Firstly, apologies for the lack of Stage 13 preview, non-cycling life again got in the way!
After a utterly barnstorming stage, the GC men will surely be taking it easy on Stage 14 and this looks set for a breakaway win from one of the puncheurs, but with the Top 8 only separated by 2 minutes, any opportunity that arises will be taken.
Looking at the profile, this is very much a stage of two halves, the first section (around 70kms) is predominantly flat and should see a break form relatively easily. The final 100kms cover rolling roads, which feature two cat 3 climbs – the Côte du viaduc du Viaur and Côte de Centrès, both averaging 7%. This is as close to a spring classic as you’ll get in the Tour.
The end of the stage is where the fire works will likely start though. The final 5kms are along tight roads with some sharp corners to negotiate, this will make it hard for a strong solo attack to be reeled in before the climb to the finish line atop the Côte de Saint-Pierre, which is onyl half a km long but averages 9.6%. In 2015, Van Avermaet and Sagan fought it out up the final drag for the win, with the Belgium taking the spoils. We wouldn’t be surprised if the result was the same again in 2017 – minus Sagan of course, sadly
Van Avermaet has been very quiet during this Tour. His teammate, Porte, scuppered his chance for the win on stage 3 and he will have had this stage marked down since the route was announced. He has continued the success he had in 2016 this season, taking his first Monument at Paris-Roubaix. With Sagan no longer in the race he will be the favourite.
Matthews, on the other hand, has been very animated throughout the race, contesting sprint finishes and also putting in some huge efforts to get over the climbs to take the points on offer at the intermediate sprints. All of this work will have sapped his reserves, so although we expect him to be up there at the finish, though he may not have the final kick to take the win.
Another Belgian who had a great spring was Gilbert. He has looked like the rider he was in 2011, which was also the one and only time that he won a Tour stage. A win here would complete the Phil Gil renaissance. His teammate Stybar could also go well, but he hasn’t really shown the form he had a few seasons ago. Quicksteps GC man, Martin would also suit this type of finish, but his other GC rivals are unlikely to let him get away in a break to fight for the win.
Riders like Ulissi, McCarthy and Colbrelli also have a decent kick on a finish like this. Ulissi has been active in the breaks on mountain stages, so he might not have the legs. Bakelants was 3rd here in 2015 and has looked decent so far this tour (apart from his comments about podium girls). Also, watch out for Felline and Wellens who could try something from far out and hope to hang on
Greg Van Avermate