Friday, July 18, 2014


Stage 14 on Saturday will look something like Friday's, only tougher. At 177k, it is shorter than stage 13, but has a lot of climbing. Most of the stage goes uphill, except for a very few flat sections, like the approximately 10k flat around La Paute and Bourg-d'Oisans. That's where the intermediate sprint point is located, just about 40k into the stage. We'll see some action there. Sagan would have a better chance than most of the sprinters at capitalizing on that INT.

The treacherous trio on stage 14

Bourg-d'Oisans is a launch pad for some epic mountains, Like Alpe d'Huez, The Col de la Croix de Fer and Les Deux Alpes. Stage 14 will make it's way out of Bourg-d'Oisans skipping Huez, and head east. Then the peloton go up, up, and more up, to the first KOM summit of the day: the 34k-long, category-1 Col du Lautaret. The first two-thirds is easier than the last 10k or 11k, and it never gets really steep at all, but it's a long time to be going up, and it will put some hurt into a lot of legs that will have two more big, bad climbs still ahead of them.

The Lautaret tops out at about 2058 meters, the highest point the race has seen so far. Then comes the long descent that leads to the second challenge of the day: The Hors Categorie Col d'Izoard. This beautiful climb is a Tour favorite--and one of mine as well. At 2360 meters of elevation (or about 7740 feet) it is the highest point in the 2014 Tour. It's characteristic serpentine switchbacks and distinctive exposed summit has become somewhat emblematic as a French Alp Tour de France climb.

Profile of the Col d'Izoard
The Col d'Izoard is officially 19k at 6%. It has a couple of brief respites in the first half, but the final 9k offer no breaks, and rise fairly steadily at grades of between 7.5% and 9% most of the way. The first rider over the summit wins the " Souvenir Henri Desgrange" prize, in honor of the father of the Tour De France. I think it usually comes with 5000 Euros or so.

Then a long descent to the final climb of the day: The cat-1 Risoul climb. This is the Risoul's first time as a finish climb in the Tour De France. It runs 12.6k and averages 6.9%. The summit and finish line are at 1855 meters up, and it has about an 880m drop.

If you've been doing the math, you see that the categorized climbs on Saturday's stage 14 add up to over 65k of climbing. There is even more climbing than that, but that's just the measured ones. The first 82 kilometers are almost entirely uphill, as you can see in the profile, so it will be a war of attrition out there tomorrow.  The riders will also have to go through some severe weather changes as they climb through the heat, up to the cold alpine climate above the treeline, and down, and up again and again. With bronchial infections going around the peloton, we will probably see some more riders getting sick, and maybe dropping out. That cold air can get to ya.

Profile of the final climb, and new finish

Well, I dropped the ball on Porte today, but pretty much everything and everyone else I mentioned and predicted about the stage came true. [I scored very high in my cycling fantasy games!] I even said that Majka could have a go, and sure enough, he made his moves and finished the stage in 2nd place! He had been sort of anonymous and unimpressive in the peloton the first two weeks. Usually a great talent in the hills (He finished this year's Giro d'Italia in sixth place overall), I think that--with or without Alberto Contador--Tinkoff Saxo planned to save Majka for the big mountains. I think I recall in 2012, in the Vuelta a España, Team Movistar saving the young Colombian Nairo Quintana until very late in the game, to become Valverde's top lieutenant in the high mountains.

Rafal Majka follows Leopold Konig on stage 13
So, what about today's picks?
Picking Nibali would be too easy. In fact, maybe the real question should be how much is Nibali going to win by? He would certainly love to put another minute or two in his pocket before the race hits the Pyrenees...

Tejay, Valverde, Pinot, Konig and Bardet have been great in the mountains. They all need to attack Nibali, but who can beat him across the line at this point?
I want to say Pinot or Valverde or Van Garderen, but they are all a step behind NIbali right now.
So, I will pick Joaquim Rodriguez to win from the break.

Long[er] shot pick: Mikel Nieve from SKY. He didn't finish so well on Friday on the Chamrousse, but SKY may want to make a statement after what happened to their first replacement leader. Give Nieve a long leash, and he just might pull it off.

I would not be surprised to see Thomas Voeckler and Purito Rodriguez doing their best to get into a breakaway, and chase those mountain points; and the summit finishes all get double points, so that's incentive to go for the win, too.

There you go.

Enjoy the race!

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