Saturday, July 6, 2013

Stage 9 Preview and Profile 2013 Tour De France


The first big mountain stage is behind them. Team Sky and their leader Chris Froome put the hammer down, and it is up to the challengers to try and reclaim what he took from them on Saturday.

The stage 9 profile covers five Pyrenean mountains

Stage 9 is the last in the Pyrenees

Now they have stage 9, and more mountains to contend with.  Stage 9 takes the riders 168.5 kilometers from Saint-Girons to Bagneres-de-Bigorre. On the way they will climb five mountains, four of which are category-1 climbs. The first climb is a cat-2 that comes early, about 23k into the stage, and it will make a fine point of attack.

Almost immediately after that, comes the cat-1 Col de Menté (7k at 7.7%).
After about 20k of relatively easy roads that lead to the intermediate sprint in Bagneres de-Luchon, come three consecutive category-1 climbs that all top 1500 meters in altitude. Not gargantuan, but tough enough to do some damage to the field. This will thin out the peloton a good deal.


The Peyresourde profile

The middle climb is the long and steady Col de Peyresourde. They will be climbing from the opposite direction that they climbed it in stage 16, last year. This side is 13.2k at 7%. From the Peyresourde, there will be no respite whatsoever. The fourth climb is the cat-1 Col de Val Louron-Azet. It logs in at 7.4k at 8.3%.

The last and worst climb is the cat-1 La Hourquette d’Ancizan. It tops out with about a 30k descent to the finish in Bagneres-de-Bigorre. It is the fourth cat-1 in a row, and is listed as 9.9k long, averaging 7.5% incline. Look for an elite group to go over the last climb and race down the early part of the descent putting as much time behind them and whoever is trying to chase.

The final climb before the 30k descent to the finish

That 30k descent looks like enough room for dedicated riders to get back on to a lead group, but after all the climbing I would not expect too many besides the cream of the crop to be there to contest the finish. It looks to me like a good stage for Rui Costa of Movistar, Roman Kreuziger or Nicolas Roche of Saxo-Tinkoff, Michal Kwiatkowski of Omega Pharma, or maybe Mikel Nieve of Euskaltel. It will come down to the men who recover best after the stage 8 effort.

I definitely expect to see Froome, Valverde, and Contador there at the finish, and probably Mollema, Fuglsang and Dan Martin as well. I would say Evans, Pinot and Hesjedal, too, but like I said, it will come down to how well they all recover overnight.

MY PICK: Rui Costa (Movistar)


Stage 8 Report and Results - Ax 3 Domaines 2013 Tour De France


Stage 8 from Castres to Ax 3 Domaines - 195k;
High mountains (flat first 125k, then 2 big climbs);
Weather: sunny, hot (32 c/90 f), very light wind;
188 riders started.

Stage 8 Profile. Two big Pyrenean climbs.

I mentioned on stage 5 that none of the “big three” sprinters had won a stage yet, while they had six between them by stage 6 last year. Well, Mark Cavendish, André Greipel and Peter Sagan must have been listening, because 1-2-3 they each won a stage consecutively over the last three days. They did not leave much scraps for the others, and two talented fast men won’t get any more at all. Sprinters Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha)** has both retired from the race due to injuries sustained in the first week. Now that all three of the big names have a stage each, they have some mollification, and it is time the climbers get their shot. 
**UPDATE: The report on Alexander Kristoff abandoning was false. The Katusha sprinter is still in the race.

They get their shot today on the road to Ax-3-Domaines; except for the few who did not make it past the first, crash-filled week. Lotto team leader Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Garmin road veteran Christian Vande Velde, and Astana lieutenant Janez Brajkovic and domestique Fredrik Kessiakoff were four of the ten casualties of the first week. 

Their teams will go on. Astana still has Fuglsang, though the absence of Brajkovic and Kessiakoff will be a handicap. Lotto turns their attention away from General Classification contention and toward stage wins, with focus on giving Greipel whatever opportunities remain.  Garmin have an injured Hesjedal, but other options exist with Andrew Talansky, Dan Martin and others.

