This is a preview of a cycling race. I have written more than a few of them, but as far as I can remember none of them until now have involved an anecdote about famed musical competition reality show the X Factor and its host, honorary Wexford man Dermot O’Leary. Now, I haven’t watched any of the show for quite a few years but they invariably started with an enthusiastic entrance from O’Leary, followed by his catchphrase of “Your Saturday Night Starts Right Here!”
I am aware it is difficult to convey nuance in a shouted sentence directed at a couple of million people but I must say that this sentence was, perhaps mercifully, untrue in my case. Even that one year I watched most of the X Factor, generally I had noticed the beginning of Saturday night before the show’s eight o’clock time slot. My Saturday night did not start right there.
You might say the same about this stage of the Tour de France and my nuance-lacking headline. The GC battle does not start here. Unfortunately, this looks set to be the stage of the Tour where we start hearing the words “killing” and “cycling” used consecutively and frequently.
Amy BC’s Wine of the Day
What’s that? You need a drink to take the edge off after hearing that? Amy?
Stage 12: Domaine Ameztia Irouleguy
The Costera family has been producing wine since the 17th century, most of which was sold off. In 2001 Jean-Louis Costera built a new facility with the intention of crafting world-class Irouleguy and they haven’t looked back. The wine has golden apple, ripe pear, hints of honeysuckle and a stony minerality.
Who wins? What happens?
A breakaway is going to win this stage, I’m almost certain of it. All the boxes are ticked — there is a time-trial the following day, the stage ends with a long, gentle enough descent and contains no horror climbs where the pack is likely to be annihilated. Here is the profile:
There is a very, very long build-up to the final two ascents and to be honest, the gap from between the end of the Peyresourde and the start of L’Hourquette means that it can pretty much count as nothing more than the leg-softener that it almost always is. If anything is to happen on this stage, it will happen on the final past but excuse me if I’m not optimistic. This stage is too similar to a few stages of recent years in terms of timing and profile for me to have very much enthusiasm about it. Allow me to refresh your memory:
- 2018, stage ten to Le Grand Bornand. That one had Glières and two harder finishing climbs so it was actually much more difficult than this one. Breakaway win. GC group size: sixteen.
- 2017, stage eight to Station des Rousses: Easier than this one, but still had a category one climb towards the finish so it counts. Breakaway win. GC group size: thirty-eight.
- 2016, stage seven to Lac de Payolle. Also easier than this one with only one classic climb towards the finish but a close comparison based on nothing but the obvious geography. Breakaway win. GC group size: fifteen, not including an extra thirteen who were credited with the same time after the 1 kilometre-to-go inflatable fell on Yates. Thought I’d refresh your memory of that one. Man, 2016 was wild.
There is an obvious pattern of stage like this being almost uncontested from a GC standpoint and I don’t see that changing. Dan Martin will probably attack and get caught after fifty metres by whatever train is running operations on L’Hourquette. Probably Ineos, maybe Movistar.
The breakaway fight will, for once, be far more interesting. Not sure why Calmejane went on that raid today, it was exceeded in its pointlessness only by his teammate Bonifazio’s hopeless and dangerous presence in the sprint. Certainly nobody but Calmejane (Station des Rousses conqueror lest we forget) in that Total team can hope to achieve anything, though I do love Romain Sicard’s enthusiasm in year after year finding a stage to try and come sixth on. No, if I’m to look for potential breakaway winners there’s a different pile to search through.
Nibali is a breakaway contender now, I suppose. Nah, he’ll wait for the third week. I was very tempted for a minute to pick George Bennett for this after his time loss fiasco on Monday, more so I can draw attention to the fact that the top twenty-five on GC are at this moment all within six minutes of leader Alaphilippe. Bennett is twenty-sixth, over eleven minutes down. He won’t win tomorrow though, he has team mates to help. He’s very eager to help them, too, if Monday is any evidence. Nicolas Roche seems likely to get in the breakaway but I think he’ll get dropped and come fourth. I think I’ll pick Jesús Herrada for the stage. He beat Bardet on Mont Ventoux just before the Tour, smaller achievement by the day that that is. He was sick in the first week but has now recovered so he’s my pick to win Cofidis their first stage since Greece had money.
I am certain Alaphilippe will retain yellow. Sagan is unassailable in green for the moment. Ciccone or De Gendt could unseat Wellens as KOM leader but I’m struggling to care about that competition so far. Bernal is about as likely to stop being coated in white tomorrow as the South Pole.