15/07 - Stage 11 - Pau to Vallée de Saint-Savin - 188 km

The route
Another big day in the Pyrenees awaits the peloton today. This time, we might see a morning breakaway make it all the way for the first time in the race. It’s a big day for the riders targeting the KOM jersey. No less than 42 points are up for grabs on the very warm 188 km from Pau to Cauterets.

Knowing that this is a good day for a breakaway, we can expect a very fast start to the stage. It could easily take more than an hour before the right constellation of riders get clear. In fact, we may have to wait until after the intermediate sprint. Once again, the organizers have placed the sprint relatively early on the stage, giving all the sprinters a chance to fight for the points.

The first big climb of the day is Col d’Aspin. The 12 km towards the top have an average gradient of 6.5 %. Especially the last part of the ascent is steep. After a descent of just over 10 km, the riders immediately take on the feared and famous Col du Tourmalet. Most of the riders know exactly what to expect but it doesn’t make the 17 km of over 7 % any easier. In fact, if we take away the first 5 km of the ascent, where the gradients rarely get over 5 %, the last 12 km kick up with an average of nearly 9 %. The first rider over the top of Tourmalet gets 25 KOM points. Remember, you can see a detailed profile of the last three climbs of the stage by mousing over the climbs on the profile at the top.

After a very long descent of almost 30 km, where dropped riders will be able to regain contact with the peloton, the riders start to climb again just after passing under the 10-km-to-go banner in Soulom. The first 2.5 km of this category 3 climb have an average gradient of about 5 %. Afterwards it evens out a bit for a kilometer. The next 3 km kick up with 6 % and peak at 10 % in the hairpin corners near the top. Fun fact. Apparently, the current Strava KOM on this climb is set by BMC’s performance coach David Bailey during the team’s reconnaissance in May.

From the top of Côte de Cauterets, a part of false flat follows before the gradients start to rise again with 1.3 km to go. The next 700 meters are uphill with 5-6 %. According to the profile, the last part of the stage is flat. This is not the case. After a few hundred meters of just 1-2 %, the last 300 meters kick up with 5 % before the road turns right with just 50 meters to go. You can see the last 10 km of the stage on Google Street View below:

The candidates
After the Team Sky dominance on La Pierre-Saint-Martin, many of the overall pre-race favorites are now out of the picture already. They will be licking their wounds, hoping to recover and try something later in the race. Chris Froome and Team Sky will most likely take a breather too. This means a strong breakaway will have very good chances of making it all the way. It also means that we can’t really talk about any top favorites to win this stage.

Riders like Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez (+10:09), Romain Bardet (+13:38) and Thibaut Pinot (18:18) all had ambitions of making top10 overall. Given their performance on stage 10, it seems very unlikely to happen. Instead, they may decide to target the polka dot jersey. All three riders are excellent climbers. With 42 KOM points up for grabs, this is a very important stage. A successful breakaway might also put them back in the GC mix. However, it requires a very strong character to rise after such a huge disappointment as they experienced on stage 10.

Talking about the KOM jersey, I expect Julian Arredondo to be a part of the early breakaway if he's feeling better again after suffering from sinusitis. The pint-sized Colombian is one of the few riders with the proclaimed goal of winning this jersey. Arredondo is not only good on the climbs, he’s also very fast on the line. Especially in an uphill sprint. If he’s in the front group, fighting for the win, he has a very good chance of giving Trek a much needed confidence boost.

Europcar has numerous strong candidates for this stage. The French team is still searching for a new sponsor for next year. A stage win in the Tour de France will be of huge importance for the team’s further existence. Riders like Cyril Gautier, Romain Sicard and Thomas Voeckler are good on the climbs and never afraid of attacking. Neither is Pierre Rolland. He did very well on stage 10, proving to be in excellent climbing shape. Rolland finished 4th and 3rd in the KOM competition in 2012 and 2013. Given his performance on the ascent to La Pierre-Saint-Martin, Rolland seems like one of the best candidate to wear the polka dots in Paris. He’s nearly 14 minutes down in the GC, so he should be able to join a break. If he wants to win this stage however, he has to solo away. Rolland is not beating anybody in a sprint.

Amongst the top GC riders, the best pick for a stage win is probably Alejandro Valverde. Movistar needs to try something to shake Froome. Valverde is a very skilled descender. I wouldn’t be surprised if he attacked on the long downhill part from the top of Tourmalet. The finish suits the Spanish champion perfectly. Only a fool would bet against Valverde today if this comes down to a sprint. Vincenzo Nibali too might try an attack on the descent but that would require he was still in the main group on the top of the climb. The proud Sicilian won’t go down without a fight but it might take a few days before we’ll see that fight.

Originally, my prime pick for this stage was Tony Gallopin. I had imaged he would lose time on stage 10, leaving him room for attacking today. However, Gallopin proved to be better than ever uphill when he finished 9th on the stage, in front of many of the pre-race favorites. Clearly, the strong Frenchman will be kept on a tight leash if he tries something early on stage. It wouldn’t make sense either. After Tuesday’s performance, he should try to save as much energy as possible for the extremely difficult stage 12. If it comes down to a sprint amongst the GC riders, though, Gallopin will be one of the top favorites. I don’t think he can beat Valverde but that’s probably also the only rider who’s faster than him in this group.

For other strong breakaway contenders look to riders like Adam Yates, Jan Bakelants, Alexis Vuillermoz, Ryder Hesjedal, Rui Costa, Rafa Valls and of course Daniel Teklahaimanot who will be eager to get back in the fight for the KOM jersey after losing it to Froome on stage 10. In fact, MTN-Qhuebak has many interesting riders for this stage. Jacques Janse van Rensburg, Merhawi Kudus, Serge Pauwels and Louis Meintjes are all strong enough on the climbs to try something today.

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

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