Stage 8 heads south, toward Spain
Chris Froome goes into stage 8 as the best placed rider of the overall favorites. He is 8 seconds behind the leader, Daryl Impey. Froome has the following advantages over the other favorites: Alberto Contador :06; Ryder Hesjedal and Andrew Talansky :14; Alejandro Valverde :17; Cadel Evans and Tejay Van Garderen :23; Joaquim Rodriguez :25; Bauke Mollema :34; Thibaut Pinot :39; Jakob Fuglsang :53; Igor Anton 1:21; and of course, Robert  Gesink is out of it at nine minutes back.

French police spent two hours this morning searching the Radioshack-Leopard team camper. This after Radioshack’s older Schleck brother, Frank, learned that the team would be dumping him, just as he is ready to come back from his suspension for the adverse Xipamide finding. Radioshack is fulfilling its sponsorship commitment this year, but Trek will be taking over as lead sponsor for the team in 2014.


Km0:  At the drop of the flag Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil) attacks. 
He is quickly joined by Jean-Marc Marino of Sojasun. Rudy Molard (Cofidis) and Christophe Riblon (Ag2R) are trying to bridge the gap up to the 2 leaders...

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.

Stage 7 Report and Results 2013 Tour De France

205.5 kms from Montpellier to Albi
Medium mountains, flat finish;
Hot, sunny, temps around 30 c (High 80’s f); light wind;

Stage 7 on the map
2-man break: Jens Voigt (Radioshack) and Blel Kadri (ALM);
-132k: Voigt and Kadri lead by 5:00;

I figured at least one of the mountain jersey hunters would make the break today. Kadri is that man.
-126.8k: the lead is 4:20

As Daryl Impey of Orica GreenEdge is wearing the yellow race leader’s jersey today, the broadcaster I am watching played the song that was playing on the Orica team bus this morning. “Impi”, they said, is sort of an unofficial South African anthem. They are enjoying their recent successes, including putting an African into the yellow jersey for the first time in the Tour’s history.

Stage 7 Profile

*Christian Vande Velde has been nursing some wounds for a few days now. He went down again in a crash today at km11, so he and his Garmin team have decided to take him out of the race. It’s a shame because this was to be the 37-year-old’s last Tour De France. He is the eighth retiree, and the second American to retire from the race so far.

Voigt and Kadri are in the lead together, riding up the first categorized climb;

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Stage 7 Preview 2013 Tour De France

Stage 7 continues west and cuts inland to Albi

Stage 7 is another rolling, medium mountain stage. It is also another 200+km stage, and is the last chance for a non-climber to snatch the maillot jaune. The following day, stage 8 will end with the mountaintop finish at Ax 3 Domaines in the Pyrenees, where the climbers get their first chance to take over. But first, they must survive the 205 kilometers of stage 7 from Montpellier to Albi on another hot, sunny day. 

The number of injured riders in the peloton suggests that we may see more getting dropped tomorrow, if not tomorrow, then certainly on Saturday. Already, several teams have lost key men to injuries and illness: Lotto Belisol lost their leader, Jurgen Van Den Broeck, who suffered a knee injury in stage 5. (Too bad, I had high hopes for the Dutch All-rounder.)

Team Astana have already lost three of their nine riders: first Kashechkin and Kessiakoff, and now Janez Brajkovic—Fuglsang’s main man for the mountains, and an overall threat himself. 

The stage 7 route and key points

FDJ lost their top sprinter, Nacer Bouhanni, and Ag2R said goodbye to Maxime Bouet on stage 6, too. The Garmin-Sharp Team is hobbled, with Ryder Hesjedal, their de facto leader going into the race, riding on a broken rib and teammate Christian Vande Velde also recovering from crash injuries. They still have the Andrew Talansky and Dan Martin cards to play, but we will find out on Saturday who won’t be competing for overall victory.

Four categorized climbs populate the bulk of the middle of stage 7.  None are particularly tough, though. The category-2 Col de la Croix de Mounis is the toughest on the stage, and it is passed with over 100k left to ride.


Each climb offers a viable attack spot in my opinion. We will see if an early break goes on the first climb, how much time they are given before the peloton starts to reel them in. With a big mountain finish coming the next day, I would not be surprised to see attacks on any or all of the categorized climbs on stage 7.

Stage 7 Profile

This is a good stage for mountain jersey chasers to try and wrest the polka dots off of Pierre Roland’s back.  At the end of the day however, I believe the sprinters will chase down the break and force another bunch sprint, because the last little climb comes with 35k still left to the finish.  

