Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Stage 18 Preview Alpe d'Huez 2013 Tour De France

Stage 18 on the map

The 100th Tour De France saw its first inclement weather on the stage-17 time trial to Chorges. Heavy rain is again a strong possibility tomorrow for the mountainous 18th stage of the Tour De France.  The stage is clearly one for the climbers, with six categorized climbs over the 172.5-kilometer course. For the first time in Tour history, the peloton will do two ascents of the most famous climb in cycling, including a mountaintop finish atop the 21 switchbacks of Alpe d’Huez.

 The mountain has been a Tour staple for decades, and has hosted many thrilling moments. The Bernard Hinault-Greg Lemond drama in 1986; Marco Pantani’s record time in 1997; Armstrong and Ullrich in 2001; and how about Alberto Contador punching that intrusive fan in 2011. Never a dull moment on Alpe d’Huez.

Stage 18 profile

The stage begins in Gap with a familiar ascent. The riders will go over the category-2 Col de Manse almost immediately after the flag drops. The first climb of the day was the last climb on stage 16 to Gap. 30 kms later, the race goes over a small category-3 climb during a jagged up-and-down section, which characterizes the rest of the first half of the stage.

"The Look", 2001
Then comes the cat-2 Col d’Ornon. Topping out at 1371 meters 95k into the stage, the easier side of the Ornon is 5.1k long with a 6.7% average gradient. It could be the site of renewed interest in attacking.

After the descent of the Col d’Ornon, the remaining 60+ kms are serious. Around km 110 the riders will begin the first ascent of Alpe d’Huez. Huge crowds will line the sides of the twisting road up the Tour’s most popular climb—even in the rain. Many will have set up camp days in advance, to be part of the spectacle on the carnival of a climb.

Profile of climbs 4 and 5
This edition offers fans the greatest viewing opportunity on the mountain, as the spectators will enjoy two separate ascents by the peloton. The second ascent should see a very thinned-out field at the front of the race.

The first ascent of Huez is 12.3k at 8.4%. It is an Hors Categorie climb, the highest designation. The KOM line is set at km 122.5.

From the KOM line, the riders will drop down a little ways and then climb the 3 kilometers to the summit of the Col de Sarenne (3k at 7.8%). This takes the riders to the highest point of the stage, at 1999m of elevation.

Profile of the final ascent of Alpe d'Huez
A very challenging descent follows. Rain will be a major factor here, as the riders will be forced to navigate the steep, technical drop down to the town of  La Ferriere. Rain is almost definitely expected on Thursday throughout the course. A crash here could mean the end of the Tour for a rider. With another climb of Alpe d’Huez ahead, the top climbers will not want to take too many chances on the descent.

From La Ferriere the riders will set out for the final climb up to the finish on the summit of Alpe d’Huez. This time around, the HC climb is 13.8k at 8.1% average. The finish is 1850m up, and double KOM points will be available at the finish. Only the very best will be able to compete for the win on stage 18.

Don't get in Contador's way on Huez
The stage has more mountain points available than any other stage at this year’s Tour. Chris Froome currently leads the King of the Mountains competition as well as the overall race. His 88 KOM points puts him 19 points ahead of second placed Nairo Quintana, and 35 points ahead of third placed Mikel Nieve. It is theoretically possible that even someone coming in with 0 KOM points could take the polka dot jersey from Froome by winning every climb on Thursday. 92 KOM points are available on the stage-18 course. 

Stages 19 and 20 each offer over 70 points toward the climbing classification, so a couple of well-executed attacks could potentially upset the KOM standings. If however, Froome or Quintana, let’s say, are among the first finishers on Alpe d’Huez on Thursday, then they would get a lot more points, and probably pull away from the others in that competition.

The huge crowds are always a factor on Huez
Many riders will try to make the breakaway right from the start tomorrow. The pure climbers like Joaquim Rodriguez of Katusha Igor Anton of Euskaltel and John Gadret of Ag2R have a chance to do some damage, assuming they can get down the hairy descents in a reasonable position. Anton and Gadret have not shown their best form so far, but sixth-place overall Rodriguez will be hoping to cut into Froome’s race lead with a strong ride.

Some of the high-placed riders may have to sacrifice their own GC ambitions in order to support their respective team leaders in these difficult high mountain stages. Saxo-Tinkoff, Belkin, Garmin-Sharp, and Movistar all have multiple riders in the top 15.

We are guaranteed an exciting battle tomorrow. Have fun watching!

MY PICK: Nairo Quintana

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