A Trio of Stages in the Vosges

Posted: July 12, 2014 in Cycling
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A closer look at the upcoming trio of stages that take place in the Vosges.

Stage 8 – Saturday 12 July

The first of the mountains in this year’s Tour? In a way yes, but it’s similar to stage 2 and more like a Spring classic. The action is condensed in the last 25km. The stage is only 161km long and is almost pan flat up until the first of three climbs that will shape the stage. This means that the riders should be relatively fresh and the fight to be near the front is likely to be frantic. The first climb is the longest but also the easiest with a relatively consistent gradient. As a result it is likely to thin the field rather than act as a launching pad to victory. The second (3km at an average gradient of 7.5%, but peaking at 16% in a very hard middle kilometer) and third (1.8km at 10.3%) climbs are short, steep and punchy.  It should be a great set of climbs to watch, with a fast tempo on narrow and scenic roads.

Plenty of riders will be keen to join the breakaway as it has a great chance of success today. Look for riders who are already a long way down in the overall like Thomas Voeckler, Simon Spilak, Christoff Riblon, Frank Schleck or even Joaquim Rodriguez. These are just some of the riders that could feature in the break on any of the three stages. Even if the breakaway survives there will be plenty of attacks behind. Given how short the climbs are the time gaps are unlikely to be huge but it is still an opportunity to gain time. The short climbs suit a punchy rider and one of the best in the field is Michal Kwiatowski. Kwiatowski has looked to be in great form and seems prepared to attack at every opportunity. Simon Gerrans is another worth considering, he appears to be getting stronger ever day after his crash on Stage 1, but he may find the climbing too difficult. Alessandro Valverde is another who will fancy the short sharp finish.

Stage 9 – Sunday 13 July

Six climbs of various lengths and difficulty characterise the first part of the stage. However, from the top of the final climb the riders still have 43km to the finish. This means that any rider that is dropped on the final climb should, assuming they are with a teammate or two, be able to regain contact with the peloton. A breakaway could survive but I think the pace will be on from the start and this will make it hard for them.

I think a sprint from a significantly reduced peloton is the most likely outcome. Peter Sagan has shown that he can cope with stages like this and if Cannondale can control the race then he should be the fastest man left in the field. If so, nobody would begrudge him a victory after coming so close on so many occasions already in this years race. Tony Gallopin has been riding very well and if he can handle the hills then he could be one to challenge for the win. If the stage is even more selective and there are only 25 or 30 riders left in the front group then one of Kwiatowski, Gerrans or Valverde should be the winner.

Stage 10 – Monday 14 July

Grand Colombier Stage

The final stage in the Vosges is also the hardest. I think this stage could prove to be one of the most exciting in this years Tour. As it is Bastille Day the crowds will be massive. And the French riders will be extremely motivated to win. It is the last stage before the rest day and this also means there should be no holding back. As the profile shows, this will be a very tough day in the saddle for the riders. Seven categorised climbs, almost no flat terrain and a mountain top finish. This is also a crucial day in the battle for the mountains classification, with plenty of points on offer. Any rider hoping to win the polka dot jersey will want to be in the breakaway.

Vincenzo Nibali had a terrific day on the pave on stage 5 and I expect him to have maintained his advantage over stages 8 and 9. Stage 5 showed the strengths of the Astana team, and in Jacob Fuglsang Nibali has a great lieutenant. Fuglsang has the ability to be an overall contender in his own right having finished seventh last year. Today will be a tough day for Astana. Many of the riders who were expected to challenge for the top positions are already more than two minutes behind Nibali so they will be looking to attack at every opportunity.

Alberto Contador was the in form rider going into the Tour and it was he who was expected to take the challenge to Chris Froome. Froome may be gone but Sky has a plan B that most teams can only dream of. Richie Porte’s form on the key stages last years means that if he can sustain his form for the full three weeks and avoid any bad days he has to be considered a serious contender. These are just two of the riders I expect to attack on what is likely to be a very difficult and challenging stage. If a French rider is to win then Romain Bardet may be their best hope. He is one rider I am looking forward to watching to see whether he can challenge in the mountains. My personal tip for this stage is Andrew Talansky, assuming he has recovered from his crash on stage 7 (at the time of writing there were no injuries reported). He thrives on the longer climbs and while the final climb is only 9km long the sheer quantity of climbing earlier in the stage will make it feel much longer.


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