My pick: Mark Cavendish. He was angry after missing out on stage 6, and you can bet that his Omega Pharma team will be focused and determined to give the Manxman a great leadout in Albi.

Stage 6 Report and Results 2013 Tour De France

Stage 6 in southern France
176k from Aix-En-Provence to Montpellier; flat
Sunny, hot, dry, windy
Winds 15-20 mph; 88 f (31 c)
Toward the end, the Mistral winds should pick up;

193 riders will start today.

Stage 5 injuries (with two non-starters today):
*Van Den Broeck: injured knee   DNS 6
Bouet: fractured wrist    DNS 6
Zubeldia: broke bone in left hand
Bouhanni: both shoulders and left thigh damaged
Vande Velde: blood clot in neck, loose collarbone screw
*Hesjedal: cracked rib from stage 1 crash
Danielson: scrapes and bruises
Klöden: hurt right calf
Van Garderen: bumps and bruises
Schär: endo, stressed patellar tendon, bumps and bruises;

*Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte found tacks in their tires after stage 5.

Stage 6 location


A lone breakaway rider today: Luis Angel Mate (COF) escaped at the start.
With 144k to go Mate leads the peloton by 5:00
-133k: Mate sits up after a mechanical issue, and is picked up by the peloton.
Gruppo compatto

-120k: Quintana hits the pavement; gets back on, and receives attention from medical car;

INT SPR (km 63):
1.    Greipel 2. Cavendish 3. Kristoff 4. Sagan 5. Steegmans 6. Flecha 7. Sabatini 8. Kwiatkowski 9. Chavanel 10. D. Van Poppel 11. Velits 12. Bookwalter 13. Tuft 14. Burghardt 15. Lancaster

Stage 6 Profile
Bouhanni is suffering on the bike. He has been distanced by the pack;

Km 68: KOM 1 cat-4 Col de la Vayede
1.    Siutsou

-100k: Peloton still together; Bouhanni trails by 3:00; His Tour may be coming to an early end.
Most of the rest of the route will probably see strong winds upsetting the pace;

-88k: Bouhanni, last year’s French road champ, abandons the race before the feed zone.
 Click "Read more" to continue...

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Stage 6 Preview 2013 Tour De France

Stage 6 continues west to Montpellier

Stage 6 from Aix-En-Provence to Montpellier should be another one for the sprinters. A mostly flat stage with only one categorized climb, and it is a cat-4, and it comes with over 100k left to ride. At 176 kilometers in length stage 6 should be an average day with a bunch sprint finish.

I am going with Cavendish tomorrow. His lead-out train was impressive today, and he is certainly a top favorite for stage 6. With four of my first five picks coming in second, I am hoping to break the pattern. Temperatures are expected to be in the high 80’s (around 30 c) for Thursday’s stage 6, so keeping hydrated and preventing overheating will be important.

Stage 6 Profile

I will do the best I can to post regularly over the July 4 holiday. Fortunately stage 7 looks like another sprint, but stage 8 to Ax 3 Domaines is when the real fun begins! 

Stage 5 Report and Results 2013 Tour De France


228.5k from Cagnes-sur-Mer to Marseilles
cloudy skies, dry roads
Temperatures in the high 60’s f.

Stage 5 Profile


Km 3: 6 men escape:
Yukiya Arashiro and Kevin Reza (EUC), Anthony Delaplace (SOJ), Alexey Lutsenko (AST), Romain Sicard (EUS), and Thomas De Gendt (VCD).

Km 22: KOM 1: cat-3 Cote de Chateauneuf-Grasse (1.4k at 8.4%):
1. De Gendt 2. Delaplace

The leaders have built a lead of over thirteen minutes.

Km 93: KOM 2: cat-4 Col de l’Ange (1.6k at 4.1%):
1. De Gendt

126k to go: Intermediate Sprint (Lourges):
1. De Gendt 2. Lutsenko 3. Delaplace 4. Arashiro 5. Sicard 6. Reza 7. Greipel 8. Kristoff 9. Sagan 10. Cavendish 11. Rojas 12. Henderson 13. Sabatini 14. Boeckmans 15. Sieberg

-100k: The lead is down to 8:51;
Click on "Read more" to continue... 

On the Time Elimination of Cannondale Rider Ted King after stage 4 of the Tour De France:

I was surprised to hear what a fuss was being made over Cannondale’s Ted King being eliminated from the Tour De France after finishing outside the time limit on the stage 4 team time trial. Yes, it is terribly unfortunate for a rider who has worked and trained very hard to be sent home, but those are the rules. Every rider and team knows the rules and all are expected to follow them. Of course, that presupposes that the referees will enforce the rules fairly and equally.

Ted King after race elimination following stage 4 TTT
During NBC Sports’ stage 5 pre-race show, in typical colorful fashion, Bob Roll described the Tour de France stage time limits as “…a blood meridian running through the Tour,” and, “…a bad spirit that haunts your dreams.” In other words, the time limit is a threatening specter looming over the peloton, reminding the riders that they are engaged in the highest level of competition and must give their all to show their worth. After all, why should someone who is not in top form be permitted to contest a race with the best cyclists in the world?

The “bad spirit” haunted Ted King’s race. He injured his shoulder in stage 1, and then got eliminated from the race in stage 4. The fact that his parents are flying out to watch him race, and the Twitter frenzy that saw several pro cyclists lobbying for King’s cause, should not bear on the case. The only issue is whether or not the race referees are going to apply the rules strictly to all riders all the time. In the past we have seen them make exceptions under certain circumstances. For instance, during stage 18 of the 2011 TDF a large group of over 80 riders in the grupetto who finished outside the time limit were all allowed to start the next day, to avoid the mass elimination. On the next stage over 80 riders again finished outside the time limit, and the race referees decided again not to enforce the elimination. Several top sprinters and stars were in those groups. So, a double standard does seem to exist in the enforcement of rules in the Tour De France, and it worked against King. The rules are just flexible enough to favor the big stars that the fans want to watch.

The worst part about the Ted King elimination is that he was only outside the finish window by seven seconds. And yesterday’s TTT was the fastest ever in Tour history. Another fact I consider is that King (no offense, man) is not a rider who was going to have a big impact on this year’s race. He is too green. He is not a powerful climber or a super-fast sprinter, but his loss does handicap his team a little. It is doubly unfortunate for the Cannondale rider then, because cyclists need to put those thousands of kilometers of racing into their legs to build their form for the future. Hopefully the blogger and Pro-Tour cyclist, Ted King, will be back next year to show the Tour De France why he belongs there. For emotional reasons, I would have liked to see the New Hampshire native continue riding, but what would be preferable is equal and exact application of the rules for all riders, all the time.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Stage 5 Preview 2013 Tour De France Profile and Picks

By the end of stage six of the Tour De France last year, Mark Cavendish had already won a stage, André Greipel had won two stages, and Peter Sagan had won three. So far this year, none of them has tasted victory yet.
Sagan has the green jersey, but he has not yet crossed a finish line first. Stage 5 to Marseilles tomorrow gives the Slovakian speedster—and the other fast men--another opportunity.

Stage 5 Profile

Stage 5 is another rolling route similar to stage 3, except for two main, possibly offsetting differences: its climbs are a little less demanding, and the stage is 83 kilometers longer (or 57% longer).  At over 228 kms, stage 5 is the second longest of the race.  However, there is so much undulation throughout the route that the fast men who want to force a bunch sprint will have to chase very hard to keep up with a determined breakaway.

The westerly stage 5 route to Marseilles

None of the four categorized climbs is above a cat-3, and that one, the first, at km22, is only 1.4k long. The other three are cat-4’s, none of which is steep enough to cause much damage. 228 kms is a long time for a break group to hold off the peloton, but a number of possible attack sites exist on the course, and a late break could potentially succeed.

After the last cat-4 there is an uncategorized climb that tops out about 12.5k from the finish. The descent of that hill may be a good place for a bold attack to get away. If a charging peloton are not too far behind any escapees in the last 20k or so, then whatever sprinters make that group will be likely to have their bunch sprint finish.

Weather could become a factor on Wednesday. The temperature is expected to be about the same, but I read a 40% chance of showers is expected for the start town of Cagnes-sur-Mer; although the finish in Marseilles only expects partly cloudy skies. If those rolling roads are wet they could cause some unfortunate crashes. Headwinds are also going to trouble escapees in the final few kilometers.

