La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage Preview

La Vuelta a España 2017 – Stage 19 Preview

Course:

The day’s 149.7km course from Caso. Parque Natural de Redes to Gijón should inspire an aggressive approach to racing from the bunch, as with so few opportunities remaining for riders and teams to save their race, interest will be great on Stage 19. Though a flat finale is on offer for the sprinters, it is bound to prove a considerable task in order to be at the front of the race once the finish line approaches, as the course will make controlling any breakaway hard work.

Without giving the riders much of a chance to find their climbing legs, the day’s first climb appears after around only 20km, coming in the shape of the Category 1 Alto de la Colladona. This opening ascent averages 6.8% for 7km, though comes very close to touching double digit gradients at times and will form the day’s gruppetto for many in the bunch. Once over the top, a considerable downhill stretch begins and runs right the way to the opening slopes of the Category 3 Alto de Sto. Emiliano (6.8 km, avg 4.5%). This is soon followed by another Category 3 ascent, the Alto de la Falla de los Lobos, which looks a tougher task on paper with an average gradient of 8.2% for 4.3km. A rolling run of terrain then lasts for 25km, dropping down rapidly after another small rise and placing the riders at the base of the day’s final climb. The Category 3 Alto de San Martin de Huerces is relatively short at 4.5km, though its average gradient of 7.2% is potent enough to decide the day’s outcome before the finish line is even worth worrying about. A sharp charge from the top leads into Gijón, potentially allowing a solo move to stay clear during the descent, though a well organised group could close the gap and duke it out amongst a reduced sprint.

 

La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage 19 Preview

Cotenders:

Pello Bilbao shall be hoping his raw strength can help establish himself amongst the day’s expected breakaway, the Astana rider is well suited to the short climbs throughout Stage 19 and has done well to carry much of his earlier form into this final week. His greatest issue shall be whether he will be afforded the freedom to attack, as his responsibilities to his team have increased with the immense performance of Miguel Lopez upon the general classification. If he is allowed to invest his efforts into today’s stage, then there is a good chance Bilbao will be one of the strongest present in a winning move.

Alberto Contador will not be content with leaving his final native grand tour without a final stage win and the day’s profile has all the makings of a classic Alberto Contador long range attack. The choking nature of Team Sky will be a major obstacle to overcome in his attempts to seal a farewell win, though a tight race which reaches the final climb could lend itself perfectly for him to catch the fellow general classification big guns napping, stealing an advantage late on and holding it right to the line.

Rui Costa should be a capable of making any moves which form on the day’s first climb, reminding many of his capabilities on these days which are packed full of short climbs the former world champion has previously performed so well upon. Though he has not garnered a great deal of attention during the race so far, he has actually tried repeatedly to make the crucial stage breakaways and been extremely unlucky to miss out. He will be a difficult companion to ditch before a potential sprint finish, especially as so few will even have the turn of pace to compete with him after such hotly contested day.

Nicolas Roche might choose Stage 19 to try and recover some glory from 2017’s Vuelta a España, as his general classification hopes have slipped through his fingers and now a stage win appears his only remaining chance of salvaging a prize of sorts. He possesses all the requisite skills to perform well today, the ascents suiting him sufficiently enough and a sharp downhill to the line where he has a great chance of being one of the fastest of a breakaway present.

Alessandro De Marchi will surely prove to leave the race as the most combative rider, having featured so regularly in the breakaways during this year’s La Vuelta a España, it has become a question as who will join the Italian in the moves. Perhaps the final chance he shall have at taking a win, it is likely he will somehow muster the energy required to feature yet again, perhaps finally taking a much deserved stage win. His immense skill at identifying the perfect time to attack has been unrivalled at the race this year and it seems only a case of odds until he is finally rewarded.

Daniel Moreno suits this course particularly well and the Spaniard has certainly been on the rise in recent stages which feature this accumulatively draining series of ascents. Certainly entering the tail end of his career, Moreno is still one of the best when it comes to late challenges like today’s Alto de San Martin de Huerces and will know exactly how to time his move to perfection.

Others to consider are Luis Leon SanchezLuis Angel MatéChris FroomeSimon Yates and Adam Yates.

