The majority of the peloton will be happy to have exited the Pyrenees at last, switching the attention from the climbers and the battle for the general classification, back to a broader spectrum of contenders on Stage 13. For those averse to the mountain passes, they will have to savour this brief detour from the big climbs, as it will not be long until they are into the Alps and battling huge passes once again.
It will be a 198.5km journey which threads the riders from the start in Muret to the day’s finale in Rodez, a familiar touchstone for Le Tour throughout its history. Gentle enough rolling terrain will be the order of play during the opening 90km – 100km of racing, the only real instigator of interest coming with the intermediate sprint which appears at 92.5km. The road begins to build upwards after this upon an unrecognised climb, before then dropping down sharply and turning onto the first categorised ascent of Stage 13.
From here on in, the real battle for today’s outcome is lit, the Category 3 Côte de Saint-Cirgue opening the legs up during its average gradient of 5.8% which lasts for a total of 3.8km. Concentration will remain an imperative right the way to the line, the roads posing a testing task to navigate as the parcours consistently wind their way through ascents and descents from one moment to the next. The second summit will be reached by 156.5km, Côte de la Pomparie offering an easier challenge at 2.8km in length and an average gradient of 5% which ticks over steadily. The final official climb’s summit is reached at the 167km marker, the longer Côte de la Selve (3.9km, avg 3.7%) closing the book upon Stage 13’s recognised ascents.
A momentary lull is likely to follow the final climb, but it will not last long as the road kicks up once again to tackle an unrecognised ascent which tops out only 10.5km from the line. It is bound to play host to some feisty exchanges as puncheurs attempt to go clear ahead of the descent to the finish line. The road does not flatten out again until 2.5km from home, this will take them though a series of reasonably technical bends and place them upon the unrecognised Côte Saint-Pierre drag which should crown the victor. Though only 570m in total, its average of 9.6% gradient offers the powerful puncheurs an opportunity to empty the tank and burst clear for the line.
Dan Martin is in fantastic form at the moment and is unlucky to have fallen victim of mistiming his attacks twice already, currently bolstering a pair of second place finishes. Though the finale here is tough enough in regards to gradient for a puncheur such as Martin, it may not last long enough to see him come to the fore. Regardless, given his current condition and motivation to not leave Le Tour empty handed, he must be considered for the win here on Stage 13.
The eye of many shall be caught by Peter Sagan on a finish which is likely to leave him the strongest of the sprinters and fastest of the puncheurs. As ever at Le Tour, Sagan has demonstrated a diverse range of talents which allow him to consistently collect points for the Green Jersey competition beyond that of the drag races favoured by André Greipel and Mark Cavendish. Assuming he is well positioned as the fireworks begin exploding in the final kilometre, Sagan possesses the best of both worlds, making him a clear favourite to (finally) win at 2015’s Le Tour de France.
Another obvious contender for stage honours today is Spaniard Alejandro Valverde, who is demonstrating his ability to ride into form despite beginning this contest somewhat undercooked. He did not perform as well as expected on his favoured Mur de Huy, but has started to appear a strong frontrunner during the difficult Pyrenees. If he has truly timed his blossoming form as well as many are stating, then he is possibly the fastest puncheur on this almost 10% finishing gradient and has what is required to beat power based rivals such as Sagan.
The finish does suit Tony Gallopin well, though he might now be focused more intently on securing a top ten general classification lacing, so investing his efforts here might be a struggle to justify. He has a quick sprint and goes well on these sharp inclines, but is likely to have fancied a more arduous finale in order to get the best from him; such as the Mur de Huy on Stage 3.
Greg Van Avermaet should view Stage 13 as a real chance for glory, the finale itself almost tailor-made to his attributes. As ever, he is strong if joining the day’s breakaway or biding his time in the bunch, ensuring he remains a threat despite lacking team support due to the needs of Tejay Van Garderen. Though plenty of faster men could beat him in a normal sprint, this difficult drag up the line will play perfectly into the hands of Greg Van Avermaet and he could easily secure a podium place if feeling fresh.
Given his likely team support in the final moments and the power required to overcome the uphill run to the line, John Degenkolb is a natural contender for the win on Stage 13. The German certainly has the strength to overcome this battle and has form in the last year for beating the puncheurs on similar terrain; even getting the better of Alejandro Valverde on a more difficult climb than this recently. Perhaps most favourably for Degenkolb is how good his condition tends to be upon exiting the first run of mountains at Le Tour, likely to surprise some heading into a sprint on day thirteen.
Another sprinter worth mentioning on a day such as this is Europcar’s Bryan Coquard, a lightweight rider with a frightening turn of pace in the final run to the line. His performances on these climbs to the line are well documented and he has made no secret of his intentions to feature here as long as he enters the day in good condition. That is the key factor for the diminutive sprinter, he has not appeared to cope well with the Pyrenees and could have seen his legs weaken too greatly to contest the win. Regardless, he is worth mentioning considering his strengths align well with the likely requirements of a winner on Stage 13.
A battle between Alejandro Valverde and Peter Sagan could prove an exciting possibility at the end of Stage 13, the battle of puncheur and strongman sprinter likely to decide the winner here. Both men are in brilliant form at this year’s race and looked to have coped particularly well with everything the Pyrenees had to throw at them. Sagan consistently goes beyond expectation and sticks with the best on terrain which does not always suit him, but comes up short so frequently it just seems that Valverde is likely to get the better of him. Though the Spaniard was several lacking on his favourite Mur de Huy finale of Stage 3, he has so far ridden himself into ever improving condition and looks incredibly aggressive right now alongside the major overall contenders. John Degenkolb is possibly the next best sprinter to feature here given his power, while the puncheurs such as Dan Martin, Greg Van Avermaet and Tony Gallopin have the skills required to get the better of the faster finishing riders. The possibility of a breakaway making it all the way to the line is actually quite high here given the terrain of Stage 13’s second half, but the broad selection of riders who suit today’s finale should ensure that the chase behind is strong enough to reel anyone back late on.
1st Alejandro Valverde 2nd Peter Sagan 3rd Dan Martin
Outsider: John Degenkolb