The lack of any “real” climbs leads me to think that the sprinters will force the bunch sprint in the end. A few may not be able to keep up, but I wouldn’t bet against any of the top names. I like Sagan again, and he’ll be gunning for a win after two consecutive second places on stages 2 and 3. But since I picked him on both of those stages, I will go with someone else.

Cavendish and Greipel are both reasonable picks, of course. Julien Simon of the wildcard Sojasun team and Daryl Impey of the on-fire Orica GreenEdge team have been looking very stage hungry, as have JJ Rojas (Movistar), Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil), and Francesco Gavazzi (Astana). I would not be surprised if Lars Boom tries something on Wednesday, but I am going to pick Team Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen.

Stage 4 TTT Report 2013 Tour De France team time trial in Nice

Stage 4 Report
25k team time trial, Nice – Nice
Weather: Sunny, dry, light wind
Intermediate time check at km 13.

The Promenade des Anglais in Nice hosts the stage 4 TTT
The teams will be leaving the start gate in four-minute intervals.
Team Argos Shimano (ARG) start first. They cross the intermediate time check (INT) at 13:58:16. They set the first finishing time at 27:43.

Omega Pharma-Quickstep (OPQ), the reigning World Team Time Trial Champions, are next on the flat course, with their young white jersey leader, Michal Kwiatkowski. They set a better intermediate time check at km13 of 13:16.14, for an average speed of 58.8 kph. Tony Martin is finding the strength to work through his pain. They finish with a time of 25:57.01 (which I calculate to be a solid 57.8 kph). That sets the new lead and beats Argos by 1:47. It is also a new Tour De France TTT world record pace. They have a good shot at holding this lead for a long time today.

Omega Pharma set the early time to beat
Lotto, Cannondale, and the wildcard invitee, Cofidis are on the road now. Next, the French FDJ team roll down the start ramp.
Belkin leaves the start house, followed by Garmin Sharp.

Lotto’s finish time is 26:13, for second best right now. That is a very good time for the Belgian team.
Belkin’s INT time is currently 4th best, at 13:32.15, 16 seconds off of OPQ’s pace.

Cannondale finish in 26:30, the new 3rd-best time. They had dropped the young American Ted King early, as a result of the separated shoulder he suffered in a stage 1 crash.

Euskaltel, led by Igor Anton, then Chris Froome’s Team Sky, and Joaquin Rodriguez’s Katusha have started their rides. Click "read more" to continue...

Monday, July 1, 2013

Stage 4 Preview 2013 Tour De France Team Time Trial, Nice


25k flat TTT – Nice

The team time trial route map in Nice

Stage 4 on Tuesday brings the peloton back to the French mainland for the 25k team time trial. The roads are big and flat, with just nine 90-degree corners to navigate, and none in the last 2km. Team Sky and Omega Pharma-Quickstep would be my first two picks—except for all the injuries those two teams have sustained in the first three stages. Key men for this discipline are riding hurt, like Tony Martin and Niki Terpstra for Omega Pharma, and for Team Sky, Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas—the latter riding with a fractured pelvis—and Mark Cavendish is reportedly riding with a bronchial infection.

The strength and depth of those teams could still be enough to net them high finishes, as both still have several top TT talents remaining. The handicaps Sky and Omega are suffering as a result of crashes and illness put them on a more level footing with a few other teams. I am looking at Garmin, Movistar, and Orica GreenEdge to potentially grab high placings. Just behind them I would mention Radioshack, BMC, Saxo-Tinkoff, and Astana.

Stage 4 team time trial profile

All those teams could produce strong results in the TTT.  Despite it all, I am still picking Omega Pharma for the win. They are much the same OPQ squad that won the Tirreno Adriatico TTT in March, and was second at the 2012 Vuelta a España TTT. With riders as strong against the clock as Sylvain Chavanel (French National TT Champ), Michal Kwiatkowski, and Peter Velits, Omega Pharma can win even without Tony Martin’s giant engine.  Additionally, even an injured Tony Martin might surprise us with a heroic ride tomorrow.

If Omega does win, I was thinking they would probably try to put Chavanel in front as they cross the line, to take the yellow jersey; but I guess if Kwiatkowski is with the first finishing five, then he would take the race lead since he is currently placed higher than Chavanel in the overall standings.