Tour de France 2018 Stage 17 Preview: Bagnères-de-Luchon › Saint-Lary-Soulan

Today’s Recap

Bit of a mad start to the day with a farmer’s protest that saw some riders get sprayed by pepper spray inadvertently by the gendarmerie after they attempted to restrain the farmers. The race was consequently neutralised for around 15 minutes before the action started again. However, it wasn’t until 100km into the day that the break finally went. Well I say break but it was more a splintered peloton as 47 riders were involved.

Things whittled down over the climbs and by the time we crested the last ascent of the day Yates held a gap of around 20 seconds over Alaphilippe, with another group another 15-20 seconds behind. Unfortunately for the Brit, he fell on one of the bends and that saw the Quick Step catch up and swiftly go past him. That was the result decided there as no one was going to catch the flying Frenchman. Alaphilippe took the stage comfortably and with enough time to celebrate.

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Behind, Gorka Izagirre (one of the blog picks) sprinted to second, with Yates picking himself up to come third.

Disappointingly there was no real GC action in the peloton aside from a few soft attacks by Zakarin, Fuglsang and Landa. I guess they were all saving themselves for tomorrow. Speaking of which, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

A day that the organisers have been waiting for: it is the shortest stage in the Tour since we had split days.

 

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The riders will be climbing the Montée de Peyragudes from the gun, an almost 15km climb that averages 6.7%. The whole peloton will be on the rollers before the start of the day.

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The climb is fairly consistent aside from a few easier kilometres that come littered throughout the ascent. Once over the top a 9km descent follows along with a couple of kilometres of flat roads before they start climbing again.

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The middle climb of the day is half the length of the other two ascents but as you can see by the gradient, it is a pretty steep affair with three kilometres above 9% in average gradient.

With the crest coming with only 28km to go, will we see some attacks here? That steep ramp near the summit looks perfect for them.

A fast descent then leads into the final climb of the day, the Col de Portet, which is a climb that the Tour will be facing for the first time.

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With an average gradient of 8.7% for 16kms it is going to be a killer after the previous two climbs, without even considering that all of this has happened over just 65km. There are a few kilometres above 10%, notably, the run to the finish has some of the steepest ramps.

The Dumbest Idea Ever

Right, this grid start is the most pointless thing I have seen in the history of pointless things.

If you’re not aware ASO have decided that instead of having a rolling neutralised section tomorrow before the start of the race, the riders will start in a grid style system.

The first 10 on GC start in some kind of arrow/pyramid formation with Thomas at the head of the field, flanked by Dumoulin and Froome etc etc. The next 10 in GC then start in a line behind them, ordered by their current positions. With the rest of the peloton split into groups of 20 dependent on the GC position but they can just choose to start wherever in their alloted group.

Doesn’t sound too bad so far,  “What are the gaps between the riders?” I hear you say. Well that is where this trivial idea gets dumb.

The whole peloton will only be spread out over a 70m area, soooooo basically they are just starting as a big bunch but instead of those keen beans who want to get into a breakaway buzzing around the director’s car, we’ll just have the GC favourites awkwardly there. Realistically it isn’t going to take much time at all for Team Sky to get a couple of riders (Bernal and Kwiatkowski will be the two in the closest groups) up to the front to control things.

It would be much better if there were larger gaps between the groups, let’s say even 250m or something like that. Then it could tempt some to go on the attack and the tactics would be more interesting. Heck, even if they waived the time cut for the day and had 500m gaps between the groups. It would actually make some GC riders consider going on the attack from the gun if they knew that some of their opponents domestiques were a kilometre back.

I would like that, that would be fun. Tomorrow, not so much.

I’m just getting the impression they are trying to sell a polished turd. It’s actually not a bad idea, I’ll give them that much, but the execution of it is terrible. If you’re going to make something trivial in the biggest cycling race of the year when people all around the world who aren’t interested in the sport tune in, at least try to do it so it isn’t a farce and make a mockery of the sport.

Anyway, that’s enough of that.

How will the stage pan out?

I would love to eat some humble pie and see GC riders attack from the gun but I just can’t see it, the only one I think might try something straight away is Valverde. However, this doesn’t mean I don’t think we will see GC fireworks later on.

