The Pyrenees make their first appearance of this year’s tour today with two more consecutive days in the region to test the legs of the mountain men. Carcassonne to Bagnéres-de-Luchon’s passage through the peaks is testing, but not tough enough to lure the major contenders into duking it out for big time gaps so soon.
Despite not quite concluding with a summit finish, the stage is crowned by the HC category Port de Balés, likely to be the scene of flagging riders upon its slopes. It is not the length of the climb nor the steepest ramps, but rather the fluctuating gradients of the mountain which will cause so much damage as riders struggle to find their rhythm to tackle it.
Polka Dots and Stage Wins:
Given the more testing terrain over the next two days for the GC riders to battle upon, today’s stage lends itself to a quite large breakaway making it the whole way to contest the finish. Despite the Polka Dot competition being tied heading into today, it is likely that Joaquim Rodriguez is likely to keep his powered try for the following days; though Rafal Majka may be tempted to go ahead of the bunch briefly in order to claim it by the end of the day.
Teams who find their original Tour goals scuppered already while see today has a real chance to make their presence this year worthwhile after all. Sky, Garmin, Saxo and OPQS are the biggest teams likely to attempt something today with the likes of Nicolas Roche, Michael Rogers, Mikel Nieve, Tom Jelte-Slagter, Ramunas Navardauskas may be spotted in the day’s breakaway. A French representation is inevitable with such a strong chance of staying away all day, Europcar will be looking to put Thomas Voeckler or Cyril Gautier in mix come the finale. Michal Kwiatkowski gave a telling interview after Stage 15 which hinted heavily at going for a stage win in the remaining mountain days; however today’s topography does not look testing enough to interesting him.
There should not be much jostling by the GC guys today, though it may be worth watching Romain Bardet on the descent as he may attempt to expose Thibaut Pinot’s weaknesses once more in order to gain time. Bardet is well aware that he is the weakest of the GC contenders when it comes to time-trialing, so will be on the lookout to gain as much of a cushion as possible before the penultima day’s race against the clock.