Saturday, 13 July 2013

Tour de France 2013 : Stage 15 Preview

WHEN the route of the this year's Tour was announced last October there was high expectations that Stage 15 would be a cracker, this being the 100th running of 'La Grande Boucle'.

And the organisers have not disappointed!

Sunday 14th July is Bastille Day, the biggest of the national holidays in France. Think Independence Day in America and you're pretty much there.

The public will be out in force for one huge party and Le Tour will be one of the main ingredients. And the biggest party will be on the slopes of the 'Giant of Provence', Mont Ventoux.

The mountain stands 1912 metres above sea level and climbs just under 1600m over a distance of 20.8km (12.9 miles) to an almost lunar landscape.

The average gradient is 7.5% but there are 8km where the gradient is above 9%, the maximum being 10.6%.

It is a beast of a climb, and even claimed the life of British cyclist Tommy Simpson in 1967.

On it's own it would make for a tough stage but the race director has gone one step forward, putting this at the end of the longest stage on the Tour.

The stage runs from Givors and is a total of 242.5km long (150.6 miles).

Then you have the heat, temperatures are forecast to be in the 80's and with a wind in the riders faces, the peloton will be very glad of Monday's rest day.

The stage has two possible scenarios, both of which are as likely as the other.

Firstly a breakaway will go away and depending who is in it, it may stay away until the end.

One thing is guaranteed, it will contain many Frenchman! I would expect Sylvain Chavanel, Thomas Voeckler and current French champion Arthur Vichot to be very active and trying their upmost to be involved.

The other French teams, Cofidis (Chrisophe Le Mevel? Jerome Coppel?), Saur Sojasun (Jerome Simon?) and AG2R La Mondiale (John Gadret?) will also be under orders to infiltrate the day's break.

Team Sky will have enough problems to try and control the big favourites and defend Chris Froome's lead. So if those in the breakaway have big enough time gaps, Sky will be more than happy to just control the peloton and allow the break to fight for the stage.

However the second possibility is, in my eyes, more probable.

Teams like Belkin, Saxo Tinkoff and Movistar will fancy putting Sky and Froome under pressure. The pace will be incredibly high coming to the bottom slopes of the Ventoux  and Sky seem to be imploding at the minute.

If they crank the pace up they will pull back the break on the last climb. It will then be a shootout among the 'big boys' for the win and for the GC.

Favourites? Well the heat and severity of the final climb seems to play into the hands of Nairo Quintana and Alberto Contador. Froome is originally from Kenya and does spend a lot of time in Africa but a lot will depend on how much he has in his legs and how much he will need to go into his reserves to stay with the front guys.

I have been impressed with Roman Kreuziger so far but he will be on domestique duty for Contador. Bauke Mollema came into this tour on form and it will be interesting to see how he goes today. Same goes for his team mate Laurens Ten Dam and Astana's Jakob Fuglsang.

Outsiders could well come from Euskatel. Mikel Nieve has been the strongest in that team and the Basque rider will enjoy the challenge.

Look for someone like Katusha's Daniel Moreno too. His leader Joaquin Rodriguez is currently 10th but almost six minutes down. Moreno may be given free rein to attack which would mean Rodriguez could follow the rest and let them do the work.

Final outsider? Romain Bardet from AG2R, if he isn't in the break, has showed some good form in the mountains. A young man with a big future according to the French press, he was 14th into Ax-3 Domaines and 24th into Bagneres-de-Biggore.

An ideal French win on the ideal French stage? Don't bet against it!

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