The Tour de France leaves the Alps
Stage 12 Review: a slow burn of a stage and one which could have been enjoyed on the radio although the TV meant images of the Alpine peaks in summer and Tom Pidcock slaloming down the Galibier. He’d missed the breakaway but rode across to Chris Froome down the Galibier and the pair made it to the leaders. The escapees seemed to be away for the day until further up the Col de la Croix de Fer Jumbo-Visma accelerated but they didn’t persist down the descent, it looked like they just wanted to push the pace and stress Pogačar and his team instead.
The breakaway reached Alpe d’Huez with time to spare but the riders didn’t waste time trading attacks, instead Tom Pidcock was the first to accelerate and it turned into a mountain time trial as he had a few seconds on Louis Meintjes who had a gap on Chris Froome and gradually the distance grew and Pidcock got his first stage win and a prestige one for a rider whose trophy cabinet is looking full already.
There was nothing spectacular for the GC battle: Romain Bardet slipped two places, Nairo Quintana one and David Gaudu is still seventh but four minutes down. Geraint Thomas is riding high for a podium and Enric Mas was climbing well but still relegated on GC after he lost eight minutes on the Col de Granon Also Simon Geschke still leads the mountains competition but the contest is getting tight and this bodes well for the Pyrenees.
The Route: sprint or breakaway? The course has 2,000m of vertical gain to make life hard for the sprinters. After 25km downhill on a big main road comes a short climb out of Vizille to help a breakaway go clear, it’s mostly a straight road up so hard still. Then it’s an urban ride through Grenoble, along the Isère valley and across the Dauphiné to Tullins for the Col de Parménie, a proper climb up a rockface out of the valley.
At Vienne the race crosses the Rhone and could stick to the valley floor but instead goes uphill to the Col de la Croix Régis and back down via the Col du Pilon. The KoM point doesn’t mark the top but none of it is savage, it’s all steady climbing.
The last 30km drag up the Gier valley. It’s never steep enough to drop a sprinter here, but it can leave them drained.
The Finish: into the industrial city of Saint-Etienne. When the Tour last visited in 2019 they went via a climb, today’s it’s flat and on the same approach as the Paris-Nice time trial from 2018.
The Contenders: a breakaway or a bunch sprint? Alpecin-Fenix, Quick-Step, BikeExchange-Jayco and Lotto-Soudal will want a bunch sprint today for Jasper Philipsen, Fabio Jakobsen, Dylan Groenewegen and Caleb Ewan. Sure it’s a hilly course but if not today then Carcassonne in two days seems less likely, the same for Cahors on Stage 19. So they can try even if containing the breakaway could be harder work, keeping a move on a three minute leash all day is a harder ask. But it all depends on the riders.
Michael Matthews (BikeExchange-Jayco) and Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies) can cope with the climbs and can go in the breakaway too. Matthews in particular has many options today, breakaway, a cover pick in case Groenewegen is dropped for the sprint. Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) looms over many outcomes too.
For breakaway picks Nils Politt (Bora-hansgrohe), Magnus Cort (EF Education), Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo) and Taco van der Hoorn (Intermarché-Wanty) come to mind but it’s one of those wheel of fortune days as to who gets clear, let alone whether they stay away.
|Jasper Philipsen, Wout van Aert|
|Jakobsen, Ewan, Matthews, Sagan|
Weather: a touch windy when crossing the Rhone valley. And a hot 34°C. That’s the temperature in the shade. In yesterday’s L’Equipe André Bancalà, the Monsieur Route of ASO (“Mr Road”) has been measuring the road temperatures at the Tour for over 25 years now and says the temperatures in July have gone up by 1.6-1.7°C in his time. Part of his job is to obsess over the tarmac temperature. He can manage this by watering the road ahead of the race, it cools the tarmac which stops it melting but also makes it more comfortable for the riders. Now the whole course isn’t rinsed ahead of the race, just the sections that are most exposed or more prone to liquefying. Bancala says his water truck can take 2,000 litres but they don’t use it all in a day. They might in the coming days because of the forecast heat and the rural roads.
TV: the stage starts at 1.00pm CEST and finish is forecast for 5.35pm CEST.
Food and drink: more cheese and wine? The race goes through Saint-Marcellin country near Tullins, then climbs by some of Côte-Rôtie vineyards after Vienne. But a mention of walnuts today because they’ve a big staple of the Dauphiné area. Introduced to France by the Romans who got them from Persia, they became a handy source of calories. In the wake of disease for mulberry trees (whose leaves were used for the once big business of feeding silkworms) and the phylloxera louse that wiped out many vineyards, many walnut groves were planted and remain to this day. To ride in the area is often to past, and even through, these shady groves. They’re also an ingredient in many dishes, from leaves used to preserve goat’s cheese to filling for pasta dishes like ravioli.