Stage 14: Rodez - Mende (178 km)
Mende is the most important city in the Lozere departement. It has hosted three Tour de France stages in history, the more famous of which was in 1995, and won by Laurent Jalabert...on Bastille Day. It's almost an underreaction to name the finishing climb, the Côte de La Croix Neuve after him. It came back in 2005, ten years later, and again in 2010. The most famous cyclist from the town is named Christophe Laurent, who rode the Tour twice, in 2004 and 2006, with a best result of 124th. He also was the best climber in California in 2007. As far as history goes...errr, an internet search doesn't yield much. Oh well.
AmyBC's food and drink pairings:
Wine: Seigneurs du Peyreviel Cotes du Millau 2012 A new region for me, covering close to 50 hectares in 17 communes in the department of the Aveyron. Paul Starng's South-West France tells me that the main red grape varieties are gamay and syrah, each of which may be 30%. The reigon were first accorded AOC status in 2012. The least expensive wine of the Tour. Deeply red and kind of rough, but not heavy. Wood, leather and cherries, but smoother than that description makes it sound. A blend of 50%Syrah, 30%Gamay, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% fer Servadou.
Food: Roquefort papillon A sheep's milk blue that most are probably familiar with. From the producer: They say that a young shepherd, in love, was distracted by a shepherdess. Forgetting his rye bread and sheep's cheese in the cave of Combalou where he was resting, he left to pursue the girl. A little while later, he returned to this place and discovered his meal covered in a blue-green mould. Famished, he tasted the cheese and was delighted. Roquefort, alchemy between the natural ventilation of a cave, rye bread and the cheese of the Lacaune ewes had been born. In 1070 there is mention for the first time of Roquefort in the Carolingian texts. From then on the history of Roquefort remains closely related to Roquefort-sur-Soulzon and the Combalou mountains, thanks to King Charles VI. He decided in the 15th century, and for the first time in France, to grant exclusive production rights to the inhabitants of Roquefort, making the caves protected places. In the Century of the Enlightenment, Diderot consecrated Roquefort by awarding it the title of King of cheeses. In 1925, Roquefort became the first recognised Appellation d'Origine cheese. To date, it benefits from European recognition as Appellation d'Origine Protégée, which guarantees the provenance of a product.
Another transition stage, of at least a sort, but made ten times more interesting by this nasty piece of work:
The Côte de la Croix Neuve is the third, last and hardest of the three short hilltop finishes we've had in this Tour de France, and despite a lot of people saying that a breakaway win is likely, I disagree. There are a lot of teams, and a lot of riders who must have their eye on this. Even less of a breather than yesterday's stage. Also, this is only the second stage to start in the same town in which the previous day's finished. There are four categorised climbs, two fourth category, and the first second category of the Tour, the Côte du Sauveterre.
And the map:
As with stages 3 and 8, this will come down to an uphill sprint...or will it? A cursory glance at the profile makes it look like that, but the profile of the climb is different, showing over a kilometre of basically flat roads before the finish line. Not that I'm suggesting that someone like Sagan will get there, but it needn't come down to a searing attack on the hill. The winner will need a good sprint on the flat, more than likely. As in 2010, small groups are likely to form all over the road, with a winner from a group of two to five riders. This climb is far harder than the Murs de Huy and Bretagne. The last kilometre is the steepest, and it's not a good idea to leave all your energy behind you on the climb.
I can't imagine there'll be much of a change. Someone will gain ten or fifteen seconds on somebody else, more, with the aid of bonus seconds, but the Tour will not be won here.
Sagan made good use of the tough finish on stage 13, and nearly took full advantage, but his 25 points mean he leads the Gorilla by 24. It's not insurmountable with two likely sprint finishes to come, but Greipel needs to eat into the lead today. The intermediate sprint will hand him an advantage, but should only regain three or four points.
King of the Mountains
12 points available today, slim pickings, considering that five of them will most likely be out of reach for a breakaway. However, Rodríguez and Dan Martin have some points, with a possible motive to go for the jersey, so one of them could manage a small addition to their current score.
Barguil is too far back to mount a challenge to Quintana...well...anywhere.
Who are the stage favourites for any hilltop finish? The flat at the top of the climb is reminiscent of Amstel, but the climb itself is much harder, and if Kwiatkowski wins it I will eat several bidons. Daniel Martin, Alejandro Valverde and Joaquím Rodríguez are all likely suspects to be around in the final kilometres, but I don't fancy Martin or Rodríguez' chances of outclimbing or outsprinting Valverde, and only another acceleration from Froome can stop him, if you ask me.
My Pick: Alejandro Valverde
Wildcard: Adam Yates