Tour de France preview: Stage 15

Stage 15: Samatan to Pau, 158.5km, rolling

As the final stretch before the final rest day, the riders will be grateful for a short, rolling stage through the Pyrenean foothills with only a smattering of small climbs. After yesterday’s tack-filled events, it should hopefully be a calm stage for the peloton – as close to a day off for the GC contenders as you get – with the sprinters taking control. They’ll be contending the intermediate sprint point as well as getting their trains on the track for a bunch sprint finish.

No doubt they’ll have to reel in a breakaway group before that, as this is one of those stages where teams that have been quiet for a while will want to make some noise for their sponsors. A determined group of rouleurs and Classics men could just make a break stick if they can hold off the peloton until a technical last few kilometres, which includes five roundabouts between 7km and 2km. I wouldn’t count on it, though.

Cycling the Alps’ interactive videos of the route can be found here.

Link: Official website

Tour de France preview: Stage 14

Stage 14: Limoux to Foix, 191km, high mountains

The peloton hits the Pyrenees or, in this case, the Pyrenees hits the peloton. It’s a steep day in the mountains, with one Cat 2 climb (the Col du Portel) early on in the stage and two Cat 1 climbs nearer the finish. The Port de Lers has an average 7% gradient, but there are 9-10% sections before the summit. The final climb of the day is the Mur de Peguere – never before featured in the Tour – with an average gradient of 7.9%. That said, it’s a climb of two halves, with the first 6km in the region of 6% and the final 3km or so in excess of 12% with ramps of 18% and 16% to contend with. From the summit it’s downhill for nearly 40km into Foix so there is a chance for riders caught out on the climbs to limit the damage, but after two weeks of riding those gradients are going to hurt and every second counts.

The long run off the final summit means it’s a day for the big GC contenders to be watchful rather than fearful. And while it’s most certainly not a sprinters’ finish, Peter Sagan and others will look to get over the Col du Portel in the bunch – or chase back on to it after the summit – as it’s nearly 70km of largely flat road to the day’s sprint point before the serious climbing begins, so watch for Liquigas to be more than interested spectators, at least until the intermediate.

Cycling the Alps’ interactive videos of the route can be found here.

Link: Official website

Tour de France: Stage 13 review

Stage 13: Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux to Le Cap d’Agde, 217km

This long, transitional stage saw a breakaway getting away early: Pablo Urtasun (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis), Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ-BigMat), Michael Morkov (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), Roy Curvers (Argos-Shimano), Maxime Bouet (AG2R La Mondiale), Jimmy Engoulvent (Saur-Sojasun) and Jerome Pineau (Omega Pharma-Quick Step). Unsurprisingly on Bastille Day, five of the eight escapees were Frenchmen.

With 64km to go Morkov went off on his own, riding solo for nearly 35km. However, with crosswinds and the climb of the Mont Saint-Clair coming up, BMC started driving hard on the front of the peloton. Once on the climb, Morkov was caught and Cadel Evans (BMC) put in small digs but Bradley Wiggins (Sky) kept his cool and rode like a metronome, cresting over the top not far behind Evans.

Splits formed in the group by the steep gradient meant most of the big sprinters were left behind, including Mark Cavendish (Sky). An audacious attack in the last 16km by Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) and Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEDGE) was chased down by the hard-riding Lotto-Belisol boys. Under the 1km banner, Wiggins went to the front in an attempt to lead out his trusty lieutenant Edvald Boasson Hagen but EBH couldn’t keep the wheel of Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Andre Greipel (Lotto), with Greipel taking the win by half a wheel.

VeloVoices rider of the day

Easy choice today. The rider of the day and winner of the stage’s combativity award is Michael Morkov. This was Morkov’s fourth breakaway in two weeks and he was a man with a mission. As this was the fifth anniversary of his father’s death, Morkov wanted to win this stage in honour of him. It’s just a shame it didn’t come off, as everyone watching was pulling for him to win.

I was riding with a lot of emotions because today is, in fact, five years since my dad died. He started me in cycling – he gave me the inspiration – and I really wanted to let my family know that I’m now in the best league. I’m in the Tour de France now and I know he would be proud. I was really fighting hard for the win today. People who do sport know that, if you have special feelings – if you really want to perform something special – you can dig deep and get some real power out of your legs. I did that today and I felt really good when I was out there alone.

Observations

Although the Tour organisers have put in over 100km of time trial and, for me, unless I’m watching Cancellara ride those I find them tedious, they certainly used a lot of imagination on the rest of the course. In what could have been a rather uneventful transitional stage, the organisers put in a vicious climb less than 25km from the finish with gradients of the kind you’d find in the spring Classics and then a technical and incredibly fast run-in to the finishing line.

On nearly every stage, the race profile at first glance looks straightforward enough, but looking closer, there’s always something unexpected – be it bone-grinding gradients, the mix and order of climbs or something technical on the stage, always ensuring that somewhere there will be chances for the touch-paper to be lit.

Tactical analysis

Greipel throws for the line (image courtesy of official Tour de France website)

None of the main GC contenders got caught out by the wind splits today, so it was all about the green jersey. Although Matt Goss had been diligent over the past few days to contest the intermediate sprints, Orica-GreenEDGE seemed to misjudge it today and Peter Sagan mopped up the points the breakaway didn’t take. Add to that Goss’ no-show at the finish and it looks more and more like nothing can stop Sagan from riding down the Champs-Elysees in the green jersey in his first Tour. One of many, I predict.

But it was also interesting to see that Mark Cavendish was dropped almost immediately on Mont Saint-Clair and didn’t even have Bernie Eisel to ride with. Sky have always maintained that the yellow jersey is the focus but I can’t help but feel a bit sorry for Cav, being relegated to the back of the bunch when he has spent so much time in his career as the big man in the peloton.

VeloVoices will bring you previews of each day’s stage every morning, live coverage of every stage on Twitter, reviews in the evening and in-depth analysis after selected stages.

Link: Tour de France official website