Tuesday, July 22, 2014

TDF Stage 16 Race Report and Stage 17 Preview 2014 TOUR DE FRANCE


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Stage 16 on the map
 After the transfer west, from Nimes to Carcasonne, the riders enjoyed the final rest day on Monday. Today the peloton headed out of Carcasonne and into the Pyrenees for the longest stage of the race. 237.5 kilometers From Carcasonne to Bagneres-de-Luchon, featuring the hors categorie climb of the Port de Bales late in the stage. The finish line comes just after the fast 20k descent off the big mountain.

The weather was clear and sunny for the riders, as they prepared for a long day in the saddle. Everybody wondered who would benefit and who would suffer after the rest day. Simon Yates of OGE was a non-starter, as was World Champion Rui Costa, who is suffering from pneumonia. 

 Rafal Majka of Tinkoff Saxo grabbed the first category-4 climb at km25. The single KOM point was all he needed to take the lead away from Joaquim Rodriguez in the king of the mountains competition.

Stage 16 profile; into the Pyrenees

Various breakaway attempts failed, until after almost two hours, 21 riders broke free to form the day's main break. They were:

Kwiatkowski, Bakelants, Voeckler, Gautier, Reza, Albasini, Keukeleire, Rogers, Gallopin, Serpa, Izaguirre, Van Avermaet, Slagter, Roy, Montaguti, S. Dumoulin, Delaplace, Kiryienka, Vachon, Eisel, and Kluge.

The highest placed rider in the break was Kwiatkowski, who came into the stage in 16th place, down 19:24 to the overall race leader, Vincenzo Nibali. Europcar's Thomas Voeckler had won here in Luchon twice before: on stage 16 of the 2012 Tour De France, and on his way to winning the 2013 Route du Sud, so it was no surprise to see him make the break.

The escapees built their lead to about nine minutes as they tackled the category-2 Col de Portet-d'Aspet (5.4k at 6.9%). Thomas Voeckler was first over that summit, followed by Rogers, Bakelants and Slagter. The peloton crossed over 10:10 later.

The peloton pass through a tunnel on stage 16

The peloton trailed the big lead group by about 11:30 when they hit the biggest test of the day: The HC Port de Bales. Jeremy Roy started the attacking festivities in the lead group. His and Vasil Kiryienka's accelerations shaved the large lead group down from 21 riders to 12, and then six, as one by one former escapees were falling off the back.

With about 5k to go to the top of the climb, and 26k left to the finish, attacks from Mick Rogers, Thomas Voeckler, and his Europcar teammate Cyril Gautier, further diminished the lead group down to four: Thomas Voeckler, Cyril Gautier, Jose Serpa, and Mick Rogers.

A thick crowd enveloped the leaders as they approached the summit of the Port de Bales, with Rogers riding in front. Voeckler turned on the gas, but on the narrow road, it was difficult to pass anyone, with the crowd pouring over them. Even so, Serpa--who had looked the strongest throughout the big climb--accelerated faster, and took max points (25) over the 1755-meter (5758 ft) high summit.

Meanwhile, the Astana team led the peloton chase for Nibali. Movistar joined in, first sending Giovanni Visconti up to push the pace at the front of the pack, and then Beñat Intxausti continued where the Italian left off. Alejandro Valverde's strong domestiques put in huge efforts driving the peloton until they had splintered it down to just a handful of elite riders. Many of the high-placed GC riders, like Tejay Van Garderen and Romain Bardet were struggling under the high cadence on the steep slopes, and lost contact after Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) upped the pace.

Nibali, Pinot, Valverde and Peraud were the only 4 remaining from the peloton as they crossed over the Port de Bales summit at 1755m (5758 ft) up, still trailing the leaders by over nine minutes. Pinot and Valverde were each joined by a teammate (Roy for FDJ, and I think it was John Gadret for Movistar) as they descended the mountain, toward the finish in Luchon. Pinot descended very well, demonstrating that the young French climber has made real progress in fighting his fear of high-speed descending.

Peraud, Nibali, Valverde and Pinot chasing on the Port de Bales
Mick Rogers continued to put pressure on the lead group. They were rejoined by Kiryienka and Gautier inside of 10k to go. Gautier jumped first, but when Rogers made his move, no one could catch the three-time World Time Trial Champion. He built a gap and crossed the line nine seconds ahead of his four pursuers, Voeckler, Kiryienka, Serpa, and Gautier.

