Monday, July 15, 2013

Stage 16 Preview 2013 Tour De France

168k from Vaison-la-Romaine to Gap
Medium Mountains

Stage 15 took the riders through Provence

Chris Froome once again showed his superior form at the 100th edition of the Tour De France when he won the second of the first two uphill finishes on Sunday, and increased his lead over all his rivals. Froome dominated both mountaintop finishes, and now most of his competitors have acknowledged his superiority so far in this year’s race. 

The Vacansoleil DCM Procycling Team have pulled 19-year old sprinter Danny Van Poppel from the Tour De France. The youngest rider in this year’s Tour was having some success in the sprints including a third place on stage one. With the final stage into Paris the only flat sprint stage remaining, the Dutch team decided Van Poppel would not benefit from the very difficult mountain stages that will torment the riders’ legs between now and the Champs-Elysees on Sunday.

Stage 16 profile

Stage 15 was the longest Tour De France stage since 2000, and featured the biggest mountaintop finish of this year’s race. Since the day the Tour started on Corsica, every stage has been sunny, dry and warm. That may change on Tuesday. If it does rain, the descent to Gap could become treacherous. Although Joseba Beloki could tell you how equally dangerous it can be when it is hot and sunny, and the tar on the road melts. 

Stage 16 on the map

The start is expected to be hot and sunny, but the forecast for the finish town of Gap is calling for a 60% chance of thunderstorms Tuesday. Gap has witnessed some brazen attacks in the past. The most memorable is probably Alexander Vinokourov’s attack in 2003, which saw the horrible Beloki crash that sent Lance Armstrong on a detour across a field. 

The peloton will be coming down the same descent that took out Beloki in 2003, but the stage will be very similar to stage 16 from the 2011 Tour. On that Bastille Day the peloton rode in and out of rain all day, and finished in Gap after heavy rain over the Col de Manse. The break succeeded that Day, and Thor Hushovd beat out Edvald Boasson Hagen for the win in Gap. But Alberto Contador attacked the favorites before the summit of the category-2 Manse, and with Cadel Evans and Sammy Sanchez in tow, put some time into their rivals.

The infamous 2003 misadventure on the road to Gap
Stage 16 on Tuesday is similar in length to stage 16 from 2011, and it also features a long, gradual incline before climbing the cat-2 Col De Manse, and then descending into Gap for the finish. This time the riders will have two smaller categorized climbs early in the stage to warm up the legs.

Like in 2011, tomorrow’s stage to Gap is a great stage for a break to succeed. Look for some of the teams who have not seen much success yet in this Tour to get riders in the break. Sojasun, Cofidis, Lampre and FDJ come to mind, but you can bet that Euskaltel, Lotto and Europcar will try to make the break, too. A few good breakaway points are on the course, but the winning move could come on the Col de Manse at the end. The summit comes about 11.5k from the finish line.

The General Classification contenders will not want to spend too much extra energy before the very important time trial on stage 17, and the three punishing Alpine stages that follow. But a few may have ideas about gaining some time on the others, and try some bold moves.

Stage 16 takes the race into the Hautes Alpes
Stage 16 is a difficult stage to pick a winner because many breakaway scenarios offer opportunities for many riders. Strong descenders are a good bet. Thomas Voeckler, Damiano Cunego, Arnold Jeannesson and Michael Albasini are just some of the stage hunters who may favor this profile.

Maybe Team Saxo-Tinkoff will let Nicholas Roche try for a stage win by putting him in a break, with the backup possibility of him being there to help Contador on the last climb if need be.

Michal Kwiatkowski might find Gap a tempting place to try and take some time back from Nairo Quintana in the white jersey competition, since Quintana has him outgunned in the mountains.

Alejandro Valverde of Movistar is another possible pick. The Spaniard can win on a profile like this, and although he has designs on Alpe d’Huez, stage 16 might give him a better legitimate opportunity for a stage win to salvage his Tour. His Portuguese teammate, Rui Costa could also be set loose to go for a stage win, though he may be looking to do a good time trial on Wednesday.

If one of Froome’s nearest rivals does try an attack on the final climb, Froome may be conservative with his response. With a four-minute lead and more, he won’t want to take unnecessary chances before the all-important stages ahead. He might not mind giving up thirty or sixty seconds, because he can dominate the time trial and he has so far dominated the climbs.

MY PICK: I think a breakaway will succeed. I would like to see Wout Poels win from the break.

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