The first stage after a rest day is always treated with a great level of trepidation by the riders, many hoping that their body does not go into full recovery mode and begin to seize up before the halfway point as even been reached. There is little doubt that their return to the bike today shall include a variety of fireworks for two standout reasons; 1) It is the first mountains stage & true summit finish of Le Tour 2) July 14th is Bastille Day for the French, an occasion for any native rider to become a legend by becoming a French stage winner at Le Tour on the countries most celebrated anniversary.
This year’s passage through the Pyrenees is opened by the 167km Stage 10, stretching from Tarbes to the inaugural inclusion and summit finish of La Pierre Saint-Martin. A day which should be reasonably easy for the most part, allowing the breakaway to establish themselves and for the peloton’s favourites to keep life ticking over calmly before the climatic finale atop the HC La Pierre Saint-Martin.
Côte de Bougarber will be the first climb to be completed, a Category 4 ascent which averages a noteworthy 6.2% during its 1.4km entirety. Followed a little under 30km later by another Category 4 climb, this time the Côte de Viellesegure, a similar challenge to the preceding ascent at 1.7km in length and an average gradient of 5.9%. The final appetiser of the day is the third Category 4 ascent present on Stage 10, the Côte de Montory is a similar task yet again for the riders; 1.8km and a sapping increase to an average gradient of 6.3% for the meantime. Around 30km of the race will remain by this point, but the day’s true challenge is only just beginning as the slopes of La Pierre Saint-Martin start creeping upwards beneath the riders’ pedals.
The climb itself is 15.3km in total and sets a demanding average gradient of 7.4% from almost the first pedal revolution. In fact, many riders might appreciate it if this really was the case, because in reality the initial 10km of this ascent are in fact some of the toughest sections of the entire climb. Failing to drop below 7.7% at all in this period, the true damage shall be inflicted during five kilometres which each average in excess of 9%. Towards the top, the slopes soften somewhat to as low as 3.5%, but the last kilometre will be contested at 7.1% until 300m from the line where it begins to lessen once again.
The big story which many journalists will be seeking out to occur on Stage 10 is for a Frenchman to take an inspired victory during Bastille Day upon the first mountainous summit finish of 2015’s Tour de France. Both Pierre Rolland and Thibaut Pinot have conceded too much time already to battle it out for a worthwhile general classification placing, instead likely to now set their eyes upon stage victories and the Polka Dot Jersey. The former is riding well, though is hard to follow due to his aversion of battling for position amongst the peloton, yet should have the legs required to come to the fore here. Rolland might well fancy the longer climbs present in the Alps this year, but this still plays into his talents as a strong climber. Pinot’s loss of time in the opening week has been terrible, scuttling his race before he had even caught sight of the mountains on the horizon. There are mixed views emanating from his team FDJ.fr currently as to what his new ambitions shall be, some stating that he is still motivated by general classification hopes and will fuel them by challenging for stages in order to claw time back. On the other hand, Pinot could instead decide to focus upon the sort of summit finishes which should allow him to rack up the points in pursuit of the Polka Dot Jersey. His recent showing at Tour de Suisse was a potent reminder of how gifted Pinot is in the mountains, winning the testing Queen Stage’s ascent of the mighty Rettenbachgletscher after attacking a host of big names and soloing to victory. With Bastille Day on the mind and a peloton unlikely to chase hard given the general classification losses of Rolland and Pinot, both of these talented French climbers have to be watched on a day soaked with national pride.
Warren Barguil possibly once highlighted this as a stage to strut his stuff like he did at the Vuelta a España, but now finds greater plans occupying his mind. The French rider is only 23 years old and is still a developing talent, though it is clear to see just how well he flourishes on such testing terrain already. It would be reckless to jeopardise an impressive top ten placing by attacking manically here for the win, so his chances of featuring are reduced somewhat. However, he is an aggressive rider and will be all to aware of much a win here on Bastille Day would impact upon his career.
Few expected Chris Froome to already bolster such a strong lead over the majority of his rivals before the mountains had even started to feature in this race. He is under no pressure to attack in the meantime and can revet to the usual Sky train of sustained pressure which should prevent any dangerous riders from attacking. That said, he will be aware of just how desperate some pre-race favourites might be to gain time now and could be forced to chase such moves solo if necessary. The last season has shown a developing aggression within the Team Sky leader and he cannot be discounted from stamping his authority and hammering home his advantage at the first time of asking.
Realistically speaking, Tejay Van Garderen is the only other general classification contender who will be happy with his current placing, sitting a total of 12 seconds down on Froome as it stands. The American has been dangerously underestimated by pundits and rivals alike, despite heading into this tour on the back of a very impressive Dauphiné. Perhaps some are still viewing him solely through his previous performances at this race, but at still only 25 years old, Van Garderen is growing as a rider and truly looks to be stepping up as general classification team leader in 2015. He has little need to attack here, but could be forced to pursue Froome depending on how events unfold during the final ascent.
Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana have both conceded much more time than they would have wanted to during the opening week and now face a battle to begin clawing it back from Chris Froome. Contador has not appeared to be in his usual pomp and it is likely that the fatigue of this year’s Giro d’Italia is still affecting him quite acutely. Regardless, the Spaniard usually comes strong in the final week of a grand tour, so there is still hope for us to see him perfuming at his best. It is unlikely he will choose to attack on this first opportunity and will rather aim to follow the wheel of Froome instead. The Colombian Quintana is a combative rider when it comes to the mountains and is likely to focus upon the Alpine stages to inflict the most damage. His love of the real steep gradients and sustain climbing means he is more likely to ride defensively on Stage 10, saving his energy for a day which does not soften towards the top.
Unless he is sandbagging right now, Vincenzo Nibali looks to be far from his best at this year’s Tour de France, though it is more a case of inconsistency than poor condition. The Italian has lost sufficient time already to be allowed a certain level of freedom by the likes of Sky and BMC, making it a possibility to see him finishing strongly here. His opening week has been a mixed bag across the time trial, cobbles, Mur de Huy and Mur de Bretagne; ensuring that he will be a very difficult man to predict for the peloton. If he chooses to make a move on Stage 10, he will only do so if on top form, in which case he shall be a tough man to catch.
Rigoberto Uran is a darkhorse bet for the podium currently, the Colombian is unexpectedly close to Chris Froome on the general classification approaching the mountains and his brief interactions with the media suggests he is attempting to keep a low profile. Though he is not likely to feature in the shake up for today’s stage, Uran should be watched intently in order to gauge his current condition and how genuine his chances of a podium charge really are.
Dutch supporters will look upon Bauke Mollema, Laurens Ten Dam, Robert Gesink and Steven Kruijswijk to begin animating these opening day’s in the mountains. Mollema has ridden well in the two hilltop finishes so far and Gesink looks well placed to build a strong case for a final top ten placing come the podium in Paris. The same cannot be said for teammates Ten Dam and Kruiswijk who have already conceded an hour and half an hour respectively, a factor which would allow them great freedom to attack either solo or as part of a breakaway to contest this stage; assuming they are not required to help Robert Gesink later on.
Romain Bardet is already close to five minutes down on current leader Chris Froome and will be aware how unlikely any real general classification hopes are now. He is a very talented climber and does not shy away from attacking on such terrain; especially when it might seem the odds are so greatly stacked against him. Factoring in Bastille Day and its added motivation for the French riders means that he could prove worthwhile watching on Stage 10 for the win.
Two very interesting possibilities for the day come in the shape of Rafael Valls and Louis Meintjes, both have had tremendous seasons in 2015 so far and appear to have the current form to feature in a dangerous move on Stage 10. Valls did well in the early part of the season, winning the Tour of Oman and comes here as one of Lampre-Merida’s best chances of success in the mountains. Meintjes on the other hand has proven to be a rider capable of sticking with the best climbers of the peloton this year on some incredibly testing terrain. If given the freedom and allowed to make his way into the break, he has the natural talent to take such a move right the way to the line.
Ryder Hesjedal deserves a mention for his abilities to go solo or as part of a break over such terrain as today, though could prefer to wait for a harder day before coming to the fore. He was particularly animated at the Giro d’Italia this year, and if in the same form at Le Tour, could certainly be worth keeping an eye on if making it into the breaks for a stage victory.
Stage 10 is an incredibly awkward day to predict, the majority of those aiming for a tilt at the general classification should not have to ride aggressively with so many tougher stages ahead of them. Froome, Van Garderen, Contador and Quintana would all likely be happy to let this stage slip into the hands of the outsiders, but Nibali could well make a move which provokes the others to follow. Perhaps the biggest factor to bear in mind is the significance of Bastille Day for the French riders so skilled at climbing, stirring their national pride and inspiring them to make moves they would perhaps otherwise consider foolish. Of those in good enough form to do just that are Thibaut Pinot and Pierre Rolland, two of the nation’s finest climbers who now find their general classification hopes wrecked after only nine days in the saddle. Pinot could attack late and see little interest from the peloton behind to chance, though might concede any gains quite rapidly on the final easing kilometre or so. Rolland offers a contrast in the sense that his best chance of a stage win is more likely to come from a breakaway which gives the peloton the slip and ends up staying clear all day to contest the stage. If fireworks do indeed emerge from the top names, Chris Froome is clearly the most fancied rider to dominate here and if forced to do so, is likely to put his rivals in their places once again.
1st Thibaut Pinot 2nd Chris Froome 3rd Vincenzo Nibali
Outsider: Pierre Rolland