Cycling: 105th Tour de France 2018 / Stage 11

There is a chance the likes of Valverde and Kruijswijk try to sneak into the break to put pressure onto Sky and give their other GC riders an excuse to just sit in and follow attacks. No doubt we’ll see a big fight to get into the break but only the best climbers will be able to do so; think along the lines of Nieve, Majka etc. We then might see Sky take the their foot off the gas if the break isn’t a threat which will then actually put the pressure on other teams to chase if they want to go for a stage win.

The steeper gradients of the middle climb of the day might tease some attacks out of the peloton, looking at you Dan Martin, as rider’s try to take some time back and cause confusion.

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Source: Windfinder

With the possibility of more rain tomorrow afternoon then the descents could become as important as the climbs – especially if everyone is on the limit.

I keep thinking that if a rider is serious about wanting to win the Tour then they have to attack tomorrow as they are running out of time. However, there is a possibility that Dumoulin and possibly Roglic are ok with their current positions and want to see how things stand after the TT, maybe they back their ability to overcome the time gaps?

Bardet, Martin and the Movistar riders have to attack though and they will be the ones to light the blue touch-paper. An added incentive for the Movistar squad to do something is the fact they have a good chance to put a lot of distance between them and Bahrain in the team classification with a good performance.

So to sum up…

It should be a GC day but it could be spoiled by only a select few breakaway riders, namely Majka and Nieve. The cream should rise to the top and only those with the best legs in theory can compete for the win. However, there is a chance that someone slightly further down the order who is feeling good could take advantage of the Sky duo marking out Bardet, Dumoulin and Roglic.

Either way, I expect some GC casualties at the end of the stage because 3200m odd of climbing in only 65km is stupidly tough. I feel sorry for those in the grupetto.

Prediction

More heart than head this one, but I can just imagine Quintana flying up that final climb: it suits his characteristics perfectly.

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Let’s hope we have that Tour de Suisse Quintana back and performing. Vamos Nairo!

I also want to give an honorable mention to Zakarin who actually put in an attack today and looked quite comfortable on the final climb. If everything is together going onto the final climb (i.e. he has stuck with them on the descents) then he has an outside chance. Remember how strong he was in the last week at the Vuelta?

Betting

1pt WIN Quintana @ 14/1

1pt EW Zakarin @ 50/1

Hiding to nothing probably but oh well!

Thanks as always for reading. How do you think tomorrow’s stage will go? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Tour de France 2018 Stage 16 Preview: Carcassonne › Bagnères-de-Luchon

Rest Day Recap

Stage 15 was a bit of an eventful day for the three blog breakaway candidates. Mühlberger got involved in one of the more promising early moves but given that he was in just a trio they were never going to be allowed away. Unfortunately that meant he didn’t have the energy to make the decisive break which happened to involve Valgren.

Majka attacked on the main climb of the day but was brought back on the run to the line by a chasing group of seven. Team tactics were played out and the three squads who had numbers in the group kept attacking and eventually they got away, unfortunately the Astana man who made the split wasn’t Valgren. Instead it was his team-mate Cort who would ultimately go on to win the sprint for the stage win!

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Some unusual tactics from Izagirre and Mollema (who finished 2nd and 3rd respectively) as they pretty much just towed the Astana man, a known sprinter, to the line. Izagirre tried once to attack but that was it. Maybe they were just happy with the podium? A bit of a frustrating day though with Valgren looking so strong, another “what if?” scenario.

Then of course the third break pick Gesbert was involved in some drama during the stage when Moscon swung at him. A new and odd #HaugheyCurse that one. The Sky rider has subsequently been sent home by the organisers. Not ideal for the squad as they enter a tough few stages where having him to control the early part of the day would be vital.

Speaking of which, let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

Mainly flat then some tougher climbs later on in the day.

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With 140km of mainly flat, slightly rolling terrain before we get to any serious climbing it will be interesting to see what the composition of the breakaway will be like. Given the tougher climbs to come then ideally a team would like a natural climber to get into the move but it isn’t exactly easy given the terrain!

