Stage 15: Bourg-en-Bresse - Culoz, 160 km
We head into one of the more unpredictable mountain stages of the Tour.
What's it About?
Trying to find some mountains Chris Froome won't like, I expect. That's what the reasoning probably was at ASO central when they designed this stage. It also helps to facilitate the Tour's desire not to force any French hotels on riders during the rest day, as it brings the Tour to within a stage of our stop for Tuesday's rest day in Bern.
AmyBC's Food and Wine Pairings
Each stage we bring you suggestions regarding the local fare from AmyBC. Check out her blog Winebookgirl for more.
Wine: Lingot Martin Bugey Cerdon
Franklywines says: Pink, sparkling, the driest one on the market, but still with a touch of sweetness I say: Pink and sparkly? How could I resist?
Food: Fromager d'Affinois Creamy, soft cheese. From SFGate: This Brie-like cow's milk cheese is made by a company that, 20 years ago, pioneered the use of ultrafiltration in cheesemaking.
Welcome to the Jura mountains. This is a crazy fun stage. Just look at that profile, mostly on quiet, lovely roads. The stage also features the best named col of the Tour: Col de Pisseloup (Wolf-Pee Pass). For years Grand Colombier was the feature climb in the Tour de l'Ain until it finally debuted in the Tour in 2012 (Voeckler won the stage). Like Ventoux, there is also a club here - La Confrérie des Fêlés du Grand Colombier (Brotherhood of the Loons of Grand Colombier) - if you can climb at least 2 of the 4 sides in a single day. The Tour will actually climb the easiest of the four ways up (the toughest cuts this side short and has a ramp at 22%). But don't let the average grade of 7% fool you, as it's plenty difficult.
This stage is filled with steepness throughout. Including the 15% stretch on the very first climb, Col du Berthiand. But it is the final climb that will be worrying the peloton (with 14% stretches) on what the Tour is calling the Lacets du Grand Colombier. This is the steep, quite awesome, first half of the side climbed in 2012.
This is a stage where downhill skills could really matter. Twice the riders will descend the lower half of the 4th side of Grand Colombier to Anglefort (they will pass the finish twice, using the Lacets to make a loop). This descent is narrow, very steep, and through the woods with many blind turns. Local knowledge, bravery, and superior skill required. The final few kilometres are false-flat downhill.
Here's the map:
Lots of twists and turns, but that doesn't really matter because for the first time since Andorra, the wind doesn't matter. Or really exist. As Will has said, there's a lot of tricky, narrow roads, which might just make it difficult for Sky to dominate the race, and make it a little less predictable. Or maybe it'll just make them glad they picked the two top Basque climbers.
Lots of climbs, with no flat whatsoever before the bottom of the grand Colombier. There's nine kilometres of flat there, and nine after the passage of the other side of it. The finish line is right in the shadow of the Grand Colombier. Spoilsports. Anyway, those kilometres of flat are probably not enough to discourage attacks. If only they were the only factor doing so.
Riders to Watch
Well, this is a stage of this Tour de France, so apparently we have to watch Chris Froome. He's attacked just about everywhere else! However, with his hold on the yellow jersey now looking secure, we can probably expect him to adopt a far more defensive strategy than he has done so far.
Alejandro Valverde likes a mountain stage with a flat finish, and will be given a new lease of life by another chance at a Tour de France podium. If he got one, after his Giro third place he'd be the first to finish on the podium in both races in the same year since Pantani's Giro-Tour double. But apart from that, he could expect to win a sprint of favourites, if it came down to it.
His biggest rival there would probably be Daniel Martin, who has been saying that a stage win is his primary aim all Tour, and after a bad couple of days on stages twelve and thirteen, he may be given a license to attack for the victory. I would call this his best chance to achieve his goal. It would also help save his ears, although he really should maintain a top ten GC position.
Bauke Mollema also cannot be discounted in a sprint, and looks like the form rider, but being closest to Froome in GC, he won't be allowed to attack, and Martin or Valverde should see him off in most cases.
Adam Yates and Romain Bardet are attacking riders who will want to move up in GC, so keep an eye out for attacks from them.
However, as with many downhill finishes, you can possibly expect a break to make it. Look out for Rafał Majka in the break, who has been giften a nearly free run at the KOM jersey by Pinot's abandon. Expect Thomas De Gendt to challenge him, but I don't expect him to be able to quite manage Majka's climbing.
Pick to Win
Majka. He'll go clear on one of the climbs and never look back. Dan Martin if the break is caught, but I don't expect it to be.
A Moo Production: