It’s an apropos finishing town name today for the riders, as what are they now besides vultures feasting on the dead and bloated carcass of the Tour. With the fight for overall victory at the Tour all but over except for three riders, it’s up to the many lesser teams and riders to pick over the scraps and aim for a stage victory.
In theory, this stage could have been a good aperitif for the coming Pyreenean main course, but as it stands, the category 1 Pic de Nore climb is not quite hard enough and the stage doesn’t end on the descent from the climb but has over 10 kilometers of flat road before the finish, all but guaranteeing this will not be a day for the GC contenders as Sky should be able to easily control the race with only Rowe or Castroviejo on the front.
However, anyone watching a Tour just for the GC battle would get bored pretty quickly and this stage promises a fight for the breakaway and a wide open slate of potential winners as well as some nice scenery.
Carcassonne was last used as a finishing town in 2006, when Yaroslav Popovych won from a break.
The break should form early as there’s a category 3 climb about 5 kilometers from the start. Looking at the stage profile, I’m guessing we’ll see a pretty large break get away to contest the stage victory.
The main difficulty in the stage is the category 1 Pic de Nore climb. This is the first time the climb has been used in the Tour. The hardest part of the climb looks to be the beginning before the gradients ease up towards the transmission towers at the top.
The more interesting part of the Pic de Nore should be the descent. While the descent is less steep that the climb, it is on a narrow road that should allow for some daredevil descending.
At the bottom of the descent, the riders will have about 20 kilometers to the finish, with the first 10 kilometers being a gradual descent and the last 10 kilometers being a flat run in to a finish underneath the walled fortress of Carcassonne.
THE STAGE CONTENDERS
This is a wide open stage. With the category 1 climb points on offer, you have to assume that the polka dot contenders like Alaphilippe, Barguil, and Pauwels will try to get into the break. The descent would suit a kamikaze descender like Alaphilippe, but he will need to get away on his own, as the flat finish does not suit him.
This stage is also not out of the league of recent dear john letter recipient Peter Sagan. And if Sagan is in the conversation, so should be Greg Van Avermaet, Sonny Colbrelli, and maybe even Magnus Cort.
Then you have the myriad riders trying to get in the break every day— Pierre Rolland, Thomas De Gendt, Damiano Caruso, the Izagirre brothers, DF Martinez, Lillian Calmejane, Tom Jelte-Slagter, Jesus Herrada... the list of potential winners is endless.
Let’s go with Ion Izagirre to avenge Nibs with a stage victory.
Let’s send it over to Amy for some wine:
The wine: Julie Benau Libero 2015
From CopakeWineWorks and Christy says: The barrel is aged underwater, in a shallow oyster bed. I’m sure there was some alcohol involved in this decision, but it works and they have now done it for years! Somehow, it has a more honied, richer, character.
Mmmmmm. I wonder if Valverde was aged in the same manner.
THE GC CONTENDERS
The GC contenders should be relaxed before the Pyrenees, however, this stage may end up anything but relaxing. First, the weather forecast is calling for wind from 10 to 20 mph out of the north-northwest, meaning that there will be crosswinds for most of the stage, which heads in a mostly southeast direction. Second, that descent provides an opportunity to try to put the yellow jersey under pressure. Third, there is a rest day on Monday, allowing the riders an opportunity to ride this stage more aggressively than they would otherwise.
Quite honestly, I’m scared for Thomas on this stage, as he has made sworn enemies out of the wind and descents. It’s a shame that Nibali lost out to a camera strap, as he would relish putting some pressure on over the top of the climb and on the descent. However, lurking in 4th and 5th on GC are a certain washed up ski jumper and French golden boy who have both the climbing and descending chops to put Thomas on edge. Let’s hope Thomas can survive so we can be treated to some Sky-on-Sky skullduggery in the coming stages.