Outcome:

1st Alberto Contador 2nd Nicolas Roche 3rd Pello Bilbao

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Le Tour de France 2017

Le Tour de France 2017 – Stage 17 Preview

Course:

After forecasting another correct outcome at this year’s Tour de France to make it eight wins from sixteen stages thus far for Spokenforks, life gets trickier to predict as the peloton head into a pair of gruelling mountain stages. The first is a 183km passage from La Mure to Serre Chevalierfeaturing three of the most historic ascents from Tour de France history and ending with a fierce descent into the finish line. Beginning almost immediately uphill for the second day in a row, the riders start by pedalling towards the summit of the Category 2 Col d’Ormon, something of a warm up during its 5.1km duration which could soon see some struggle on its average gradient of 6.7%. A short drop back downhill will send the pack racing through the day’s intermediate sprint point, leaving them at the foot of the HC Col de la Croix de Fer, an imposing 24km long climb which continually breaks rhythm. This will make it hard for some to pace it correctly, especially if AG2R La Mondiale choose to attack Chris Froome once again, aiming to reduce his supporting riders ahead of the next two ascents.

Having survived the draining Col de la Croix de Fer and navigated safely back into the valley, the frontrunners will then be required to begin the Category 1 Col du Télégraphe. Shorter at 11.9km from top to bottom than its predecessor, though with a steeper average gradient of 7.1%, its a relatively even climb which offers extremely brief respite ahead of the concluding climb of Stage 17. The Col du Galibier is a HC challenge, opening with slopes manageable enough to lure riders anxiously waiting to attack into making a mistake, as it only gets tougher as the bunch near the summit; 17.7km long in total and an average of 6.9%. A long downhill leads all the way into Serre Chevalier, technical enough to turn the screw on rivals to begin with, though it is likely that gaps will begin to close once the descent becomes easier nearer town. A subtle drag leads up to the finish line, so it may prove ideal territory for a puncheur or even a general classification favourite to take the win.

Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage 17 Preview

Contenders:

Mikel Landa would normally be a name well worth considering for victory today, but with duties to his Team Sky leader keeping him on a tight leash, it is unlikely that the Basque rider will be allowed to attack and distance his captain in the process. He is clearly in fantastic form at the moment and evidently believes he is capable of winning the overall competition, expressing his disinterest at the potential of returning to another grand tour tethered to Chris Froome. The ascent of the Col du Galibier looks perfect for him to spring an attack from, sailing away downhill and potentially rolling any fellow escapees in a dash for the line. Should Chris Froome prove to have another bad day in the mountains; will Team Sky choose to send Mikel Landa back to help him and risk losing two riders on the general classification, or potentially give the talented lieutenant a chance to win this year’s Tour de France.

Romain Bardet will be on what many consider to be home soil for today and tomorrow, assessing how best he and his AG2R La Mondiale teammates can deal damage to Chris Froome before the individual time trial in Marseille. The Frenchman possesses the only team with the firepower capable of isolating the current maillot jaune and will be acutely aware that risking everything on tomorrow’s summit finish atop the Col d’Izoard could prove a miscalculation. The double header of Col du Télégraphe into Col du Galibier is where Bardet is most likely to make his move, attacking over the final summit and forcing a potentially lone Chris Froome to chase him down the concluding ascent. A stronger rise to the line would have made victory more likely, but if he times his offensive manoeuvres perfectly, then Bardet may well be on course for stage honours and a yellow jersey.

Dan Martin unexpectedly lost time in the crosswinds yesterday, despite finding himself well placed alongside giants Alexander Kristoff and André Greipel, compounded by the fact his Quick – Step teammates failed to live up to expectations as masters of such conditions. With their focus seemingly upon an unrealistic win for Marcel Kittel, the Irishman is now forced on the attack and will be appreciative of the stage which has been offered to him. With its long downhill run into the finish and the probability of him being the fastest present in an elite group of riders, this is a brilliant chance for Martin to collect a richly deserved stage win at this year’s race. However, the greatest concern is whether he can survive the onslaught of major climbs, especially if Romain Bardet signals his men to light the race up once again. Regardless, Martin seemed confident of returning to full fitness after his crash as the race enters its final week and will view this as an all or nothing day in the saddle.

Rigoberto Uran faces the greatest test of his surprise tilt at the yellow jersey during these next two days, as we await to discover how great a threat the Colombian may prove as the race approaches the crucial time trial in Marseille. Since his consecutive runner-up placings at the Giro d’Italia a few years ago, Uran has never appeared to be as strong as he once was in grand tours, thus this small renaissance of a much liked member of the peloton has the makings of banana skin for Chris Froome. Regardless, for now he must focus upon the task of Stage 17, one which suits his attributes well enough to hint at another potential stage win. Much like Dan Martin, his best hope is to stick within part of a small group of elite riders and hope to beat them all with the sort of acceleration which snatched victory by the millimetre on Stage 9.

Warren Barguil looks assured of standing atop the podium in Paris with the polka dot jersey upon his shoulders, yet he could still be lured out in pursuit another stage win today. With so many points on offer, Barguil could choose to hammer home his advantage by joining the early move of the day and aim to stay at the front of affairs right the way into Serre Chevalier. His form as been blistering during the race thus far, contributing to the goals of Michael Matthews equally as he has worked in pursuit of his own campaign in the mountains. The Frenchman may also instead wish to invest one final effort into a potential victory atop the Col d’Izoard tomorrow, though there is little to suggest he cannot win today if he chooses to attack.

Others who may hope to succeed from the early breakaway or attack over the summit of the final climb are Simon YatesAlberto ContadorTony GallopinPrimoz Roglic and Thomas De Gendt.

Outcome:

1st Romain Bardet 2nd Warren Barguil 3rd Mikel Landa

La Vuelta a España Preview

La Vuelta a España 2016 – Stage 15 Preview

Course:

There is no rest afforded to the peloton after yesterday’s queen stage, Stage 15 might be short at 118.5km, but the jagged profile and summit finish is certain to catch riders on a bad day. The journey from Sabiñanigo to Sallent de Gallego features the Category 3 Alto de Petralba (6.3km avg 5%), Category 2 Alto de Costefabio (12.5km 4.3%) and the final Category 1 summit finish up to Sallent de Gallego (14.5km 4.6%). Bound to be a chaotic and more intense day due to the shorter nature of the stage, it shall be difficult to predict who exactly will summit Sallent de Gallego first.


La Vuelta a España - Stage 15 Preview

Contenders:

Gianluca Brambilla conceded a great deal of time several days ago and now looks like one of the strongest placed riders to make it into a breakaway which will contest the day’s stage win. With hardly a stretch of genuine flat terrain to be ridden, Brambilla will relish a day which provides him the perfect springboard to attack solo en route to victory.

Omar Fraile has maintained his presence in the breaks in order to collect further points for the mountains classification and will still believe there is a chance of him picking up a stage win at this year’s race. Given the easier terrain compared to yesterday, Fraile will be a far greater threat to the hopes of others today and should perform well on the final climb.

Davide Formolo has not been as active as previously expected, so today could be an inviting proposition for the young Italian rider to join the action and take the win. His team Cannondale need to make their time here worthwhile, so a stage victory is a growing concern for the American outfit.

Simon Yates is demonstrating a great level of form at the race and should be considered a danger to everyone if he manages to find a place within the breakaway. One of his greatest skills is the ability to time his efforts to perfection and it would come as little surprise to see him secure victory through tactical nous, rather than simply being the freshest rider in the group.

Chris Froome will be the favourite if the race is brought back together on the final climb and it is hard to imagine anyone getting the better of him on the finish today. Nairo Quintana is still on the lookout to gain time on rival Froome ahead of the individual time trial and could potentially try an attack to steal a clutch of seconds. Esteban Chaves looked sharp yesterday and could certainly be interested in a late attempt to get away from the general classification leaders if the race comes back together on the last ascent.

Outcome:

1st Gianluca Brambilla 2nd Davide Formolo 3rd Omar Fraile

La Vuelta a España Preview

La Vuelta a España 2016 – Stage 3 Preview

Course:

Day three at La Vuelta a España takes the peloton on a 176.4km journey from Marín to the brutally steep climb of Mirador de Ézaro, offering up a gruelling finale to lure the puncheurs and general classification contenders into action early on at this race. The opening 100km of racing offer little interest to spectators, though shall prove ideal terrain for the day’s breakaway to form and establish a good rhythm ahead of the Category 1 and Category 2 ascents en route to the finale. The action will be ignited amongst the specialist climbers in the final few kilometres as they ride onto the opening ramps of the Mirador de Ézaro, a 1.8km ascent which averages 13.8% and reaches a leg burning 20% before the finish.

