This year’s Tour has many fearsome stages and finishes but today has a realistic claim to be the queen. If yesterday’s ascent was the hardest single climbing test in the tour, then today is the longest uphill day of the race by a distance.
The initial start is lumpy for 8.5km before a flat but rising 40km before the Col du Lataret. The roadbook says that it’s an astonishing 34kms long but at just 3.4%; Having gone to take a closer look at the climb as a whole, the Inner Ring has come to the rescue with a fantastic piece that can be read here.
Climb by bike has as a good profile which breaks down this climb – it starts with a very hard section of 7.5% and is gradual and winding before taking a short, sharp descent before rising uphill again. The distance is fearsome but look at the percentages and it’s nothing for anyone to be fearful of, as even sprinters could keep the wheel at some of the gradients – but the key is how quickly the Peloton will take it. This is ideal territory for a breakaway’s advantage to grow significantly and a softening of the legs for the main field depending on how they take it. At the top a break will sprint for king of the mountains points on a slightly easier gradient than the ones previously. Another crucial thing to note is that even if the climb isn’t brutally sharp, it has a rise to 2,058m above sea level in a day were the altitude gain is steady and fierce.
The profile above has 9 sections that are above 5%, and from the 24th to the 33rd kilometere roughly – the average gradient is 5% for nearly 11km’s. However you look at it, it’s a difficult start. We then have about 30km of descending before reaching Briançon, where we take on the Col d’Izoard, the race’s highest point at 2,360m above seal level and the real climbing test of the two climbs that preceed today’s finish.
If the Lauratert was all about opening up the leg s softly then the Izoard will explode them. It’s 19km at 6% but a slight descent 4km in and then some rolling road contribute greatly to that and the last 6km are at least 7.5%, and the easiest gradient in the last 9 is 5.3%; definitely the selection forcer of the day. This is a classic Alpine climb with several hairpin bends – more than 20 – and will have many pushing or on their limit. A large but reduced group should descend for nearly 30km (again), before hitting Risoul, today’s finishing climb, as seen below.
While yesterday saw a whole range of attacks from the main men pacing was vital and the same can be expected today for what is a flat out drag for 12km. The minimum this climb will touch is 5.5% and the last 7kms don’t go below 7% before a final kilometre of 6.1%. The gradient is regular and unrelenting but for some respite with the regular winding turns, extremely similar to what we saw yesterday but shorter. See below for an example of basically what the whole climb is like, thanks to Pez Cycling News.
After such a brutal stage yesterday we have to wonder if the main teams with podium contenders – AG2R, Movistar, BMC, and FDJ – will be willing to set a hard pace to reel in any breakaway that may go. There’s also big motivation with the Laturaet and Col D’Izoard offering 35 points to the winner of both climbs today, and the near 60km of descending lending itself to an escape attempt – don’t forget that there are just the 20 points on offer to the winner rather than the 50 Vincenzo Nibali took in such style anyway.
Joaquim Rodriguez found the going too tough yesterday after Katusha kept the escape on a leash but nothing less than making it from the start will do and he’d be the best climber in a getaway; The worry is that his big efforts cost him on Stage 10 and today is a harder day but there’s less reason for the bunch to go hard.
Saxo-Tinkoff have quickly turned their matters to stage results after losing Alberto Contador and while it was widely expected that Michael Rodgers or Nicolas Roche would make the break, Rafal Majka turned out to be their best card. Staying with the main favourites comfortably in an elite group of the race’s best climbers, Majka rode to his Giro best when staying with the main leaders and eventually taking advantage of his also ran position on GC to lump away with Leopold Konig, beating him to second on the stage. The two jumped clear with 11.3km to go, making their performance all the more impressive even if they were working in tandem together which suited them greatly.
The two did finish together but Konig has now climbed into the top 10 after two fine showings on summit finishes and will be eyeing up Rui Costa’s ninth place today as well, while Majka is over an hour down; Having shown he has the legs to attack from an elite group, one would have to see him as the strongest likely breakway contender too, a versatility we don’t usually get to see, and he appeals as the value in the field.
Other breakaway names include dauphine stage winner Mikel Nieve, who has no GC duties with Porte now out, and Michael Rodgers and Nico Roche, although both are in play shots more than outrights as they finished a long way down yesterday. Allessandro Di Marchi took the 2013 Dauphine finish to Risoul and will be in search of more polka dot points, but he approached the finish yesterday with a fairly big gap and was easily swallowed up; Brice Felliu didn’t have the legs yesterday and a different rider from Bretagne might go today.
Alejandro Valverde and Thibaut Pinot had their disagreements yesterday, with the Spaniard taking great advantage of the young Frenchman’s wheel before attempting to distance him and then sitting in his slipstream before gubbing him to take three seconds at the finish, but they look to be the second and third best climbers in the race. Valverde sits snugly in a podium spot and may want to try and take yet more time on the final climb with the race ending time trial not his favoured domain either. At 10’s, he’s a very tempting each/way bet if the general classification men came up as one.
But in that scenario nobody can hold a candle to Vincenzo Nibali, the brilliant Italian who looks set to complete a holy grail of Grand Tour wins barring accident or illness. His attack from 6km out is the kind of thing that would be seen as a monstrous risk for a man in yellow to take but he slaughtered the field and proved himself the strongest rider in the race by a clear mile. There’s no reason for Astana to chase today or for him to kick with the three stage wins but he made a mockery of such a suggestion yesterday and I can assure you that there won’t be 7/2 on offer if the yellow jersey is within sight approaching Risoul.
Tejay Van Garderen and Romain Bardet did well to free themselves of Laurens Ten Damn, Frank Schleck, Hamiar Zubeldia, Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Jean-Cristophe Peraud and Bauke Mollema, but none of those looked as strong as Nibali, Valverde, Pinot or Konig yesterday and it’s hard to have a change of heart about them.
1 pt each/way Rafal Majka (12/1 Betfred)
1 pt win Joaquim Rodriguez (6/1 general)