Christophe Riblon did what he does best and took an impressive stage win after a long breakaway in the mountains. Stage 19 doesn’t finish uphill but it will be just as hard for the riders.
We are in the end of the third week and everybody is already on his limits. Add to that an extremely tough uphill time trial and double up on Alpe d’Huez the days before. These 204.5 km will feel like forever for the riders and it all starts out with two HC climbs. Bon appetite!
There are 21.6 km to the top of Col du Glandon and due to a couple of small descents, the average gradient is “only” 5.1 %. There are steep parts of 11 % in the middle and after a long part of 5 %, the climb kicks up with 8 % near the top. The first rider over the top gets 25 points for the KOM Jersey and with no less than 75 points up for grabs today, this is a very important day for the riders targeting that competition. Chris Froome leads the competition in front of Nairo Quintana and since they both will get points on Saturday’s uphill finish, riders like Mikel Nieve and Pierre Rolland really need to attack from a far if they want to win the jersey.
After the descent from Col du Glandon, there are just 10 km to the next HC climb starts. Col de Madeleine is feared by many and with its 19.2 km of 7.9 %,it’s not difficult to understand why. There are still 121 km to go from the top of Madeleine and we will most likely see a breakaway get a good gap at this point.
The last 70 km include three climbs in a row. First up is Col de Tamié (8.6 km / avg. 6.2 %) and after that it’s time for the steep Col de l’Épine with an average of 7.3 % and parts over 10 % near the top. The riders stay on a plateau for about 10 km after reaching the top of Col de l’Épine and after a short descent, they face the final climb of the day. Col de la Croix Fry is 11.3 km and has an average gradient of 7 %. There are steep parts halfway through to the top and we should see the favorites attack each other on this climb.
From the top of Col de la Croix Fry there are just 13 km to go and with only a few tricky corners on the descent, we can expect a fast finish. As of Thursday evening, there are 50 % chance of rain during the stage and that could spice up things a bit. The Tour had a similar stage finish in 2004 when Lance Armstrong tried to get teammate Floyd Landis to win. Landis didn’t manage to get away on the descent and in the end Armstrong outsprinted Andreas Klöden to take the stage win.
|The final 70 km of Stage 19 - Click for larger view.|
As hoped for in my Preview for stage 18, Saxo-Tinkoff tried to make a masterpiece. They failed however and now they have to focus on keeping their podium spot instead of trying to win the Tour. It’s not like Alberto Contador not to aim for the overall win and even though he may not care if he ends 2nd or 10th, I bet his team does. I personally doubt Saxo-Tinkoff will try to open up the race from afar on this stage but with Contador you never know.
I didn’t mention Purito among my favorites for Alpe d’Huez since I was waiting to play him as my favorite for this stage. Purito had two big goals for this first part of the season; Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Tour de France. He managed to time his condition perfectly for LBL but in a sprint against Dan Martin he couldn’t do better than second place. Ever since April all focus has been on the Tour and trying to peak in the third week. So far, everything has gone according to the plan and Purito is now just 26 seconds from the podium. In his preparation for the Tour, Purito has been training on this stage and tomorrow’s stage and he knows exactly what to expect. He best chance of making podium is to drop Contador and Kreuziger - I doubt he can handle Quintana - and to do that he needs to put in a couple of strong attacks on Col de la Croix Fry.
Teammate Dani Moreno is also peaking right now and I expect a big show from Katusha in the last days in the Alps. Purito’s biggest rival for the stage win is Alejandro Valverde but according to Valverde, Movistar are now all-in for Nairo Quintana and his podium place. In case Alberto Contador has another bad day, I think it will only be Purito, Froome and Quintana in front (among the favorites) over the top of Col de la Croix Fry and if they can make it to the finishing line, Purito should be able to outsprint Quintana. Froome will happy just to keep the yellow jersey.
I mentioned in the beginning that this is an important stage for the riders still hoping to win the KOM Jersey. Mikel Nieve is fourth in that competition right now, 41 points behind Chris Froome, but if Nieve is first man over the two first climbs, he will take the jersey - for now. The strong Basque climber is 15th overall, 24:13 minutes down, and he’s not a threat for the Top10 riders should he get into the morning breakaway. Euskaltel are in desperate need of a new sponsor and it would help quite a lot if Mikel Nieve could win the Polka Dot Jersey.
Europcar tried to attack on stage 18 with Thomas Voeckler and Pierre Rolland but it all came too late as the breakaway already had a big gap. I think both Voeckler and Rolland will be eager to get into the morning breakaway and with a downhill finish, the stage looks very good for especially Voeckler.
My last joker is Alessandro De Marchi. His teammate Moreno Moser came close on Alpe d’Huez and his third place must have boosted the moral for the coming days. De Marchi himself has tried hard the last couple of days in the mountains and he did very well on stage 18 despite not getting into the morning breakaway. He finished 19th on Alpe d’Huez and he showed in Dauphiné that he has what it takes to go all the way. Two years ago, the Italian’s former team boss, Gianni Savio, told me that De Marchi is strong but “not a winner”. Things have changed since then and should Alessandro De Marchi manage get into the morning breakaway, I think he will be very difficult to beat - should they make it to the line.
Favorite: Joaquim ‘Purito’ RodriguezJokers: Thomas Voeckler & Alessandro De Marchi
For live race coverage go to Steephill.tv
Just like during the Giro d’Italia this year, I once again have the chance to bring you daily “Fly Through” previews from Global Cycling Network. Here is Stage 19: