Stage fourteen and we finally have a proper Pyrenean stage. La Planche was a fun day but this year exists solely as setup; it gave only minute time gaps as opposed to this stage where we could possibly see well, sixty-second time gaps. Yes, the Tourmalet is not a mountain where we can expect to see the front group contain more than a very small number of riders with a kilometre to go. Given that this will be our first real look at what the climbing pecking order is, there might not be the climactic drama of Schleck and Contador climbing side-by-side but it is sure to be a riveting mountain day, establishing the few riders capable of winning this Tour de France.
Amy BC’s Wine of the Day
Stressful thought, no? Maybe a drink will calm you down. Thank you Amy:
Stage 14: Vignobles Arbeau Negrette On l’Appelle
Back to Negrette! Just north of Toulouse in southern France, north of the Pyrenees one finds the appellation of Fronton. In Fronton the principle grape is Negrette, and the appellation’s decree is that each Fronton wine be at least 50% of the variety. This was bright cherry and kind of gulpable. Plus, a really appealing label, which lists all the names Négrette is known by, concluding: “et ici, chez elle, à toulouse, on l’appelle négrette” (and here, in its home, in Toulouse, we call it Négrette).
What happens, and who wins?
A lot is going to happen. The stage is only one hundred and seventeen kilometres long which theoretically opens up the possibility of attacks from anywhere.
The Col du Soulor could be a launchpad I suppose but you would struggle to pull time out on the descent and then you would need at least two team mates to pull you from the top to the foot of the Tourmalet in Luz-Saint-Sauveur so anyone who tries that is making a very low-percentage play. No, this should essentially amount to a sprint up the Tourmalet which I’m not sure if I approve of. Last time they finished on the Tourmalet they started from Pau and went over the Marie-Blanque which I think I would prefer: short stages are great if the profile is set up to encourage early attacks. If, like this one, the terrain does not encourage attacking early on, I prefer a longer, more leg-sapping stage. Anyway, either would have the same result: a reduced, but not too reduced, peloton arriving at the base of the Tourmalet, probably ready to fight out the stage.
Yes, I think this stage will go to a GC rider and now it comes down to deciding which one. We have two stages on foot of which to make our predictions: the Planche stage and the time-trial. I actually think that today’s TT might be more relevant: sustaining a high threshold of watts today may be a better indication than an uphill sprint a week ago. Porte, Uran, Mas, Pinot and Kruijswijk all performed much better than expected which, in the case of everybody but Pinot, contradicts what those riders’ form seemed to be in the Vosges. Have they ridden into form, did the steepness of the slope cause an anomaly or have they put on too much muscle for climbing? It’s hard to tell: Pinot is clearly in the form of his career but the others haven’t shown enough earlier in the race for the time-trial to confirm that.
Geraint Thomas has put himself clearly in the lead of his Sky team with a time-trial performance that was everything it needed to be while Bernal will have disappointed himself. It is my guess that the defending champion will ride reasonably conservatively: he is a comfortable distance ahead of any recognised GC rider and will be confident his kick will win him the stage as happened twice last year. This, in my opinion, is what will happen. Bernal may find himself riding a similar race to Landa in the Giro.
So yes, Thomas to win a second or two in front of a group of two or three containing Pinot, maybe Porte and possibly Uran.
The yellow jersey is the big question: can Alaphilippe keep it? My answer to that is yes, but not till Paris even though he is all the way in to bookies’ second favourite. He is an ascendant rider in unbelievable form but he’s never been a slouch in the time trials and this summit finish may be as far away from one suited to him as imaginable. Even so, I think he will cling on to the jersey by forty seconds or so as Thomas starts chipping away. Green is obviously Sagan’s, polka dots are anyone’s if the break wins the stage but I reckon Wellens will go in the break, claim at least some on Soulor and keep his quest going. White now sits on Mas’ shoulders after his great ride in the time-trial but only by eight seconds. Bernal may grab it back.