The race moves in to the Jura Massif on the east of France and the western fringes of the Alps with a challenging stage with barely a flat kilometre of road and 10 climbs squeezed in to just 160kms with a relentless series of peaks.
Tour de France Stage 15 - Bourg-en-Bresse to Culoz - 160kms
The race culminates in the Grand Colombier twins, the Haute Category Grand Colombier and the Category 1 Lacets du Grand Colombier which follows just 23kms later. According to Thierry Gouvenou, the race director,
"The Grand Colombier hairpins are tough enough to make the whole race explode, which'll result in a nervy day."
The stage takes place entirely in the Ain region and although they officially go over 6 climbs, there are plenty more uncategorised climbs and hills that will make this a very hard day. Once over the Grand Colombier they descend down to Culoz and pass through the finish line before heading out to tackle the spectacular Lacets du Grand Colombier, a little like the lacets du Montvernier from last year's Tour, the road winds its way up the side of the mountain for 8.4kms, then plunges back down towards Culoz with an 8.5km run on flat roads to the finish.
They zig-zag their way south-east from Bourg-en-Bresse to Culoz and after just 17kms they'll already have gone over three little climbs, then start on the Cat 1 Col du Berthland, a 6km tester to start things off at a tough 8.1% average. Over the next 77kms they go over plenty of lumps and bumps, it's just one hill after another. With 100kms gone they start on the biggest climb of the day, the Grand Colombier, a Haute Category climb averaging 6.8% for 12.8kms. At the top there are just 47kms to go, of which 15kms are descending off the Grand Colombier.
As they descend off the Grand Colombier they joing the final circuit with 38kms to go and pass over some roads they'll be riding along later in the stage, through Bezonne and Anglefort. After a short run along the flat and a pass through the finish line in Culoz they start the loop that takes them up back the Lacets du Grand Colombier with 23kms to go.
The Lacets go straight up the side of the mountain, winding their way up one of the descents off the Grand Colombier, and at first coming out of Culoz the road is wide and well paved with long straight stretches. When they pass the little vineyard of the Domaine du Cellier de Bel Air the road suddenly starts to narrow and become not much more than a one lane farm road, and also gets a lot steeper around here as it winds its way up the mountain through a series of hairpins.
With 14kms to go they meet the fork in the road which was the entrance to the circuit first time along, and they start to descend back through Bezonne and Anglefort and Champriond where they run alongside the Rhone on the way back in to Culoz for the finish, with a completely flat last 3kms.
Contenders and Favourites
It's a short stage at just 160kms so it should be action-packed. The first 20 minutes of the stage should be absolutely frantic as riders try to get in the break before the first climb of the day which comes after just 17kms. The Col Du Berthiand is a nasty one to start the day with too, 6kms at 8.1%. It should see a strong break go, but also possibly a second wave of attacks on the climb itself as some try to bridge. I am keen on looking at a few break candidates to scatter around, but the prices are pretty awful, looks like everyone wants to be on someone for the break tomorrow and the bookies aren't taking any chances.
And it really is a lottery tomorrow - there are literally a hundred guys who could try to get away tomorrow. And some are ridiculously short prices. I was thinking Rui Costa might be one for this stage, the early climbs are not too difficult, the Grand Colombier will probably be taken at a relatively stable pace and the final climb of the lacets will be right on his limit, but the rest of the break will be pretty shattered too. If he hangs in there untll the finish he'd have one of the better sprints to take the win.
He came very close on the stage to Andorra Arcalis won by Dumoulin, taking 2nd ahead of Majka, he made a bad mistake to let Dumoulin go though, he could have stayed with him I think to the finish if he'd not let him jump away. But +1200 at 888sport?! It's ridiculously short, he should be about +3300, but at least if you back him with PP who are paying 5 places, then at least if he gets dropped or outsprinted by some stronger guys he might still take a top 5 placing.
