The mountains weigh heavy upon the horizon yet again for the riders during Stage 11, a 188km trip from the start in Pau to to the finale situated in Cauterets. The Pyrenees once again shape the day’s riding, beginning with the Côte de Loucrup, a Category 3 climb of 2km length and an average of 7% appearing on the profile after almost 50km of racing. The day’s intermediate sprints and second climb follow rapidly, the former at Pouzac after 56.5km and the ascent of Côte de Bagneres-de-Bigorre following at 61.5km. This second climb is 1.4km long and averages out at 6.1% and runs into the next uphill slog around 15km further down the road; the Category 3 Côte de Mauvezin (2.7km, avg 6%).
Much of the day’s attention shall be focused upon the climbs which follow this opening triumvirate of ascents, beginning with the renowned Category 1 Col d’Aspin. A 6.5% gradient on average, its slopes stretch onwards for a total of 12km and increase steadily until the upper sections which swing up to an average closer to 7.5% – 9.5%. The riders shall immediately plummet down the subsequent descent and turn onto the base of one of the most famous climbs in Tour de France legend.
Col du Tourmalet has been the setting for many battles during its time in Le Tour, its HC gradients soon able to sort the pretenders from the contenders whenever included. Totalling 17.1km from start to finish, the average gradient of 7.3% will wear down the legs of the entire peloton, regardless of current or past glories. Many of the climbs in this area have a reputation of becoming more difficult as the summit approach, the Col du Tourmalet does this on a grand scale, contrasting its easier opening slopes with the concluding 10km swingingly consistent between a brutal energy sapping 8% – 10% gradient.
There is no doubt that an exciting move or the cracking of a favourite shall occur during the ascent, the Col du Tourmalet rarely passes without incident when included at Le Tour. Whatever the situation on the road by this point, an extended and rapid descent then follows for almost 30km, taking the bunch to the base of the final climb and finish of the day. Côte de Cauterets will decide the day, a Category 3 climb which is 6.4km in length and maintains a steady gradient of 5% for its entirety, eventually topping out around 3km from the line. The climb itself kicks to begin with, softens somewhat in the mid-section and then reaches a peak of 10% towards the top; possibly acting as a launchpad for a late stage winning move. The concluding 2km are predominantly flat and could see a series of riders regroup, so a contender here might need a rapid finish to beat any remaining rivals.
Rafael Valls looked strong during his excursion off the front of the peloton yesterday and has been in form throughout the majority of the last year. With his team Lampre-Merida lacking a convincing depth of stage winning possibilities or general classification hopes at this year’s tour, Valls offers a great opportunity to strike out victorious on a day which suits a talented climber such as himself as part of a strong breakaway.
This year’s Giro d’Italia saw a great breadth of climbing prowess and two such riders who often featured upon similar terrain in Italy were Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk and Canadian Ryder Hesjedal. Both failed to shy away from opportunities such as these to stretch their legs and with both now focused intently upon stage wins or the Polka Dot Jersey in the wake of diminished general classification hopes, they could certainly feature.
Dan Martin is worth monitoring throughout the day if he manages to stay fresh ahead of the finale which builds towards Cauterets, a rider who is clearly in potent form currently. The Irishman was very unfortunate to come away empty handed from the Mur de Bretagne, unable to pursue the attack of Vuillermoz late on due to his position and wind direction hampering his efforts. The general classification has little interest in pursuing Martin, meaning he could well be allowed to escape as part of a strong breakaway which goes on to contest the win.
Orica-GreenEDGE will no doubt look upon both Adam Yates and Simon Yates during Stage 11 to feature in any race winning moves. It was already stated in the opening week that the twins’ race does not really begin until they have entered the Pyrenees, Adam in particular beginning to build form during the race at the moment and will be on his toes to join the right move immediately. Simon on the other hand has already enjoyed an impressive year before this race started and has aimed to carry that form into Le Tour as best as possible. Though there is speculation that Simon may have been slightly under the weather heading into the rest day, Adam looks to be building nicely ahead of a stage such as this and both Yates twins stake a strong claim to animating the race to Cauterets.
French showing on Bastille Day was close to disastrous, finishing the day with more British riders in the top ten than native riders. Pierre Rolland could remedy this immediately, but will have to work hard to either join the right breakaway or ensure the race is not over before he has had the opportunity to get involved by letting a move vanish up the road. He is a true rider for the mountains on a day which features a second half consisting of long and often arduous ascents, all of which should play into the hands of the Frenchmen. The finale which softens greatly could perhaps scupper his chances if the advantage is not enough towards the end, no doubt likely that he would have preferred a drag to the line rather than simply a flattening run to the finish.
The defending Polka Dot Jersey at this year’s tour is Polish rider Rafal Majka, a man who could build upon newly discovered freedom in the wake of team leader Alberto Contador’s lengthening gap to Chris Froome currently. Majka looks to be building in strength right now and his team Tinkoff-Saxo will instead look to pick up stage wins rather than riding solely for the overall victory; all building a strong case for Majka to feature during Stage 11. It is likely that for him to achieve these aims that Majka will either need to take off solo late on or join an earlier breakaway which goes clear and decides the outcome amongst themselves.
Alejandro Valverde was surprisingly animated during the previous day, possibly aiming to gauge his current level of form ahead of a day which suits him very well in the final decisive kilometres. The Spaniard will aim to keep everything together ahead of the last climb of the day, at which point it is likely that he will make his move and get a head start before the road flattens out; upon which he will be the favourite to win any such sprint for the stage victory. Though some concerns are present regarding his ability to stay with the best on the Col du Tourmalet, he is a extremely skilled descender and could utilise this ability as a safety net in order to regain any losses which have occurred during the ascent.
A wide open day which could suit a selection of riders far beyond those mentioned above, a breakaway of six to eight riders would be difficult to bring back if strong enough and could go on to decided the result amongst themselves. Rafal Majka, Rafael Valls and Steven Kruijswijk are perhaps the best picks for a reasonable break to win the day, all more than capable of working hard out front over two such testing climbs and bolster the talents to duke it out for the win without conceding their advantage over the peloton. From the purer climbers comes the likes of Alejandro Valverde and Dan Martin who both suit the flattening finale particularly well if still in the shake up for the win with 3km remaining. Finally, the French are in need of seeing their honour restored at their home race and Pierre Rolland is clearly the man to do just that, though the finale does not suit him that well in reality.
From a Breakaway: 1st Rafael Valls 2nd Steven Kruijswijk 3rd Rafal Majka
Outsiders: Dan Martin, Alejandro Valverde and Pierre Rolland