Stage 14 acts as another link in the chain which connects the peloton to the already conquered Pyrenees to the oncoming Alps. An unusual looking stage profile to say the least, the 178.5km ride from Rodez to Mende is not difficult for the most part, but is sure to see a strong contest on the final climb to the finish. The opening ascent of the day is the Category 4 Côte de Ponts-de-Salars, a 1.3km climb (avg 5.8%) which is completed around the 20km mark. This opening section of almost 45km is constantly rolling, but remains predominately against an uphill drag for the most part.
A long and fast descent follows the tipping point of the Col de Vernhette, hitting upon flat roads again just before they total 60km for the day so far. The intermediate sprint is the only significant moment in the almost 80km which bridges the riders between the hilly start and finish of Stage 14. The Category 2 Côte de Sauveterre comes next on the agenda, a 9km climb which averages 6% for its entirety; anyone who has been gapped here has a chance of coming back on the descent however. A momentary lull may occur in the valley before the peloton start their ascent of the short Catergory 4 Côte de Chabrits, ticking over at a steady 5.9% throughout the 1.9km ride to the summit.
Less than 10km remain of Stage 14 by this point and it will be a blood and thunder showing as contenders vie for position ahead of the final climb to the line; the Category 2 Côte de la Croix Neuve forming the backdrop. It is 3km in total, bolstering an average gradient of 10.1% and several tight bends which will make positioning vital from bottom to top. The final two kilometres of the ascent are contested at 10.5% and 10.9% respectively, making it possible to see some fighting amongst the general classification favourites en route to the summit. Once completed 1.5km of flat riding remain to the line, meaning those who can stay in good enough condition on the climb to sprint for the win are likely to feature for the win here.
Alejandro Valverde did not feature as heavily as expected during yesterday’s finale, but once again suits another dramatic finale on today’s Stage 14. The Spaniard is good on this type of steep ascent, the Côte de la Croix Neuve being the steepest climb of 2015’s Le Tour de France, possibly also ending in stormy conditions at the finish. His blend of climbing prowess and sprint ability ensures his title of favourite is well deserved here.
The form of Chris Froome at the moment has been very impressive and if he chooses to contest the win here there is no reason he cannot collect another victory on Stage 14. Regardless of whether or not there is a breakaway ahead of the peloton, a battle amongst the general classification riders should be guaranteed, in which case Froome is evidently the strongest right now.
Joaquim Rodriguez seems to be rediscovering his form at this race and has won previously upon this finale at the Tour de France once before. He goes well on these steep gradients which are relatively short in nature, but questions remain over his level of fatigue since his stage winning efforts earlier in the week.
On the day Rodriguez won on Côte de la Croix Neuve last time, his fellow instigator was Alberto Contador, overtaking him on the climb but then losing out in the two man sprint to the line. His race has not gone well so far and will be looking to recoup some time in order to move up the general classification. Familiarity with a climb tends to animate riders who know them and it would be worth monitoring the Spaniard’s position in the bunch as they begin climbing; on paper he has what it takes to win Stage 14.
Having already collected a brace of second place finishes, Dan Martin is still in the hunt for a stage win and has a chance of featuring if the pace is not too high on the Côte de la Croix Neuve. Should he still be in contention has they enter onto the 1.5km flat ride to the line, he has the speed and sprinting ability to possibly challenge Alejandro Valverde in a kick to the line. Should an earlier move hit the Côte de la Croix Neuve first, there is a chance that Martin’s teammate Ryder Hesjedal could be in a talented group which possesses a strong advantage approaching the finish. His form at the Giro d’Italia was very impressive earlier in the year, if he can rediscover that for one stage, today might be his best chance.
As ever, the Dutch bolster their best hopes in the pairing of Robert Gesink and Bauke Mollema, the later possibly being the one suiting this steep final the best given his showings in the Ardennes each Spring.
1st Alejandro Valverde 2nd Dan Martin 3rd Joaquim Rodriguez