Friday, July 5, 2013

Stage 8 Preview and Picks 2013 Tour De France


Into the Pyrenees!
The HC Col de Pailheres
The first week of the Tour De France is over. Now comes the overall contenders’ first real test of condition. Stage 8 takes the riders into the Pyrenees, over the 15k-long, Hors Categorie (Above-category, or HC) Col de Pailheres, and then drops down for the final climb to the finish: the cat-1 Ax 3 Domaines. 

It is a chance for a climber who is out of the General Classification contention to try a brazen attack for a breakaway stage win. It is also the first big mountain stage where the overall GC contenders get to test each others’ legs.

[For those of you who have not been able to watch the race on NBC Sports, stage 8 will be broadcast live on NBC’s regular broadcast network on Saturday.]

Sometimes the top overall contenders wait until the last climb to attack each other. But there are always some riders who will go out in an early break, and other plucky ones who will try to escape on the penultimate climb. Either way, we are in for a treat on stage 8.

Stage 8 on the map
Stage 8 heads south, into the Pyrenees

Stage 8 Profile

The first real climb comes after about 125k of flat roads. Officially, the Col de Pailheres is 15.3k long and has an average gradient of 8%. But the peloton will be riding generally uphill—though on a lighter grade—for about 20k before they hit the official base of the climb. It has some very steep sections near the bottom, and another 10%+ section over the penultimate kilometer to the summit. The climb will take the field over 2000 meters of elevation before the long descent to Ax-Les-Thermes. 

The HC Col de Pailheres climb profile

From Ax-Les-Thermes at 770m the riders will climb the 8k cat-1 to Ax 3 Domaines at 1375m high. The final climb is listed as 7.8k at 8.2%. It is steepest in the middle, and from the top where the KOM marker is, the riders will have a kilometer and-a-half of relatively level road to sprint to the finish line. That 1.5k could be the difference between a pure climber like Joaquim Rodriguez or Igor Anton winning the stage, and a climber with a fast finish like Alejandro Valverde or Tejay Van Garderen.

The final climb to Ax 3 Domaines

I doubt we will see any vicious attacks coming from the GC men on the first big climb. I would think it more likely that they will wait for the last climb, and not attack each other until then. Stage 9 on Sunday is going to be a serious leg-drainer, and I would expect a lot of guys will want to save as much energy as possible for that climbing bonanza before the rest day on Monday.

Regardless of what happens, we’ll be in the Pyrenees, and that makes me happy.

I think this is a good stage for Chris Froome to put the hammer down right away, and establish his domination. If he cannot--or if he is allowed to, and chooses to take it easy--a number of guys could step up and take this stage. Bauke Mollema has been flying under the radar the whole first week. I would like to see him challenge Froome on Saturday. I am also curious to see how Andrew Talansky does on the first high mountain stage. Valverde, Rodriguez, Evans should all be among the high finishers.

My pick for stage 8, however, is going to the 30-year-old Spaniard from Team Saxo-Tinkoff, Alberto Contador. He came in to the Tour “at 90%” and, as usual, expects to gain form over the course of the race and be at 100% for the final week in the Alps. So I might not normally pick him for a win this early, but I just have a feeling that el Pistolero won’t be gun-shy on the only mountaintop finish in the Pyrenees.

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