Spending the majority of yesterday keeping the breakaway on a tight leash while riding into a headwind, actually allowed a degree of recovery for the general classification favourites on Stage 14. In contrast, Stage 15 will certainly prove to be a stressful day which takes in six categorised ascents, featuring the HC Grand Colombier after 113km of racing. This should be a day for the breakaway to decide the honours amongst themselves and it will be a ferocious fight for the riders to make the cut early on, after which point the GC teams will throttle back somewhat. Though a great cliché it may sound, today is an unlikely stage to see somebody win this year’s Tour de France, but there is a great chance of somebody losing it on the 160km route from Bourg-en-Bresse to Culoz.
Vincenzo Nibali has long since waved goodbye to a strong general classification placing and will instead now look towards stages like today in the hope of securing a victory for himself. The Italian got off to a shaky start at this year’s Tour de France, though does now look to be riding into more familiar form, so should be worth keeping an eye upon here. Climbing is evidently the order of the day, but the rapid descent into Culoz specifically will catch Nibali’s eye as a brilliant opportunity to make a race winning move, while Nibali would still be the favourite in a reduced sprint if unable to dispatch rivals before the finish.
Rui Costa often only seems to discover his best form on big days like this and will be hoping he can build upon similar performances of his during the early part of this race. Stage 9 saw him bettered only by Tom Dumoulin, while it could also be argued that the torrential downpour and temperature approaching the finale also reduced his odds of winning on that occasion. Regardless, Costa is clearly experiencing good form and would be foolish to waste an opportunity such as this to secure a stage victory
Alejandro Valverde will be poised to take advantage of the breakaway being reeled in earlier than expected if the peloton strike a faster pace than many are anticipating on Stage 15. The Spaniard appears to be gradually outperforming his teammate and leader Nairo Quintana, so might instead wish to bide his time until later in the race to make a move. However, if everything does indeed come back together ahead of the finish, it will be very difficult to predict how it will play out; we do know how expertly Valverde can exploit these decisions though.
Ilnur Zakarin is another general classification rider who finds himself with uncertain goals since leaving Normandy a couple of weeks ago now. The Katusha rider came here after a disastrous crash forced him to abandon the Giro d’Italia and it was unclear what level of form he was really in as a result of this incident. Though he has not exactly lit the race up so far, he has been unfortunate to miss a few key breaks and will prove difficult to distance if he does make it into the breakaway on Stage 15.
Jarlinson Pantano is always a dangerous man to join the day’s move and should be relatively interested in being part of the action on Stage 15. The major downside for the Colombian rider is the flat finish, a contrast to his favoured uphill finales which have previously delivered him success.
Laurens Ten Dam was once tipped to be a contender for the yellow jersey in his career, but currently finds himself riding a relatively anonymous Tour de France for his new team Giant-Alpecin. His prowess for climbing has never diminished, as it was stretching it over three weeks which was proven to be an ask too great, so a Ten Dam on form today is definitely a threat to others hoping for an easy day in the break.
Nicolas Edet is good at animating stages like this, though he is yet to translate this talent into a stage victory or top 10 stage finish at a grand tour. The French are still without a win at their home grand tour, and given that Edet rides for French team Cofidis, there will be an added incentive to remedy this situation as soon as possible.
Rubén Plaza has been highlighted on a couple of occasions during this year by Spokenforks to join the battle for stage honours and this appears to be another opportunity for him to do precisely that. Plaza has been surprisingly quiet so far, though given the attritional nature of the first run of mountain stages, he may have decided to keep his powder dry and strike out later on in the race. He turned in a very encouraging performance on Stage 13’s individual time trial and will aim to build upon that glimmer of form today.
1st Vincenzo Nibali 2nd Jarlinson Pantano 3rd Ilnur Zakarin