After Friday’s boring sprint stage, it’s now time for some real action. Kidding aside, Saxo-Tinkoff showed they can outnumber Chris Froome in the crosswind but I doubt they will try something on this stage.
A morning breakaway is yet to make it all the way in this year’s Tour de France but I have a feeling it will happen this time. There are seven categorized climbs on the menu and even though they aren’t very steep, they should prove to be too much for the pure sprinters.
The first 60 km of the stage is flat and if the wind is strong we could see some teams trying to split the peloton once again. The forecast shows a light wind though and most likely, we will see fireworks of breakaway attempts instead. I expect these first 60 km to take place in a very high pace and since everybody knows this is a day for a breakaway, everybody wants to be up front.
The only thing that really can prevent a breakaway from making it is Peter Sagan and his Cannondale team. If they have the manpower to do another monster pull again, they could really make some damages. It all depends on the wind, who is in the break, how the GC riders feel and bunch of other things. Like I wrote the other day, Peter Sagan is not shy of attacking on these kind of stages and I wouldn’t be surprised if he tries to get into the morning breakaway himself.
The last 30 km include three category 4 climbs. They are not long nor steep but they serve as excellent places to test your fellow escapees. The last one, Côte de la Croix-Rousse (1.8 km / 4.5 %), has its top just after the 10 km to go banner. The run-in from here is very easy and with the expected tailwind, a strong rider may be able to keep a chasing group at bay. The last 2 km are straight out on Avenue Jean Jaurès and it will be a high-speed sprint should a bigger group arrive together.
On a stage like this one, you can’t really talk about favorites. Today’s profile has “breakaway” written all over it but of course there are some riders more likely to hit the right break than others. Classic specialists like Juan-Antonio Flecha, Lars Boom, Philippe Gilbert and Sylvain Chavanel will all have this stage red-circled in their road books but so will about 100 riders. Lars Bak is another rider who’s recently been very good at hitting the right breakaways. He won a stage in the Giro d’Italia last year and managed to get into - what seemed like - the right break this year on a day he had marked. I know he has this stage written down and I won’t be surprised to see him in the final break.
Other solid breakaway candidates are riders like Thomas Voeckler (multiple Tour de France stage winner), Pierrick Fedrigo (last year stage winner), Arthur Vichot (French Champion), Jan Bakelants (stage winner and former yellow jersey), Alexey Lutsenko (U-23 World Champion) and Simon Gerrans (stage winner and former yellow jersey).
With the long flat finish I think it’s important to be fast on the line. If you’re not strong enough to go solo on the last climb, you need to pack a solid sprint. Riders like Michael Albasini, Enrico Gasparotto, Tony Gallopin and Julien Simon are other good candidates with a fast finish but honestly, I could keep on naming possible winners for days. Take a look at the start list and mark the fast guys who’s strong on these kind of hills. You will end up with a long list of names and if you pick out a couple of riders, chances are you will have at least one in the final break.
If I had to put my money on only one rider tomorrow, it would Jan Bakelants. He’s in the shape of his life right now and he’s already won one stage in this year’s Tour de France. He managed to bridge the gap to the break with Pierre Rolland on the second Pyrenees stage and that shows his climbing legs are great too. Bakelants is good at hitting the right breakaways and he’s also kind of fast on the line. His morale is high and after taking it easy on the second part of the time trial, I think he’s ready to do whatever he can to cross the finishing line first in Lyon Saturday afternoon.
Of course, should it all end with a sprint in a reduced peloton Peter Sagan is the man to beat.
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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 14: