Article by Todd Hofert
Following a hectic first week of the Tour, there are few who can say things have gone to plan. The same holds true for the pre-race favorites. What was dubbed the fantastic four, Contador, Froome, Nibali, and Quintana, is now down to three plus one as Tejay Van Garderen has added his name to the marquee with a solid week of racing and Vincenzo Nibali has all but excused himself.
BMC would see themselves pip Team Sky by one second for the Stage 9 Team Time Trial win with Quintana’s Movistar notching an impressive third just four seconds back of Sky. Contador and Tinkoff-Saxo would give away twenty-eight seconds to the winning time and all but eliminate any chance Peter Sagan would have to claim a yellow jersey. Nibali and Astana would round out the top five, 35 seconds back, leaving Nibs on the outside looking in at 2:22 on GC.
A well-deserved rest day awaited the riders following the TTT and the transfer to Pau. Looking ahead, the rest will be short as the Pyrenees are laying in wait. If week one was an endeavor of limiting losses, week two will serve up opportunities to consolidate or to make a move.
The big news coming out of the rest day is the unfortunate announcement by Ivan Basso that he has been diagnosed with testicular cancer and will leave the Tour immediately. He had been suffering pain and an examination by team doctors led him to the hospital for more extensive testing that resulted in the diagnosis early Monday morning. There has been an outpouring of support and we wish him well in his upcoming treatment and recovery.
Stage 10 on Tuesday will take the riders from Tarbes to La Pierre-Saint-Martin, a short-ish 167km route across three relatively benign category 4 climbs and on to a summit finish on the hors catergorie La Pierre-Saint-Martin (1,610 m 15.3 kilometre-long climb at 7.4%). The cat 4 climbs are not likely to soften up the group enough to result in significant time gaps amongst the leaders, but given the time that both Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana have given up in week one, they will have no choice but to attack and make the most of their opportunities if they want to retain the label of contender. Whether or not the La Pierre offers those opportunities we’ll have to wait and see.
The Stage 11 trek will take the race from Pau / Cauterets – Vallée de Saint-Savin, 188km. The climbing gets a little more serious crossing a total of six categorized climbs including the cat 1 Col d’Aspin (1,490 m 12 kilometre-long climb at 6.5%) and the venerable hors categorie Col du Tourmalet (2,115 m17.1 kilometre-long climb at 7.3%) before finishing atop the category 3 Côte de Cauterets (6.4 kilometre-long climb at 5%). While the profile may look daunting, the terrain between climbs should offer ample opportunity for the main race to regroup in advance of the finish. Rest assured there will be a break trying to steal away the mountain points and a chance to don the coveted Polka-Dot Jersey.
On Thursday The Tour offers up a classic day in the Pyrenees on the roads from Lannemezan to Plateau de Beille. Now day three in the mountains we should start to see a refinement of the top twenty of this years Tour. The finish on the feared hors categorie Plateau de Beille (15.8 kilometre-long climb at 7.9%) is one for the pure climbers. It will offer a premium opportunity for the likes of Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana to take some time back. Conversely Chris Froome may well see an opportunity to seize total control of the race. And where will Tejay Van Garderen shake out in the end. This will be a pivotal day in his quest for a Tour podium. A jour sans or day without, on Stage 12 could ruin that plan.
Stage 13 on Friday should bring with it some respite as the race rolls out of the high mountains of the Pyrenees. The transitionary stage over 198.5km from Muret to Rodez will offer a stage win opportunity for the sprinters who have the legs left to get themselves over the three categorized climbs mid stage. With the Alps on the horizon this is one of the few remaining chances left for glory for the fast men before the Champs-Élysées.
The stage on Saturday looks eerily familiar to the early stages ending on the Mur de Huy and the Mur de Bretagne. The 178.5km route from Rodez to Mende finishes on the Côte de la Croix Neuve. The climb of 3 kilometres at over 10% serves up the perfect launch pad for riders like Rodriguez, Valverde, Van Avermaet, and even Nibali if his form has returned by this point in the race. The GC contenders, as evidenced in week one, will certainly be present and accounted for as well. A stage win is up for grabs but there should be little impact on the GC.
Rounding out week two, Sunday’s stage from Mende to Valence should be anything but a casual roll through the scenic Rhone Valley. This stage sets up well for a bunch sprint before arriving in Paris a week later. A few climbs are smattered about on a stage that starts 731m above sea level, reaches a high point of 1,223m with 113km to go then descends for the majority of the day. If a break can stay away across the top of the category 2 climb of Col de l’Escrinet (787 m 7.9 kilometre-long climb at 5.8%) the backside descent and largely flat 56km run in to the finish could potentially spoil the day for the sprinters. I would expect to see a rider like Thomas Voeckler showing his contorted face and tongue in a break.
A rest day, the Alps, and of course Paris will be in sight for the riders that remain following what is sure to be a tough and exciting second week of racing.
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