Praise be! Let’s be honest, since last Sunday the Tour has been a bore. Only Bouhanni’s punch and Bodner’s late attack made the last 48 hours mildly interesting.
Anyway, enough of the past. Stage 12 is a tantalising beast for the riders to contend with. Four categorised climbs will need to be dealt with before the double-barreled summit finish in Peyragudes. It is anyone’s guess whether it will be a day for the break or the GC. Our guess is that it will play out much the same as Stage 9, with a multitude of breaks forming during the stage only for the GC pack to up the pace on the final ascents and join the party to fight it out for the stage win.
The riders leave Pau and for the first 100km the roads are undulating, but not severe, spare the cat 4 Côte de Capvern at 64km. However, the battle to form a breakaway will be on and so the pace could well be high as the peloton decides if it will allow that particular selection of riders to escape. KOM contenders Barquil, Roglic and Pinot will likely be part of this. However, the sprinter’s teams may well not let the break form until after the intermediate sprint at 90km. After this the first big opportunity for some riders to break away comes on the cat 1 Col de Menté, which is 6.9km with a punchy average of 8.1%, peaking at 16%. KOM hunters will be gunning for this, so expect to see the start of some fireworks.
The riders then reach the big dog of the day, the Port de Balès, which marks the highest point of the day at 1,755 metres. It’s 11.7km long, with an average of 7.7%. It doesn’t ramp up to eye-watering high gradients (its max is a little over 11%), but it is a long slog to the summit. Now we could see the Sky train employed here to nullify attacks though we think riders like Contador, Latour and Quintana may look to launch something here – but it is a big ask to make it stick. The fact that they will then descend for a good 10km has to bring into play AG2R’s tactic of attacking the descent for Bardet, which was devastatingly used on Stage 9. The other teams will obviously be wise to this now, but it’s not so easy to pull back an attack like this when you are not prepared to go balls out on a downhill.
After this, the riders immediately begin the double headliner of the day in the shape of the Col de Peyresourde. The first part is 9km ascent averaging 7%, there is then a short descent before the last 3kms head uphill to the finish. These final kms kick up to 13% and we could see riders that have hung on until this point blow up and lose a stack of time.
As we said before, its 50-50 wether it’ll be a day for the break or the GC contenders fighting it out for the win. So let’s look at riders from each of these groups that could take the spoils.
The 13th July marks the 50th anniversary of Tom Simpson’s death on the slopes of Mount Ventoux. The climb doesn’t feature in this Tour, but another British rider who has a strong affinity with it is currently wearing yellow. Froome has said that he wants to honour Simpson’s memory today by keeping the jersey, but the stage win would be a far more fitting tribute. Pre-race doubts over his form have been cast to one side and with his biggest rival, Porte, out of the race, he looks to be able to cope with the attacks of the rest. If he can continue that today, then a fourth Tour win looks ever more assured.
There are two riders that have taken the challenge to Froome – Aru & Bardet. Aru’s attacks on La Planche des Belles Filles surprised most and he held on to take the win and move into a 3rd on GC. He controversially attacked Froome on Stage 9, but he and his team’s tactics on that stage were poor and after that attack, they never put Froome in difficulty. He suffered a blow with Cataldo crashing out in Stage 11 and Fuglsang fracturing his elbow and wrist in the same crash, but riding on. He is currently only 18 seconds behind Froome and he’ll need to at least keep that advantage by the end of today and hopefully produce a more meaningful attack.
Bardet and his AG2R team were the stars of Stage 9 with that synchronised attacks of the descent in the breakaway and the main group. The descent of the Port de Balès could well be the scene of another attack from him. The difference being that this time he’ll have a Cat 1 and 2 climbs to get over afterwards. A stage victory tomorrow on Bastille day may seem more poetic, but the French nation won’t mind a bit if he wins today and rides in Yellow tomorrow.
Yates has a decent lead now in the Young Rider competition and stated in an interview yesterday that he might be inclined to try something here today, again possibly in memory of Tom Simpson, in his attempt to move up onto the podium. He has looked able to answer the attacks of others on the road well and the longer climbs will suit him.
For a stage winner we are going to go with one of these four riders, but as we said, a breakaway could easily steal the day.
Cannondale now finds themselves needing to ride to protect Uran’s GC position, so they may not flood the breakaway as previously expected and riders like Rolland could be saving themselves for tomorrow but could make a play for the KOM’s on offer today.
Barguil & Roglic will be hunting down KOM points, Barguil cut a forlorn figure after he found out Uran had pipped him to the win on stage 9 – he’ll be desperate to make amends today.
Pinot disappeared from our screens during his bit part in the breakaway, the attacks on the descents snuffing out any hope he had of a stage win. If he can keep pace with those today then a stage win is on the cards.
One of our picks for Stage 9, Benoot looked really strong during that stage. Lotto haven’t had much to cheer about so far this Tour and he and his teammate De Gendt could attempt to change that today.
Finally new French favourite (and ours), Calmejane could well be thinking about taking a second stage win in his maiden Tour.