Stage 16: Carcasson — Bagnères de Luchon, 218 km
Feeling rested? My image of how riders are feeling right now is something like the 1974 energy crisis (which I remember!), where cars were running on empty and waiting in interminable lines for some hope of resupplying themselves. We all got thru that, I suppose, and the riders will muster up enough strength to take the line tomorrow and start the final phase of the Tour. And since the Tour tends not to emphasize drama over all, even to the point of cruelty (unlike some races coughGirod’italiacough), the riders will find themselves easing into the final mountains phase of the Tour on Tuesday, taking a casual stroll through Spain, and even showing what they can do on the bike.
Let’s dive in.
That brief dip into Spain in the flat/recovery portion between the two Cat-1 climbs represents the only time in which this Tour has ventured out of France this year. I wouldn’t mind heading to Spain for a bit of recovery, but since the peloton doesn’t swing by Barcelona for a week, I am guessing it won’t mean the same to them.
Basically, it’s a long stage, 218km, which has just enough climbing at every phase of the race to feel like a long day in the saddle. Not the most daunting climbs, but sometimes quantity is a good substitute for quality.
Will’s mountains preview included not only some tips for obtaining cheese and meats for the next climb, but a rating (of course) of the main events, the Cols des Portet d’Aspet, Menté and Portillon. “Port” means something like door in French, which raises questions about what two of today’s climbs and one of tomorrows have to do with doors. If you know the answer, by all means.
But the key is that the climbs themselves will present something of a challenge to the riders. Maybe not the challenge to end all challenges, with the two cat-1 climbs rated #18 and 19 for the Tour in terms of difficulty. The stats say we have two 7%ers and an 8%er, nothing to sneeze at, but if that doesn’t match up to what’s come before or to come next, then so be it.
Personally I see this as a descender’s stage. The obvious reason is that it ends on one, but descending in the Pyrenées is supposed to be tricky, and in case you weren’t sure, there is the grim reminder of the monument to Fabio Casartelli on the Portet d’Aspet, who died on that descent. The road hits -17% at one point. Thankfully it happens early enough in the stage for everyone to be extra careful, and of course they will all be well aware of the tragic history here.
The Stage Contenders
This is a surprisingly easy task — I usually think guessing at stage winners in the mountains is a crapshoot. But now we have two defined categories, plus a third “any given Sunday” one. The first are the GC guys, more on them in a moment, and the second is the Polka Dot Jersey guys, which for all intents and purposes boils down to KOM leader Julian Alaphilippe, Warren Barguil, and Serge Pauwels crashing the Partie. [I don’t think that means party but whatever.] They will have loads of company, including probably Jasper Stuyvens because he only seems to know one way. After that, you guys may have a better idea than me about who’s going to be off the leash.
The GC Contenders
Also pretty well defined, all of Team Sky and whoever they put on the front of Froome or Thomas, plus Bardet, Dumoulin, Roglic, Kruijswijk, Martin and your Movi-du-jour. Landa was a bit frisky the other day and will have his close-to-home mojo working, which is about as concrete a case as you can make for Movistar successfully executing a plan. Lord knows they’ve tried.
Nibali would have been a person of great interest if he were here, given the downhill nature of the event, although a long day such as this might be tough to execute a long break, particularly since Sky are so strong and would methodically pull back whoever is on the loose over such modestly-selective climbs. So yeah, it’ll probably be a GC bunch sprint where Sky launch someone and Dan Martin gets an untimely mechanical. What are the betting lines on Martin and untimely mechanicals now? Like 3-to-2? Can you even make money off this anymore?
I’ll take Froome for the win, with Dumoulin hot on his tail. I’ll enjoy the meats and cheeses along the way. And I’ll look forward to the pasta course tomorrow.