The first 'real test' for the GC contenders. The mythical, magical, monstrous Mont Ventoux. Our Expert Previews The legendary climb and provides his cycling picks for this stage.
Tour de France Stage 12 - Montpellier to Mont Ventoux - Thurs 14th July, 184kms
On to Stage 12 then and the trip to Ventoux... It doesn't just go straight up the Ventoux this year though like some sort of prolonged warm-up to a hill-climb, they do tackle a Cat 4 and a Cat 3 climb in quick succession with 50kms to go. But they are mere appetisers for what's to come, the main course of the Ventoux.
But all of a sudden today there has been a dramatic, but unavoidable change to the route, with the top 6kms of the climb being cut off due to 100kmph winds at the top of Mont Ventoux. The stage is now set to finish at Chalet Reynard, which is 6kms from the top. Who does that benefit more? Well we'll never know for sure whether going all the way to the top would have helped or hindered any of the GC candidates, but it's still a very tough finish to the stage. It's still 10kms at nearly 10%, a nasty, horrible climb in anyone's book.
The Tour last went up the Ventoux in 2013, when Chris Froome rode away from everyone else, including putting 29" into Quintana and 1'40" into Contador. Quintana said he made mistakes last time around that cost him, and the primary mistake was probably attacking as early as he did. He attacked with 12.8kms to go out of the Froome group and at one point with about 9kms to go he had around 45" on Froome.
One important thing to remember at this stage though is that it is Bastille day in France, and that's always an invitation for the French riders to try something special. Last time around Christophe Riblon and Sylvain Chavanel were on the attack but were reeled in on the lower slopes of Ventoux. Expect to see the French on the attack again this time around.
This stage is one of those cliches - you may not win it today, but you certainly can lose it. The main GC contenders will have to stay as close to Froome as they can if he puts the hammer down again, the last thing you want to do is to have to try to play catch-up of a minute, two minutes or more on Froome with only half the race left.
They start out in Montpellier on the coast and the first 128kms are more or less pan-flat,and soon after Cavaillon they start on the Cat 4 Cote de Gordes, a 3.3km climb at 4.8%, which basically takes them to the base of the second climb of the day, the Col des Trois Termes, a Cat 3 climb of 2.5kms at a much steeper 7.5% average. A quick descent takes them to Mazan and they are suddenly faced with the Giant of Provence in front of them.
Ventoux is now 10kms long at an average of 8.83%, a really hard climb in anyone's book, but the first 6% are closer to 9.2% and there's a section at 9% with 3kms to go.
Contenders and Favourites
You have to start with Chris Froome (one of the top cycling picks) of course when it comes to Mont Ventoux - winner last time up, and in some style. The way he spun away from Contador and the rest of the remains of the front of the race, and then away from Quintana again was just incredible. Contador had no answer, but Quintana was able to stay with him at first. But then the pressure eventually cracked Quintana too with 1400m left and Froome just rode away.
It was a dominating performance that was to seal the race, he went from leading Mollema by 2'28" to 4'14" and his lead to Quintana became nearly 6 mins. Fast forward to this year and of course, we had the mixed performances by Froome in the build-up to the Tour, but he has done pretty well on the mountain stages so far in this race. He was comfortable on the top of the Peyresourde, although the attacks on him were not full efforts, more probes and prods, he was distanced a little bit but quickly got back with the help of Henao and Nieve. His attack down the hill was sensational too, it certainly got people talking.
It got some people talking too after the next day when he fought off all comers in the rain up to Arcalis, he might have been on the limit, but he coped and actually gained time on the likes of Rodriguez, Bardet and Mollema. I say he got some people talking, the Gazetta were discussing the fact that his cadence seemed to be a lot lower than in past years like he has lost some of the 'washing machine' like furious spinning that was on show last time up the Ventoux. If that's the case, then it might be that we see others like Porte, Quintana and Martin sticking closer to him this time.
I have a small inkling though that Froome is a little worried about his form. He and Sky are saying that the attack on the downhill from the Peyresourde was spontaneous and just him 'trying something new, to catch them off guard', But I'm not sure I agree - he had a 54-tooth chainring fitted and the way that he was brought up on the left-hand side of the road right at the top of the climb and went straight through without hesitation? That looked planned to me. It looked like he gambled on taking every second he could, and it worked well for him. But Froome is Froome, we won't have a clue how he really is going until we see him accelerating away from them all, or is being left behind. 2/1 cycling odds, though? It's a bit short...
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Nairo Quintana has looked very, very comfortable so far in this race, but hasn't pushed himself outside his comfort zone by attacking a whole lot yet. A few probes here and there, but nothing like full-gas yet. He didn't attack once in the rain to Arcalis when maybe an attack or two might have seen Froome struggle. So he is either not entirely happy with his form and didn't want to put himself too much in the red to the point that he could've lost a bit of time like Bardet or even Dan Martin, or he is playing a very cool waiting game.
He now knows Ventoux after the last time, he has done fresh recon rides there too and he says he has learnt his mistakes from last time around. He could well go on the attack here - he needs to probe Froome for weaknesses ahead of the TT where he is likely to lose time to Froome. What he doesn't want though is to lose another 30" to Froome here and another 30" to him in the TT, his race could be over before we get to the Alps. I think he has a good chance if he sits in and waits, this time, letting Bardet, Martin and Porte attack away at Froome, and then pouncing with 2kms or so to go.
