The Pyrenees at this tour have certainly not been gradually building momentum, Stage 12 offering yet another gruelling day in the saddle which is capped off by a testing summit finish to act as the last hurrah midst this terrain. It is an 195km course which stretches the peloton from Lannemezan to the crushing ascent of Plateau de Beille, which is sure to instigate some dramatic riding in the final 20km. Opening with a little shy of 50km of flat riding, the first competitive exchange of the day comes at the 20km marker as the sprinters wind the pace up for the intermediate sprint.
After this, the first ascent will not begin until 43km have been clocked up, the Category 2 Col de Portet-d’Aspet (4.3km, avg. 9.7%), a climb which should not see much more action beyond that of a likely breakaway forming upon its difficult slopes. The riders then drop into the valley and start climbing once again as they approach 76km, this time tackling the Category 1 Col de la Core, a much longer climb at 14.1km but one which is relatively steady with an average gradient of 5.7% that settles into a groove of 6% to 7% for the most part. Once again the drop back down into the valley and then catching some respite during an extended run to the base of the day’s third climb. The Category 1 Port de Lers is another long climb at 12.9km, but one which will be more difficult to pace due to the varying gradient of its incline, despite averaging a manageable 6% on paper; the steepest sections reaching a maximum of 9% during a 4km stint at the mid-point.
For the third time during the stage the riders shall descend into the valley below, clocking up almost 25km in total before they find themselves at the foot of the monstrous finish. It is the HC Plateau de Beille which acts as the battleground for a likely slog between the gifted climbers and general classification riders. This 15.8km long climb is billed as one of the most testing summit finishes during 2015’s Le Tour, opening with a solid 9% for the initial 5km, before then easing moderately to 7.2%, though still liable to swinging upwards to 9.5%. It is a long and relentless grind from bottom to top, even the latter stages maintain a gradient of 6% – 7%, realistically only softening in the final 800m which are contested at 2.5%. Whoever does win here will have done so by exhibiting immense strength, determination and talent; possibly gaining a large amount of time on the general classification too.
Chris Froome is clearly the best climber in Le Tour de France currently and there is nothing stopping him from wining upon Plateau de Beille if he so wishes. Though he has no need to bury himself in order to extend his gap, Froome will be aware of how history as seen these climb dominated by those who go on to finish atop the podium in Paris and there is a chance he would like to add his name to such a list. With teammates Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte both absolutely flying right now as well, there is no question that he has the support around him and personal condition to emerge victorious once again in the Pyrenees.
The steep and consistent gradients of the final climb would normally play into the hands of Nairo Quintana very neatly indeed, but we have yet to really see him on the offensive, leaving a question mark surrounding his form to a certain extent. If Movistar play their cards well on the day, the combination of the Colombian and Alejandro Valverde could work together to give Chris Froome the first real challenge of his tour.
Pierre Rolland has been stuttering thus far, but could see his luck turn at last and exploit his current form in order to give the home crowd something to cheer about on Stage 12. It is likely he will attempt to find a place within the day’s breakaway as he is so far down on the general classification as to be of no threat to the overall contenders now, meaning little impetus to chase him. The Frenchman is usually strong on this type of big day in the mountains and the finale’s constant gradient will allow him to find his rhythm to the line.
Surprisingly absent from yesterday’s breakaway move was Lampre-Merida’s Rafael Valls, a man who was Spokenforks’ bet to dominate from such an attack on Stage 11. He looked incredibly strong on Stage 10 and his form in the last year has been evident for all to see, but it is the new team dynamics which should allow him to flourish on this last Pyrenean stage. The Italian team were disappointed to see Rui Costa abandon the tour, leaving them with no general classification hopes, so Valls is now their best possibility of glory on a fitting day such as this.
The Yates twins have said all along that their race does not truly being until the Pyrenees begin to feature upon the stage profiles, so we should see their emergence on Sage 12. With Simon Yates the more in form rider, he seems the best of the two to back, but has since come down with a bug and is now focusing upon getting fit again for the Alps instead. In which case, attention must switch to Adam Yates, the Brit having enjoyed a less successful year due to health issues, but one who retains enough natural talent to be a threat amongst any breakaway.
If Chris Froome sees an opportunity to gift his teammates a win, there is no chance of him hesitating as he often attempts his utmost to return their support during a major race. Richie Porte is riding better than anyone expected, probably including himself, and would jump at the chance to ‘save’ his season with a Tour de France win after a year which has not really gone to plan so far. Geraint Thomas‘ ability to switch from classics man to mountain goat has been incredible to watch this year, performances at Paris-Nice and Tour de Suisse showcasing why he could go all the way and win here if offered the chance by Froome.
Dutch interest is evidently best represented by Bauke Mollema and Robert Gesink who are coping surpassingly well with the frontrunners thus far. Both have started to animate the race and if they stick the pace during the climb to Plateau de Beille, then either Dutchman has the speed on the reduced gradients to slip off the front once again (Mollema) or win a sprint for the line (Gesink).
Thibaut Pinot, Joaquim Rodríguez and Romain Bardet are three riders who might compensate for their diabolical general classification performances and try to capture some glory with a bold attack on the final climb of the day. All appear to be off the pace of the frontrunners at this year’s edition, but it is wise to consider how little we have really seen of them during the mountains so far. When there is little reason to compete for time, energy is better saved and later invested into a possible stage win such as today.
Ultimately, the outcome of today seems down to the decision of Chris Froome and whether or not he wishes to challenge for the victory. If he does choose to contest the finale, then it is impossible to see anyone getting the better of the Sky leader right now and he will be the favourite for many watching if everyone is together late on. Nairo Quintana is the rider most likely to threaten Froome during the last climb, as the steep and steady gradient favours his talent and he will need to begin recouping time if he truly wishes to challenge for the yellow jersey. From a breakaway, Pierre Rolland might be the one to dominate his fellow escapees and win Stage 12 atop Plateau de Beille. The Europcar rider has the support required to remain protected ahead of making any such moves and will feel confident during a big day of climbing which usually sees him rise to the top.
1st Chris Froome 2nd Nairo Quintana 3rd Richie Porte
Outsider: Pierre Rolland