Eleven other riders from the big breakaway group finished ahead of the small yellow jersey group, who had been joined by Leopold König and Jeremy Roy. They came in at +8:32.

Nibali defended the maillot jaune very well. The Sicilian Shark has yet to miss a move.
Laurens Ten Dam lost 1:11 to Nibali, but was the next GC rival to finish, after Pinot, Valverde, Peraud, Nibali, and Konig crossed the line together. Ten Dam moved up one spot to 8th place in the general classification, as Bauke Mollema of Belkin faltered, and dropped from 7th to 10th overall.

Vasil Kiryienka working in the break

Romain Bardet lost 1:50 and dropped out of his podium spot, to 5th place overall. Pinot and Peraud moved up to 3rd and 4th places, respectively.

American Tejay Van Garderen dropped down another spot, to 6th, after suffering on the mountain, and ultimately coughing up another 3:36 to Nibali.

Michal Kwiatkowski did himself a big favor by getting into the break. He finished 7th today, just :36 behind the winner, and almost eight minutes ahead of the yellow jersey, Nibali. Kwiatkowski pulled himself back into the top ten, up from 16th to 9th place overall.

Michael Rogers takes a bow...and the stage win
Haimar Zubeldia has been a consistent, if quiet presence near the back of the top ten. He put in another steady, solid ride today, and was Trek Factory Racing's best-placed finisher today, coming in about a minute and a half ahead of teammate Frank Schleck. 37-year old Zubeldia managed to leapfrog Rolland and Van Den Broeck and slip into 11th place on GC. He could easily finish in the top 10 if the challenges ahead prove too daunting for any of the three cyclists who are riding within 90 seconds ahead of him.


Stage 17 on Wednesday takes the riders through more spectacular Pyrenean scenery. The longest stage of the race is followed by the shortest road stage of the race, but takes the peloton over three category-1 mountains--including the 13k Col de Peyresourde--and finishes 1680 meters (5512 ft) up, on top of the 10.2k, 8.3% avg, HC climb of the Pla d'Adet.
Stage 17 profile
Those who suffered today will hope to recover and have the legs tomorrow. If not, it can be a long, lonely ride home.

The serious mountain jersey contenders will have to come out again tomorrow, with 80 potential KOM points available on the course. Rodriguez wasn't there in today's break, and he lost his Polka dot jersey to a sly Rafal Majka by one single point. It would be great to see the two of them duke it out in the Pyrenees tomorrow. From what we have seen so far, I would have to give the edge to Majka. But Purito is never one to underestimate in the high, steep mountains...

Rafal Majka took over the KOM jersey
I don't know if Alessandro De Marchi has another mountain break in his legs. If the polka dot jersey is out of his reach, perhaps the desire for a stage win is not. We may see the Cannondale rider get in the break again.

Christophe Riblon is another rider who must be itching for a go. The Frenchman for AG2R made the break on stages 10 and 14, but hasn't yet finished inside the top 20.

I have been waiting to see a move come from someone who has been totally absent from the conversation so far, but who has been riding consistently, is the highest placed rider on his team, and is not unfamiliar with attacking in the mountains: Yuri Trofimov of Katusha. The Russian has been bobbing around between 15th and 20th place on GC since stage 5. He is currently riding in 15th overall, but with a deficit of over 23 minutes to the yellow jersey, he could be in a position to be allowed to escape and try his luck at stage win; especially since his team leader, Purito Rodriguez has not finished above 9th place yet. The problem with this scenario is that I expect Purito to be out hunting mountain points on Wednesday, so if he brings Trofimov along to help him through the climbs, the Russian may not get the opportunity to fly. Of course he could be used as a spoiler against other KOM hopefuls, if Purito can't be there.

Bartosz Huzarski, Brice Feillu, and Nicolas Edet are three others I would not be surprised to see in tomorrow's break. I have a feeling that Team SKY will let Mikel Nieve loose though, and the Spanish climber could help salvage an otherwise lackluster Tour for Dave Brailsford's British squad.

Pinot keeps improving
My pick for stage 17:
Besides Nibali and Valverde, Thibaut Pinot has been climbing very well, and even seems to be improving every day. Leo Konig has also been looking strong in the mountains, as has Jean Christophe Peraud.  I have always had a soft spot for Peraud, but I'm not sure he can pull off a stage win here...

I will go with Thibaut Pinot to win on the Pla d'Adet.

I like Nieve on Wednesday too, but I am going to throw Yuri Trofimov's name in as my longshot pick.

Enjoy the racing!

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