The peloton will hit the first “proper” climb of the Col de Portet-d’Aspet at almost 150km into the stage. With an average of 7.1% it is fairly steep and typical of the region but at only 5.4km long it shouldn’t see any exciting attacks. The riders will then dive down the other side before climbing straight away once they hit the valley floor. The Col de Menté is a steep climb averaging 8.1% for a shade under 7km and this could be the scene of some long-range hail mary attacks from guys further down the bunch. With 47km to go from the summit and a lot of dragging valley roads to contend with, I’ll be watching along like…

Bold strategy cotton

After those said valley roads the peloton will tackle the final climb of the day with roughly 18km of the route remaining.

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The Col du Portillon isn’t the toughest climb ever and the gradients are fairly consistent which should suit those looking for a steady pace. However, it is steep enough still that some damage can be done with a few stinging attacks. Arguably more important than the climb itself though, is the descent off of it.

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With 10kms to lost ~650m of altitude it is going to be a fast run in. There are several tight hairpin turns on which the better descenders can put pressure on their rivals. This is all going to be exacerbated though given the weather forecast…

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It’s meant to rain from mid-afternoon onwards with a few thunderstorms in the area causing heavy showers at points – not exactly sure how this 17.8mm of rain is going to fall in an hour, that is crazy!

How will the race pan out?

Pfffft, it could be a day for the break but it could also be a GC day. It all just depends on who wants to control the afternoon. If it is just Sky that set tempo then they will no doubt be happy to let the break gobble up the bonus seconds ahead and then let the GC battle happen behind. However, with the 140km of relatively flat roads then it is easier for teams to control the break, especially if it is not that big. Do Ag2R, Jumbo and Sunweb come to an agreement and keep tabs on the move? We might even see a rogue UAE rider help out in the hope of a Dan Martin stage win.

If none of those teams decide they want to work then it should be a day for a break. The issue with choosing some riders to make the move is the amount of flat roads before the climbs will make it difficult for a mountain goat to be at the head of the race. Their best hope is that the break goes on the first Cat-4 climb but even then it will be difficult to snap the elastic.

We could see a really weird composition of 14 riders or so with one or two lucky climbers who make it. Of course, none of the other guys in the move will want to tow them to the climbs, especially the last one, so an attack in the valley roads is likely.

I’m not overly convinced with either outcome for the day but I do lean towards the GC riders fighting out for the stage. However, it would be foolish not to consider a couple of potential break threats, both of whom I have backed before.

Gregor Mühlberger.

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I still think he has a big win coming at some point in the near future. Unfortunate not to make the second decisive move after being in the initial attack trio that had escaped. Majka will probably be Bora’s go to man tomorrow but I think he might find it difficult to join the break on the flat. If so, the Austrian is a much better all-rounder and better equipped to do so. If we do get one of those weird week 3 breaks where no real climber makes it, then he is certainly one to watch. A demon descender, the rain will be of no issue to him.

Gorka Izagirre.

Despite me saying never trust a man with two hooped earrings, here I am again. If only the Bahrain rider had stuck with Stuyven rather than complaining about Slagter’s work rate then he might have had a stage win. A strong climber who can descend well, he’s not too bad on the flat either. Bahrain will be keen to get several riders into the move as they aren’t too far off Movistar’s lead in the team classification. That could be an interesting battle over the coming days.

Prediction

I think that Jumbo, Ag2R and Sunweb will combine forces to keep tabs on the break and try to attack Sky on the wet descents later on in the race. We’ve already seen one rider escape from a Sky based peloton on the descent and I think we’ll se the same tomorrow. Tom Dumoulin to win!

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Betting

Want to cover the two break shots but also Dumoulin EW too as I think his price is too big so foregoing the 2pt rule. Was never really going to last, was it?

1pt WIN Gorka @ 66/1 with various, although he’s 75s on the exchange

0.5pt WIN Muhlberger @ 125/1 with various

1pt EW Dumoulin @ 28/1 with Betfred/Boyles (Would take down to 22s lowest)

Thanks as always for reading! How do you think tomorrow’s stage is going to go? Will we see a break stick or will the GC riders contend for the win? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.