La Vuelta a España - Stage 3 Preview

 

Contenders:

Esteban Chaves is a clear contender for stage honours on day three, the diminutive Colombian rider often flourishing upon these short, sharp climbs which offer no cover for weaker riders to hide. Orica-BikeExchange have not made their intentions at this race clear thus far, but could certainly see today as an opportunity to capture an early stage win.

Alejandro Valverde has made finishes such as these his specialism throughout his career, marking him out as an obvious danger to the hopes of others on Stage 3. Questions are being asked as to his condition right now and this early test could prove to be a baptism of fire for the ageing Spaniard. If however he hits the ground running at this year’s Vuelta a España, then he may prove the man to beat on this testing final ascent.

Alberto Contador finished second on this same stage finish in 2012 and should have arrived at the race in good condition after abandoning the Tour de France last month, gradually increasing fitness through a light race schedule. This is not Contador’s favoured terrain and he will no doubt be focused on the longer plan at hand here, but if he is required to race hard to the line, there is every chance he could take the win.

Chris Froome is hoping to stretch his earlier summer form into this year’s Vuelta a España, looking to join the select club of riders who have won two grand tours in the same year. There is little doubt that Froome is aiming to ride himself into peak condition by the latter part of the race, though will have to follow the wheels of rivals on the Mirador de Ézaro, as a bad day could cost him a lot of time before the general classification fight is really on.

Simon Yates offers another great option for Orica-BikeExchange to challenge for the win on Stage 3, the young British rider suited to these steep gradients which require a strong burst of speed to distance everyone else as their legs begin to falter. This early part of the race may allow him a degree of freedom ahead of the general classification battle truly kicking off, making him a great outside bet for victory atop the Mirador de Ézaro.

Others who could win with a late surge to the line or from an earlier breakaway move include; Gianluca BrambillaJose GoncalvesRein TaaramaeDarwin Atapuma and Daniel Moreno.

Outcome:

1st Esteban Chaves 2nd Alejandro Valverde 3rd Alberto Contador

Le-Tour-de-France-2015-Stage-18-Preview-

Le Tour de France – Stage 18 Preview

Course:

With one Alpine stage under their belt already, the peloton are offered no respite as they are sent immediately into another mountainous stage encompassing seven categorised climb throughout the day. Despite its broad range of uphill challenges, the general classification favourites are likely to remain relatively sedate due to a finale which will not be decide upon a summit finish.

Stage 18 takes the riders on an 186.5km journey from the familiar town of Gap, to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne which is nestled within an Alpine valley like a Swiss chocolate box village. The longest of these remaining days in the mountains should be decided by a breakaway or late move which strikes out for glory if everything is back together late on in the race. From the off it is an upwards affair, the opening slopes of the Category 2 Col Bayard appear immediately from exiting Gap and cover a total of 6.3km worth of climbing at an average gradient of 7%. A tough way to open the account for the day and something which could send a fair amount of riders out the back straight away.

The terrain lessens in severity for a while after this, approaching the first of three consecutive Category 3 climbs in the space of 35km of racing. First comes Rampe du Motty (2.3km, avg 8.3%), then the Cote de la Mure (2.7km, avg 7.5%) and finally the Col de Malissol (2km, avg 8.7%). This run of three climbs starts with a gradual drop down in altitude before finishing by placing the riders above the altitude of the day’s opening Category 2 climb by 70.5km. All of these ascents are actually rather steep and will contribute to forming a large grupetto earlier than we have seen on the preceding mountain stages this year.

The second of the day’s three Category 2 climbs then follows in the shape of the Col de la Morte, a similarly short affair at 3.1km, it is still demanding given the average gradient of 8.4%. From the climb’s summit at 85km, a 15km descent drops the riders down into the valley once again rapidly, tackling a rather difficult intermediate sprint some kilometres later. Rising steadily onwards, the road builds in severity as it becomes evident to the riders that they have turned onto the opening slopes of the day’s main attraction; the Col du Glandon. This HC climb is certainly a beast, 21.7km in total length and averaging a misleading average of 5.1% due to the presence of two considerably easier sections which drop downwards during the climb. It will crack the legs primarily due to its irregular nature, providing little opportunity to find a rhythm with the gradients fluctuating regularly from 8% to 10% throughout the climb; remaining close to 9% in the final kilometre to the summit.