Richie Porte has been looking really good to me too and he and the team reckon he is in the shape of his life. He was looking good on the Arcalis and looked comfortable with the attacks on the Arcalis, even attacking himself, an attack that put Martin in a bit of trouble after his initial attacks. It was Porte who blew the race apart for Froome last year earlier in the climb, whittling the pack right down, pulling over to the side, giving a nod to Froome and Froome took off. He doesn't need to do that this time, or at least he shouldn't!
With the two TTs coming up Porte has a chance still I think of sneaking on to the podium, despite his time loss earlier in the race. He could well stay with Froome to the finish here and could possibly even drop him on the run in and gain back some time. The 10" bonus at the finish could be crucial to him. His confidence is very high right now, he just needs to keep calm and time it right.
Dan Martin has been riding very well in the mountains all year and really stepped it up in the Dauphiné, he even managed to drop Froome and Porte on the way to 2nd place on Superdevoluy. He was equally impressive riding on his home roads to Andorre Arcalis when he attacked repeatedly. The Dan Martin of old wouldn't have had a chance of staying with Froome if he accelerates like he did in 2013, but Dan has changed his training this year to include a lot longer climbs and looks to be benefitting from that.
Dan is always well positioned and always looks like he is ready to attack. He needs to be really patient here though and just sit on Sky and BMC and let them carry him to the last 2kms. He might be distanced by some of Froome's accelerations, but when Froome eases off, like in Andorra, he might be able to get back on.
I think it will take either an extraordinary day from Dan, though, or a slight off-day from Froome in order for him to win, he will need to be able to stay with the accelerations, or pull himself back on if he gets dropped a little bit. Ventoux is a good gradient for him, though, and the 6km shorter route will suit him too, so it's possible he'll be able to land a top 6 on the stage, possibly even a podium spot.
Bauke Mollema was very impressive on the climb to Andorre Arcalis, he didn't seem to have much trouble staying with the leaders for almost all the climb and his attack was impressive too, putting Martin into the red and stretching Froome. He did pay for his attack at the finish, though, he couldn't stay with Porte's acceleration and came home 21" down on Froome. He looks incredibly lean and says he is in the best shape of his career, and I would agree given how he raced in Andorra.
Joaquim Rodriguez announced in an emotional press conference on Monday's rest day that he is retiring at the end of this season, the end of a long and distinguished career for Purito. He has been riding very well in this Tour, a lot better than I expected, and what better way to go out than to win a stage in his last TDF? I don't think this will be the stage, though, he won't be able to match Froome and Quintana's surges when they come I think, but you'd never know. Romain Bardet - will we see him in the 'Bastille Break'? It's possible, but I'm not sure he'll be let go as he still lies within a minute of Froome. I think he will be looking to attack later on the climb though so watch out for his bursts, but I don't think he's good enough to pull away from a field of guys like this. He should be good enough for a top ten I think, though.
Louis Meintjes suffered in the wind today and trailed in a minute behind Froome, that might have taken a lot out of him and I think he'll be doing well to just hang in there tomorrow. Adam Yates has been riding incredibly well, can he keep it up? We might see a late attack from him again, he does like a late attack when the likes of Froome and Porte are looking at each other a little. It will be up to the likes of Meintjes to chase after him to keep the White Jersey within reach.
Rafal Majka and Thibaut Pinot will be probably on the attack looking for the KOM points earlier in the stage and may hope to stay out front all the way to take the points on Ventoux. It's going to be very hard for the break though with the strong winds that are expected tomorrow, though, we may even see splits and echelons again on the way to Bedoin, we may not even get the full peloton starting the climb. That could spoil Pinot's chances of trying to win on Bastille day I think, he's not going to attack away from the group of favourites on the final climb.
Fabio Aru, Rui Costa, Vincenzo Nibali, Domenico Pozzovivo.. all guys who could still be involved hitting the last 5kms or so, but can they win it? I don't think so. It looks to me like it's probably between Froome, Quintana, Porte, Martin and Bardet, with a big battle on behind for the rest of the top 10 places.
Froome should be the strongest, but I've a feeling we may not see him ride away from everyone tomorrow. He had a really hard last 12kms today, he was on the limit to hold the gap with Sagan. Having said that, though, he must be either feeling very, very strong, or he's worried about his climbing. I think he might be covered tomorrow by quite a few guys and we may actually see a bit of a stalemate develop between Froome and a Quintana still biding his time for the Pyrenees. Porte could attack, though, and if it comes to a sprint finish in a select group, which is possible due to the headwinds, then Dan Martin can pop up with his powerful sprint and win the stage. Of course, Froome and Quintana are the favourites and probably will win, but at the prices, Porte and Martin appeal to me a lot more.
Free Cycling Pick:Dan Martin - 0.5pts each-way at 20/1 (paying four places )
Best Line Offered: at Boylesports
Free Cycling Pick: Richie Porte - 0.5pts each-way at 14/1
Best Line Offered: at Ladbrokes
Dan Martin to beat Richie Porte - 2pts at 6/5
Best Line Offered: at Paddy Power
Henao to beat Valverde - 2pts at 4/6
Martin to beat Yates - 2pts at 4/5
Best Line Offered: at Bet365