Thursday, July 17, 2014


Stage 13 destination: Chamrousse
Stage 13 Preview:

Tomorrow: The Alps arrive! The cat-1 Col de Palaquit is a Tour first-timer as the first climb in the Alps. It's about 14k at just over 6% average. But a short descent of about 2k in length interrupts the climb after the first 3kms, so the actual 12k of climbing includes some much steeper sections. 

Stage 13 enters the Alps

The 200-k long stage finishes at 1730m up, on the Chamrousse. It is an HC climb at 18.2k long, with a 7.3% average gradient. Most of the steepest sections come early on the climb, but after 180k of racing in the heat and sun, and after the long Palaquit climb, riders will have to pace themselves carefully, or risk going into the red too soon.

It is expected to be another very hot day tomorrow, over 90 f. For this reason, the GC favorites may decide not to burn too much fuel till the finish. This could allow a strong breakaway the chance to succeed. Though what we usually see, and what I expect we'll see tomorrow, is the GC teams timing it so that they catch the break on, or just before, the final climb. Then the top climbers will see who's got the best legs at the summit finish, and will try to improve their overall positions in a tight race for the podium. 

The next two days are strictly for the mountain goats. Froome, Contador, and Talansky are gone, and Nibali still has a nice two-minute cushion at the top of the leader board. But we know that anything can happen in a 3-week tour, and just one day, when a rider is not at his best, or he hits a small crack in the road, or accidentally touches wheels with another rider, can change the entire complexion and outcome of the race.

The HC Chamrousse climb profile
Most, if not all of the riders currently in the top 10 overall, have been fairly evenly matched in the few mountains we have seen so far. But this is when the dents and scratches and nuances start to separate the conditions of the riders from each other. I expect we will continue to have a hot battle for GC positions all the way to the end. Then, of course comes the race of truth...

I really think that Nibali could win the stage on Friday if he wants, and the others will have to attack him to try and rein him in. Richie Porte and Alejandro Valverde seem best able to challenge Nibali now. Then Bardet, Peraud, Pinot and Van Garderen seem sort of evenly matched at a close, but second tier. In optimal circumstances all of them, along with Mollema, Van Den Broeck, Fuglsang, Kwiatkowski, Rui Costa, Chris Horner, Haimar Zubeldia, Leo Konig, and Pierre Rolland are really all top-tier GC contenders, but there is only so much room at the top.

Their fitness levels right now suggest that the current top three on GC may be a cut above the rest, but a quick look at the standings shows that a mere 2:16 separates the second and tenth place riders. Those gaps should start to grow tomorrow, and some riders will overtake others' positions, and some will fall.
Mollema seems to be looking better since his illness, so I would definitely not count him out. Bardet and Peraud look great, as do Tejay and Pinot, so no matter what, we will be treated to a good fight.

Nibali said that he will attack the others in the mountains when he can. He knows that he is not the best at the time trial, and he will want as big a cushion as he can get when the race gets to Bergerac on stage 20. So rather than just follow the wheels of your nearest challengers, when you have a cozy lead, Nibali says he will be active. It's really up to his rivals, though, to bring the race to him.

Nibali and Porte are the top two on GC.  Photo: AP
I expect we'll see guys try to get into the breakaways in the Alps like Edet, Cherel, Riblon, Voeckler, Westra, Bakelants, Roy, Kadri, and maybe Rein Taaramae--certainly Cofidis and Europcar will have something going. Maybe high profile guys like Roche, Rogers, or even Majka will have a go, since no one on the Saxo team is within 45 minutes of the race lead. Rogers is their highest placed currently, at 41st and 47:48 off the pace.

Finally never forget Purito Rodriguez. He is the current King of the Mountains jersey wearer, and says he will pursue the overall in that competition. He may try to get into a break in either or both of the Alps stages to grab more points, and maybe have a chance to try for a stage win. I think stage 14 suits the Spaniard a little better than 13.

My pick for stage 13:
Team SKY replacement-captain, and ex-triathlete, the Tasmanian Richie Porte.

Longshot pick:
I hope to see attacks from Rolland, Horner, Gadret and Konig in the Alps, among others, so I'll pick one of my favorite riders: American Chris Horner of the Italian Lampre-Merida team.

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