Friday, 19 July 2013

Tour de France 2013 : Stage 20 Preview

THIS may be classed as the penultimate stage but it is in fact the last chance saloon for anyone wanting to improve their overall standing.

And the organisers have given them a perfect chance to go out in style!

The route is short. At just 125km long (or 77.6 miles) it is the shortest road stage of this years tour. However that doesn't make it easy at all.

We travel from Annecy via a circular route, which includes five categorized climbs before the final ascent to the ski resort at Annecy-Semnoz.

Because of the shortness of the stage and the fact there is no more after this, expect attacks from the word go.

First up after just 7km it is the Cote du Puget, a category 2 climb which is 5.4km long at an average of 5.9%. Within 5km of this summit we are at the top of the category 3 Col de Leschaux. This is only 3.6km long but has an average gradient of 6.1%.

Saxo Tinkoff, Movistar and Katusha will all be off and running here with a two-fold plan. To break Chris Froome, or at the very least isolate him, and to distance the others. By the top of these two climbs we could be down to a very select group.

We haven't got far from here to the next pair of climbs. The Cote d'Aillon-le-Vieux is a cat 3 and climbs 4% over it's 6km length. It is 8km from this summit to the next. The Col des Pres is again category 3 and is another shorter climb at 3.4km. But like the Leschaux it has a high average gradient, this time 6.9%.

It will depend on how things have gone over the first two climbs as to whether these two provide any fireworks. There will be some movement but whether it is from the main protagonists is debatable.

And that's partly because of what comes next. The Mont Revard is a category 1 climb which starts just 12km later. It is 15.9km, and although it's average gradient is just 5.6% there are parts at the bottom that get above 8% and one part that even tops 10%.

The descent off the Revard could be just as pivotal. Very twisty and very technical it plays into the hands of someone like Alberto Contador, Joaquin Rodriguez or Alejandro Valverde. Froome will hope he still has allies, although by this point he will probably be down to just Richie Porte, because they will really test his descending abilities here.

With around 15km along the valley floor to go before the final assault, if he gets distanced he will find himself in a very lonely world, full of pain and hardship.

The final climb of this years Tour de France will see the final showdown. Annecy-Semnoz is 'hors categorie' and stretches out for 10.7km. It's average gradient is 8.5% but we are above 9% for 4km of it. There's a little 'false flat' about 3km into it which ironically comes just after the steepest part. From there on we don't go below 8% so it will be a long hard, constant slog.

The stage win is almost secondary on a day like this. It will all be about the GC and it will be those riders that will cross the line first. For me Nairo Quintana is the favourite. He's been denied once or twice so far but I think this will be his day. I don't think he'll get enough time to take over the yellow but the stage win will be well with in his grasp.

His challengers will be the usual suspects. Rodriguez has been in sparkling form in this last week and is a serious challenger to the podium spots of the Saxo Tinkoff duo of Contador and Roman Kreuziger.

Froome should be content to come out of today in one piece. He will have been hit from all angles and all-comers today so shouldn't be up for the stage win.

I can't really see any outsiders getting among the action. Mikel Nieve and Pierre Rolland may be up for any King of the Mountain points they can get but that will be about it. Bauke Mollema has struggled a little over the last few days so he may feature in the top 20 but possibly nothing more.

The only thing that may throw a spanner in the works is the weather. Thunderstorms have been forecast for the last few days but we have managed to avoid them so far. If the rain does come today then the descent off the Revard for example will be frightening. And if the clouds are too low it may affect TV coverage as well!

Whatever happens it's going to be a fantastic and memorable finish to what has been one of the most attacking and exciting tours in recent years.

And I can't wait!

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