian U23 Colpack team before being shipped over to UAE mid-season after wiping the floor with everyone at the U23 Giro d’Italia.
      If the Italian system can work for them, why isn’t it working for Italians? Between the new federation guy just installed here in Italy and rumors of Davide Cassani moving to RCS, I don’t have much optimism beyond Ganna and a few others who are already showing some talent…but not as GT contenders 🙁

      • Yes Larry, but looking at the PCS country rankings it’s still Belgium, France, Italy and Spain at the top. That must come from the large number of average riders but without the big winners (excepting Alaphilippe). Slovenia are sixth in the table, almost entirely down to two riders.

        • The PCS national points ranking is the sum of the best 100 results by all riders over the last year and rewards consistent accumulation of mediocre results, not big wins.

          I consider that the UCI national ranking is better, in that it adds up the best 5 ranked riders from the nation and is therefore weighted more towards best results than accumulation of points from minor placings.

          I would probably use a modified version of the PCS one if I was to construct my own, with only the best result of a nation from each race/stage counting.

          The same would apply to my ideal format of team rankings – if the team only gets to benefit from the best position, it would force teams to race together for the best single result instead of adding up multiple minor placings. The role of a quality domestique would be elevated by allowing them to focus fully on their job without leaving something in reserve to sprint for whatever points are left for 27th place.

      • Would soccer or football puts a dent in alternative Italian sports by taking away prospective athletes.
        Case in point. Here in Australia probably about half of the track and field athletics records go back to the last millennia with some as far back as the 1960’s. why – i presume because the professional sports (rugby, league, cricket, Australian rules football) have ballooned in value since the 70’s and 80’s. Most great athletes will tend to flow to the sports with the greater popularity and money.

        • There’s probably a lot of truth in that, certainly as far as Italy and France are concerned.
          1984 saw the French football team win the European Championships, since when the French football federation have invested very heavily in their academy at Clarefontaine and won two World Cups on the back of it as well as having an elite squad of players that are the envy of everyone.
          Similarly Italy, a couple of World Cups and a European Championship in that time also, not to mention huge success at club level.

          One other thing, much of French football success has been through harnessing the immigrant talent pool (North and West African by and large). The cycling teams have one or two riders from those backgrounds but perhaps not as many as they could or should have?

        • RAI TV’s “Radio Corsa” show on Thursday evenings covers all of cycling – including what look like some very big fields of junior racers as well as “allievi” and U23 so I don’t think it’s a case of not enough quantity of riders or even the quality.
          Some here say the races on offer for them are not tough enough though having riders like Bernal, Sosa, Ayuso and others come TO Italy to race puts a dent in this argument.
          There’s a lot of discussion about the situation but so far nobody seems to be able to put their finger on what the problem might be. The other discussion gaining steam is the one about the lack of a real ITALIAN World Tour-level team. Plenty of Italian ex-world champs are getting together in an effort to convince some Italian sponsors to bankroll such a thing which IMHO would be a great thing as long as they get someone good to run things.

          • France and Italy have thriving U23 scenes although they have issues with vanishing races, rising costs, sponsor cutbacks (a lot of funding comes from town halls) and more. Similar in Spain although a handful of Spanish riders go to Italy to race. But a home grand tour winner is a big ask, the needle in the haystack for French, Italian and Spanish teams. Go back to the “good old days” whenever they were and the peloton was very European but in countries with a land border with France only minus Germany and plus the Netherlands and that was about it. As I wrote about the 1964 Tour last year to read about Tom Simpson was to read about an exotic presence in the bunch, the Briton seemed to get the sort of media treatment and curiosity an Eritrean or Japanese rider gets today.

            Still Ayuso seems a big hope for Spain, in Italy I’d watch Antonio Tiberi at Trek-Segafredo and there’s a French rider who is very promising but not a pro yet and no need to hype.

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