Having completed the Col du Glandon, less than 40km will then remain to their finishing location of Saint-Jean-De-Maurienne, a large part of which is formed by the subsequent descent from the summit. The peloton will reach level ground again briefly with 20km left to race, but soon begin building skywards again as they approach the brutal Lacets de Montvernier; a 3.4km climb which bolsters 18 hairpin bends and an average of 8.2% gradient. The ascent is relentless, which could be considered a blessing by some, allowing riders to settle into a rhythm as they try to hoist themselves to the top as quickly as possible.

Just 10km will then be left as they tip over the summit, a descent which traces its way through several tight hairpin bends and hits a small incline to the line in the concluding kilometres.

Le-Tour-de-France-2015-Stage-18-Preview-

Contenders:

Another open day in the Alps offers up an unpredictable stage, though those who sit in around the best climbers at this year’s Tour de France are likely to feature on the doubleheader of Col du Glandon and Lacets de Montvernier. 

Pierre Rolland is still in the hunt for a stage win at this year’s tour and showed a great level of form during the earlier Pyrenean stages, but it is not clear whether he has maintained this form into the Alps. He has a good chance of making it into the successful break of the day and could benefit from the tough final climb which leads into the easier finale. The Frenchman is running out of days to find victory at his home tour and will surely view Stage 18 as one of the best remaining chances to do just that.

Romain Bardet is in a similar position and was a surprise to see performing so poorly on the previous day’s climbs, but later put this down to poor management of blood sugars. If he manages to avoid bonking today, then the Frenchman does stand a chance of winning, if allowed to go clear by others placed around the top ten on the general classification. With so much of Stage 18 built upon short, hard climbs and plenty of descending, Bardet has the talents to perform well enough on paper to contest the win.

Some were suggesting that Joaquim Rodriguez had started to falter since his earlier stage winning double, but the previous day proved that he has instead been actively recovering and tried to join the right move. It seems likely that he will try this once again on Stage 18, short climbs with harsh gradients being his favoured terrain, while Lacets de Montvernier is the sort of finale you would expect to see him strut his stuff upon.

Further French interest might be represented by Christophe Riblon, the AG2R rider appearing to be in good form currently and is eager to smuggle himself aboard a winning break at last. Stage 16 did not quite work out as well as Riblon had hoped, predominantly due to the presence of Peter Sagan and the Frenchman’s lack of tactical nous to attack before the descent.

Steven Kruijswijk is beginning to demonstrate fragments of the form which allowed him to shine so fiercely at the Giro d’Italia earlier in the year. If he finds a well functioning move which places him as the best climber, then he possesses a solid chance of winning Stage 18. However, he is certainly not on top form right now and could become exposed in a frantic finale with stronger climbers.

Considering the amount of mountains classification points available on the road to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, it seems likely that Jakub Fuglsang will be lured out and into action. He has tried to make it into a move for the last couple of days and will view today as a crucial stage if he wishes to keep any hope of walking away with the polka dots alive.

Another rider possibly tempted into action by the mountains classification is MTN-Qhubeka’s Serge Pauwels, he is having a great Tour de France heading into Stage 18 and knows that the polka dot jersey is still a feasible target. Should he manage to make it into a breakaway which contests the majority of today’s mountains without Joaquim Rodriguez or Jakub Fuglsang alongside him, then he should take the jersey off tour leader Chris Froome.

Both Adam Yates and Simon Yates are likely to be active during the day if feeling good; the twins having both circled the Alps as the best hunting ground for stage success. A big outsider for the day is Peter Sagan, who appears to be discovering new depths to his talents at the Tour de France, meaning he just cannot be excluded from pulling off an incredible win. The finale could click really well with his attributes, but the Col du Glandon will be the biggest test if he wishes to have a shot at winning here. Sagan is climbing better than ever before and if he paces it well, there is no reason he could not recoup any losses with another barnstorming descent.

