14/07 - Stage 10 - Tarbes to La Pierre-Saint-Martin - 167 km

The route
After a well-deserved rest day, the Tour de France enters the Pyrenees for this first day in the mountains. It’s a relatively short stage, which means the pace will be high all day long.

The riders are always uncertain of how their legs will respond to the rest day, especially when today is also the first mountain top finish of the race. To make it even more interesting, the only long climb of the day is the last one. Except for three short category 4 climbs spread out on the stage, the riders won’t have a chance to warm up their climbing legs before they reach the bottom of La Pierre-Saint-Martin after 150 km on the bike.

Up until this point, the most interesting part of the stage is the intermediate sprint in Trois-Ville. Without any major climbs prior to the sprint, we can expect all the riders targeting the green jersey to fight for the points. In recent years, the intermediate sprints on the mountain stages have usually been located between two climbs. This is one of the reasons why Peter Sagan hasn’t had any problems winning the jersey three years in a row. However, this year, it’s like ASO has decided to make it has hard as possible for Sagan to win the competition. Most likely, the Slovakian will win the green jersey anyway, but Andre Greipel and the rest of the sprinters will be able to give him a good run for it this time.

As the peloton reaches Arette, the road gently starts to rise. Still, it isn’t until the riders exit La Mouline that the actual climb begins. The following 15.3 km are uphill all the way towards the top with an average gradient of 7.4 %. As you can see by mousing over the climb on the profile at the top, it starts out rather steep. A light cross/tailwind will help keep a solid pace. After 6 km of climbing, the gradients starts to rise even more. The next four kilometers include numerous hairpin corners. Most of the time with double digits gradients. At this point, the riders will be battling a light headwind too.

The top of Col de Labays comes with just over 5 km to go. The climb has been very difficult so far. Many riders will be welcoming the following 4 km with an average gradient of just 4.7 %. This drop in gradients and a light tailwind will make for a fast pace, however. Riders who are also good against the clock, may have an advantage compared to the light climbers.

Just before taking on the last kilometer of the stage, the road starts to rise again. With gradients over 7 %, this part serves as the last place to put in an attack for the stage win. Upon reaching the top, only the last 100 meters are flat towards the finishing line. You can see the complete ascent of La Pierre-Saint-Martin on Google Street View below.

The Favorites
Given his performances in the race so far, Chris Froome is definitely the prime pick today. He hasn’t shown any signs of weakness. Quite the contrary actually, thinking of his second place on Mur de Huy and high pace on Mur de Bretagne. Usually, Froome likes to set the hierarchy straight as soon as possible with a strong ride on the first mountain stage. Not only will a win today boost his confidence and protect his overall lead. It will also be of huge psychological value, making his rivals wonder if they have what it takes to beat him in the long run. In 2013, Team Sky put on a fantastic show on the first mountain stage when they finished first and second with Froome and Richie Porte. The Tasmanian is not at the same level right now but Froome certainly is. In fact, he entered this year’s Tour much fresher than two years ago. Team Sky has a great team for the mountains with Nicolas Roche, Leo König, Geraint Thomas, Peter Kennaugh and Wout Pols. I expect them to do their usually uphill leadout train, thinning out the group before Froome puts in a couple of strong attacks. Due to his huge engine, it won’t be a surprise to see him power away on the easy part after the top of Col de Labays. Froome went to check out the climb earlier this year, he knows exactly what to expect.

Two years ago, Nairo Quintana attacked early on the first mountain stage, probably trying to set up Alejandro Valverde. It cost him dearly as he lost nearly two minutes to Froome that day. This time, the roles are reversed. Valverde is now at Quintana’s service. In theory, this would mean that the Colombian didn’t have to attack early. However, seeing how he’s already 1:59 minutes behind Froome before the first mountain stage, Quintana can’t afford to let go of any opportunity to attack. Unless Team Sky sets such a furious pace that nobody can attack, I would expect Quintana to make a move on the steep gradients halfway through the top. If he waits, it will be more than difficult to distance Froome today.

Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez too needs to take back time as soon as possible. He’s reportedly in great shape but it doesn’t change the fact that he’s starting this second part of the race nearly four minutes down. Due to his killer kick on the steep gradients, Purito may be able to distance his rivals on the last kilometer and win the stage. That is of course, if he’s still in the front group at this point.

Before this Tour de France started, everybody was talking about the Fantastic Four of Froome, Contador, Nibali and Quintana. I think it’s time to make it five – or just replace Nibali with Tejay van Garderen. The American has had an amazing start to the race. Using the Cadel Evans-winning recipe, BMC has constantly kept Van Garderen near the front of the peloton and out of trouble. He’s only 13 seconds behind Froome in the GC but - more importantly - 51 seconds ahead of Contador and 1:47 minutes ahead of Quintana. Today’s climb suits Van Garderen very well. He’s obviously in great shape at the moment and it would be a mistake not to take advantage of this. In Dauphiné, he was the only rider able to challenge Froome on the climbs. In case he fades in the last week, Van Garderen really needs to put as much time as possible into his rivals while he still has the momentum.

The outsiders
Looking at the outsiders, it’s important to remember that today is the 14th of July, the French National Day. It will be extremely difficult for the morning breakaway to make it all the way but it won’t keep the French riders from trying their luck. If France is to celebrate a stage win on La Fête Nationale, however, their best chances are probably with the likes of Romain Bardet, Pierre Rolland, Thibaut Pinot and Warren Barguil. The latter is the best placed in the GC, which may hamper his chances but he has also proven to be the most in-shape rider of the four. It will be very hard for any of them to distance the top favorites on the final climb but if they see an opportunity to do so, I’m sure they won’t hesitate. We may also see Alexis Vuillermoz shine again. The French revelation of the Tour says he’s more of a puncheur than a climber. However, don’t forget that Vuillermoz finished 11th overall in the Giro d’Italia last year, doing very well on the long climbs in the service of Domenico Pozzovivo.

According to Alberto Contador, he still lacks a little spark after the Giro, which is only to be expected. This is also why I don’t have him down as one of the top favorites today. He’s 1:03 minutes behind Froome. It’s not ideal but it’s no disaster either. Even though he would love to take back time already, I don’t think he will mind too much if he ends losing a few more seconds. It all depends on the circumstances of course. Contador has won all three grand tours multiple times. He knows better than to panic on the first mountain stage. I’m sure we will see him attack this week but it may not be today.

For live coverage of the stage, go to steephill.tv.

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