With five summit finishes, a smattering of hilly stages, a 54km individual time trial and a detour over the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix, the 2014 Tour de France features plenty of challenging stages, any of which could trip up an unwary general classification contender. Kathi and Tim preview the five stages which we think are most likely to determine the outcome of this year’s race.
Stage 5: Ypres to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut, 155.5km
Kathi: There are two things that successful classics specialists have: tactics on the cobbles honed from experience, and some meat on their bones that keeps their bikes from skittering around. These are two things that most GC guys don’t have.
This stage takes in nine pavé sections of Paris-Roubaix, including the five-star Carrefour de l’Arbre, and although they only add up to 15km of the 155.5km stage, they could be some of the most decisive of this Tour. Every GC guy will be wanting to hitch their wagon to a classics star in order to get over these sections unscathed but one untimely puncture, one awkward spill, one bad decision by a nervous rider and you could be playing catch-up for days to come.
Stage winner? I’m putting my money on Fabian Cancellara – and he might even take the yellow jersey with it.
Stage 14: Grenoble to Risoul, 177km
Kathi: The strength of the GC contenders’ teams could play a big part in this stage. The climbs might be steady but with the Col d’Izoard in the middle with a steep and technical descent, whoever is in the maillot jaune will have to keep their wits about them.
The short (6.1km), consistent 7% climb up to the finish line on the Risoul will almost certainly be fast and furious so expect Movistar and Sky to try to ride at a burning tempo well before they get anywhere near the base of the climb. Coming off the back of another summit finish and with only a flat stage standing between the riders and the final rest day, there will be fireworks either way.
Stage 17: Saint-Gaudens / Saint-Lary Pla d’Adet, 124.5km
Kathi: This is a high mountain stage that is also short (under 125km) which, as we’ve seen in the past, means attack, attack, attack from the word go. This year’s queen stage only gives the peloton 50km before they start to climb, descend, climb, descend over three cat 1 climbs before finishing on the HC summit of Pla d’Adet.
The double-digit gradients makes this a brutal climb to end the day (it averages 8.3% over its 10.2km). But if a lucky GC contender drops his opponents, its very brutality could be his saving grace.
Stage 18: Pau to Hautacam, 145.5km
Tim: The final mountain stage is another short one, so again we should expect aggressive racing from the moment the flag is dropped. After a couple of gentle ascents to start, the major action comes in the second half of the stage as the peloton tackles two HC monsters: the mighty Col du Tourmalet (17.1km at 7.3%) and then the summit finish on Hautacam, 13.6km of long, hard grind that averages 7.8% and rarely dips below 6%.
It’s the last chance for the pure climbers to put time into the all-rounders ahead of the long stage 20 time trial. There will be a lot of tired legs, but with the prospect of a relatively easy flat day to follow, expect the top riders to leave every last drop of sweat on the tarmac on Hautacam.
Stage 20: Bergerac to Périgueux, 54km individual time trial
Tim: With its undulating profile, this is a long way from being a long, flat, straightforward time trial but equally it’s not a mountain test. Some riders will lose five minutes or more, with even the fastest likely to clock in the region of 65 minutes.
Pacing will be important here. There are four long uphill drags plus a gently rising ramp over the last 2km, meaning those who set off too fast will suffer heavily over the final third of the course. One day out from Paris, we could see some dramatic moves at the top end of the GC.