Outcome:

1st Serge Pauwels 2nd Jakub Fuglsang 3rd Joaquim Rodriguez

Le-Tour-de-France-2015-Stage-17-Preview-

Le Tour de France – Stage 17 Preview

Course:

Though only yesterday, the rest day will seem a million years ago for many in the peloton on Stage 17 of 2015’s Le Tour de France; sending the riders headlong into an Alpine summit finish for their first day back in the saddle. Tasking them with an 161km long trip from the start in Digne-les-Bains to a summit finish upon the historic Pra Loup climb of the Alps. For those not so immersed in cycling folklore, the ascent of Pra Loup was the scene of a rare sight during the 1975 Tour de France; the dethroning of Eddy Merckx by Bernard Thévenet. If that in itself does not ring any bells, then perhaps the fact an almost identical route and finish was used during this year’s Critérium du Dauphiné will; Romain Bardet emerging victorious after attacking on Pra Loup’s preceding descent on that day.

Essentially, it is safe to say that the peloton will be plenty well versed enough to anticipate what exactly awaits them on this first day back in the moutains, the favourite poised to ignite their last chance efforts to force Chris Froome out of the maillot jaune before Paris. The day’s account is opened by the Category 3 Col de Leques (6km, avg 5.3%) which tops out at the 40km marker and serves as a moderate warmup ahead of Stage 17’s schedule. A further 27km down the road comes the summit of the second of the day’s climbs, the Category 3 Col de Toutes Aures, one hundred meters longer than its predecessor but offering an easier gradient of 3.1% to be conquered.

A brief descent follows on from here and places the riders at the base of the Category 2 Col de la Colle-Saint-Michel, a much longer climb at 11km and averaging 5.2% from start to finish. The summit of this climb will come just before the century mark at 96km of riding, running immediately into another brief downhill section. Stage 17’s intermediate sprint appears slightly further down the road after 111km of racing and is bound to see Peter Sagan mixing it up again; if the break have not swept up all the points before the Slovak passes through. Onwards from this brief competition, the road segues straight into the ascent of the day’s solitary Category 1 climb; the Col d’Allos. This 14km ascent will soon begin to offer us up an indication of who is in good form during the day’s ride to Pra Loup, though billed as 5.5% on paper for the entirety, it is the testing 6km run to the summit which fluctuates between 6% and 8.5% which will be the battle until they drop down the other side.

From its summit, a little over 20km will separate the peloton from the summit finish of Stage 17, Pra Loup sure to be dialling up the anxiety as they drop down to its opening slopes. If the impending rush to win the was not enough to add fuel to the fires of stress, the descent which connects the two final climbs is also technically demanding and is sure to act as a launchpad for a gifted climber to gather an advantage on the downhill before scaling the gradients to Pra Loup. Given that its length is only 6.2km in total, some may consider the anticipated drama to occur here to be over exaggerated, but there is sure to be enough action to bring the frontrunners to the fore and see some serious defending of the yellow jersey by Chris Froome. The gradients here are stated to average a constant 6.5%, though its final kilometre is set to make for some interesting viewing as it spikes upwards to 8.5%. A short finishing straight will decide the day, only 80m in fact, meaning there is little imperative for somebody who rolls well on the flat to make the cut upon the final climb unlike Stage 14.

Le-Tour-de-France-2015-Stage-17-Preview-

Contenders:

The opening Alpine salvo of 2015’s Tour de France is sure to lure some riders out who began this race in Utrecht with well founded ambitions of featuring towards the pointy end of this year’s general classification, but now find themselves separated by around ten minutes to current leader Chris Froome. However, despite many perceiving a gradual demise of Team Sky’s strength due to the abandonment of Peter Kennaugh and the ailing form of Richie Porte, Wout Poels and Nicolas Roche; Chris Froome might decide to strike out once again and demonstrate his dominance. Though not wishing to jinx him, there is a great misconception about Froome’s ability to descend, a total absence of evidence to suggest he cannot keep pace with the likes of Alejandro Valverde or Vincenzo Nibali. Assuming he stays within 15 seconds of a rider such as Valverde heading into the opening sections of Pra Loup. There is little to argue against Froome taking yet another summit finish victory at Le Tour de France.

As stated above, Alejandro Valverde appears to be a likely contender to attack on the final descent and try to gain an advantage to his rivals before turning onto Pra Loup. The descent is technical, meaning Froome may decided to back down on the pace somewhat in pursuite of Valverde, allowing the Spainard to start the ascent to home solo; a climb which suits his attributes well given its distance and gradients. If away late into the stage, Froome will not wish to work too hard to bring him back, as their is a strong chance of Nairo Quintana then immediately counter-attacking as soon as his teammate is reeled back in.