Rafal Majka will of course try to get away to steal KOM points, Thomas de Gendt has taken a 13pt lead in the KOM competition and we may even see both of them up the road in their own personal battle. Majka did get quite a smack off the road when he crashed a few days ago, he might be hurting from that still though, something to bear in mind. Costa is not far off in the KOM competition too, he's on 50pts, De Gendt has 90pts. Majka could go well on a stage like this, but it would probably suit him better if it finished on the top of the lacets rather than 15kms from the top of the climb and with a flat finish. De Gendt may go too but he had a tough day in the saddle on Thursday and may struggle towards the end of the stage, maybe after taking the points at the top of the Grand Colombier.
Ilnur Zakarin is probably far enough down on the GC now to try something in the break, and this is a stage that should suit him. He did a good TT on Friday, finishing 19th, ahead of Quintana, Porte and Cancellara and we may see him try to get in this break. +1800 with Paddy Power paying 5 might be ok. Jarlinson Pantano was on the attack on Thursday too but couldn't stay with Dumoulin, he struggled towards the end. He could try again and if he does get in the break and manages to go to the line with a small group then he would have a chance with his sprint.
Diego Rosa has been riding well for Astana, but not only that, he seems to be the only one so far out of Fulglsang, Kangert, and most of the Astana team to actually go on the attack and try something. He was right there and looking strong on Thursday heading to Andorra but faded near the finsih. He might try again and he looks a big price compared to some of those mentioned above at +6600 with Ladbrokes. Serge Pauwels was on the attack on Ventoux, he looked stronger than De Gendt at one point but then he was outsprinted by the wily TDG at the finish. He could try again too.
Ruben Plaza hasn't had his traditional long range attack yet in this Tour, but he tends to get stronger as races go on, this looks like a good stage for him to finally get up the road. He did a pretty good TT, something that I am looking upon as a good reflection of who is still feeling strong and who isn't. He finished in 26th ahead of Bardet, Martin and Aru. If he can get away he would have a good chance, and at +12500 betting odds he's worth a small bet.
Alexis Vuillermoz is another who could go well today, he has tried a few breaks but hasn't had much success so far, he could try to get away again in this stage and would be suited to the last sections of the Lacets, he may even be able to attack away at the top. Also, if he doesn't and it comes to a reduced group sprint, he'd have a chance.
But that's it for my break analysis for now, what about if the break doesn't make it? Well, I give the break about a 60-70% chance of making it tomorrow, who is going to want to chase it down? If it is a big break goes of 15-20 riders, then most teams will be represented. I wouldn't even be surprised to see Sky put Landa or Poels or someone like that in the break just so they don't have to chase so much. Even if they don't have someone in there, and if there are no dangers to the GC then it's unlikely they will push very hard.
Dan Martin was under pressure unexpectedly on Ventoux, he seemed to be going so well in this Tour, then bang, he gets dropped on a climb that wasn't even all that difficult. Can he recover and try to attack tomorrow? It's a climb that should normally suit him and he is a very good descender so could hold it to the line. That's a long shot though I think.
And Chris Froome - it looks like he can do anything these days, attacking on the way up, attacking on the way down, attacking on the flat. He just seems to be so strong, has he any weaknesses this year? Will he start to run out of gas at some point? Well if he's going to, it doesn't look like it will be any time soon, he did a superb TT to destroy all his GC rivals and he'll be full of confidence at the moment.. But I don't think this is a stage that he'll go all out on again. It could be just a waste of energy to try attacking on the Lacets as there is the long run in to the finish. But you'd never know, he has done it before!
Bauke Mollema is also looking superb at the moment, let's hope he keeps it up through the last week and can mount a strong challenge to Froome to make a race of it. He could try attacking tomorrow too, Froome can't cover every move, and he might just get away. Romain Bardet could be capable of a top 5 finish too if it comes to a GC sprint, or he might finally get to try one of his trademark over-the-top attacks and charge down the descent.
A ridiculously difficult stage to predict though and it may be that we watch it in-play opportunities too if it looks like the GC men might catch the break. As it is though, I think the break has a chance of making it and am scattering some sports picks around on long and not so long shots to see if we can get some of them in the break.
0.2pts each-way on Ruben Plaza at +12500 with BetVictor
0.2pts each-way on Diego Rosa at +5000 with PaddyPower paying 5 places
0.5pts each-way on Rui Costa at +1200 with PaddyPower paying 5 places
0.3pts each-way on Ilnur Zakarin at +1800 with PaddyPower