– By Chris Carmichael –
The Tour de France is approaching its next rendezvous with the mountains, and it’s difficult to summon the will to ride hard on the day before you face difficult climbs. Stage 13 isn’t the hardest of the mountain stages to come, but you have to remember that the Tour de France is about more than just the top ten riders in the general classification. Everyone in the race has to think about the mountain stages coming up, and today they were quite happy to maintain a more steady tempo and let the breakaway have the day.
It was advantageous to several teams for the breakaway to remain out in front to the finish line. Columbia-HTC has been doing a tremendous amount of work to set up Mark Cavendish for sprints, but the team also has the lead in the young riders’ white jersey competition with Tony Martin. The team needed a bit of a break today in order to prepare themselves for the mountains. Doing so will help them support Martin, and also increase the chances that they’ll get more riders through the mountains in good enough shape to provide great leadouts for Cavendish in the few remaining sprint stages – including the final day on the Champs Elysees.
The field was more than happy to see a non-threatening break fight for stage honors.
Cervelo was another team that was happy to let the breakaway go. While they’ve been letting Columbia do the lion’s share of the work to chase breakaways, they’ve also been using some power to support Thor Hushovd’s efforts to win stages and win the green points jersey. But starting tomorrow, the team has to be 100% committed to putting defending Tour de France champion Carlos Sastre in position to attack and make up time on the leaders of the Astana team.
The same can be said for the Saxo Bank and Silence-Lotto teams. Saxo Bank put a rider in the breakaway today, which pretty much assured that they wouldn’t have any responsibility to contribute to the chase, and from there it was Sorensen’s right to go for the win. In the end, Saxo Bank accomplished two big goals in one day: conserve energy within the teammates who will be most valuable in the mountains, and get a stage win.
For their part, the Astana team was also more than happy to have a successful breakaway take the day. AG2R La Mondiale, who holds the yellow jersey with Rinaldo Nocentini, did the work of setting the pace and keeping the breakaway from gaining too much time, and Astana was under no pressure to contribute.
It’s Damn Hot
While it’s no real surprise that it’s going to be hot during a race held in France in July, the riders in the Tour de France have been contending with some very warm temperatures over the past 12 stages. The heat, coupled with the desire to conserve as much energy as possible before the race enters the mountains again, played a role in deterring the peloton from catching the breakaway.
Niki Sorensen took advantage of the day’s opportunity and converted it to a win.
It Was A Good Group
Often it’s easy to assume that any breakaway can be caught if the peloton commits to its capture, but the composition of the group makes a difference. We talk often about the reasons or motivations behind “letting” a breakaway succeed, but the guys off the front have a substantial say in the matter. Today, it took a long time – 80 kilometers of hard racing at 48kmh – to establish the final breakaway group. And by the time a group successfully made it off the front, it wasn’t being driven by a bunch of newbies.
Today’s breakaway contained seven experienced riders, representing seven different teams. That’s a considerable amount of horsepower and savvy to have riding up the road, and while it may have been possible to hunt them down and set up a field sprint, it would have taken a lot more work than it did to chase down yesterday’s two-man escape. On top of the power present in the break, the up-and-down nature of the course, along with the narrow roads, would have only added to the difficulty and the risk.
Try as they might, Stage 12 wasn’t an easy one for the peloton. It could have been harder if the tactics had been different, but it was nonetheless a difficult day on the bike for everyone. Stage 13 should be even harder, and for people who have been wanting more action, I expect you’ll get plenty tomorrow. There are five categorized climbs on the way to Colmar, the toughest of which will be the Col du Platzerwasel. It’s steep, and although the summit is nearly 60 kilometers from the finish, there’s still a Cat 3 and another Cat 1 climb after it. I’d expect to see some strong attacks on the Platzerwasel in an effort to isolate the yellow jersey favorites from their teammates and perhaps reveal weakness in one more of them.
Nope, this was not an easy stage.
The yellow jersey contenders are likely to come back together after the summit, but the action on the Platzerwasel will give the Tour’s main protagonists valuable information they can use to adjust their tactics for the final climb, the Col du Firstplan. The summit of his final climb is only 20 kilometers from the finish line, and that puts the top contenders in a dangerous tactical position.
If you’re Cadel Evans or Denis Menchov and you’re a few minutes behind, an attack here could cause some confusion as the rest of the contenders make a decision about who’s going to chase. If leaders are isolated from teammates at this point, that could work in favor of a daring attack, because it would force the isolated team leader(s) to think twice about committing to the chase themselves.
Overall, I think there will be plenty of action in Stage 13, but I expect the leading contenders for the yellow jersey to cross the finish line together. I doubt Rinaldo Nocentini will be there, though, which is likely to put Alberto Contador into the yellow jersey. Then again, Nocentini has been strong on some mountains already, so perhaps he’ll find the legs to hang on to the jersey for another day. Any way it works out, it’s going to be fun to watch.
• Chris Carmichael has been Lance Armstrong’s coach for 20 years and is the founder of Carmichael Training Systems (CTS). For more information on CTS’ Create Your Own Comeback program, the free Do the Tour…Stay at Home™ training program, and the free CTS Tour de France Newsletter, visit www.trainright.com. You can also follow Chris on Twitter.