AG2R will be confident of featuring in some form during the finale of Stage 17 and Romain Bardet should be confident of animating the race given his recent winning performance on almost the exact same course during this year’s Critérium du Dauphiné. The young Frenchman appears to be finding his legs at last and is likely to invest his efforts heavily during this Alpine conclusion of the tour after his general classification hopes failed to make it through the opening week. There is obviously the chance that his focus will instead be placed upon cementing his top ten general classification placing, as those sitting around him will not be particularly fond of seeing his bike vanish up the road during their ride down Col d’Allos.

Of those who entered his race has contenders for the overall win, Vincenzo Nibali is now the rider likey to be given the most freedom to attack on a stage such as this. Little needs to be said of the Italian’s prowess for descending, a talent which would set him up well if deciding to attack as soon as the summit of the Col d’Allos is reached. As little as thirty seconds could be enough of an advantage for Nibali to fend off his pursuers on Pra Loup, but it will be hard to pull out such time if the likes of Chris Froome and Alejandro Valverde wish to keep him on a tight leash. Entering this final week, Nibali does look to have begun finding his climbing legs once again, but he will need a reasonable cushion to emerge victorious atop Pra Loup.

Nairo Quintana has the possibility to begin pulling back time from Chris Froome on Stage 17, the Col d’Allos and Pra Loup an enticing combination which could see the Colombian attack hard on both ascents. As mentioned earlier, Froome is beginning to appear isolated in the latter stages of these mountain days and has the potential to start creaking under the pressure of his Spanish speaking rivals. With teammate Alejandro Valverde equally well poised to attack Froome, the Movistar combination could finally strike gold if they play their cards right.

Though Romain Bardet’s win on a carbon copy stage at this year’s Crtéterium du Dauphiné was the main headline, eyebrows were slightly raised after Tejay Van Garderen’s performance saw him take four seconds out of his rival Chris Froome. Though it is unlikely to see the American fighting for the win here, it should be monitored as to how well he copes with his general classification rivals attack; possibly making a move himself yet again to take a handful of seconds.

Two noteworthy riders currently placed in the top ten overall are Robert Gesink and Bauke Mollema, who could contribute a surprising amount of energy into pursing a rider such as Vincenzo Nibali; stopping him from leapfrogging Gesink or pulling away from Mollema. On the road, both are finding their climbing legs at last and are often dangerously underrated on a stage finish such as this. Both have the ability to lay down high tempo attacks, but it is Mollema who stands out as the most likely to attempt such a move in the final kilometres in order to gain time on the general classification.

Of course, a breakaway winning on Stage 17 remains a strong possibility, especially if the dynamic of strength and size is struck spot on when going clear. Simon Yates has been ill during Le Tour, but stated that his ambitions were to rest and actively recover as best as possible, before then coming to the fore on his favoured Alpine climbs. If Romain Bardet fails for AG2R on today’s stage, Alexis Vuillermoz will be waiting in the wings to take over and lead the charge in either a breakaway or elite group of contenders which reaches Pra Loup first. He was only 1:37 down on Bardet during that Dauphiné finish this year and has already demonstrated his form by winning on Stage 8. Yet further French hopes can be flown by Pierre Rolland, who is in good condition, but is not always best positioned to follow the right moves. Having finished within a minute of Bardet on Pra Loup at the Dauphiné, he must feel confident of mounting a serious charge once again on Stage 17’s same finale. The South-African Louis Meintjes is well worth a mention on a day such as this, he has looked strong throughout the mountains for the most part so far and placed 6th (50″ down) when Bardet took the Pra Loup win last month.

Others worth keeping an eye on are Daniel MartinRafael VallsMathias FrankJoaquim RodriguezWilco Kelderman, Ryder Hesjedal and Andrew Talansky.

Outcome:

Breakaway: 1st Romain Bardet 2nd Louis Meintjes 3rd Simon Yates

GC Riders: 1st Alejandro Valverde 2nd Chris Froome 3rd Bauke Mollema

 

 

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Le Tour de France – Stage 12 Preview

Course:

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.

 

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Contenders:

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 Vallsa 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 PinotJoaquim 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.

Outcome:

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