17/07 - Stage 13 - Muret to Rodez - 198.5 km

The route
After three difficult days in the Pyrenees, the Tour enters a different phase of race. On paper, strong sprinters who can cope with shorter climbs will have a chance to fight for the win. However, it won’t be easy for their teams to control this stage. Everybody is tired and those riders who can’t win the big mountain stages will have this day marked as one of their only chances to win a stage in this year’s Tour de France.

As you can see on the profile, the first 100 km of the stage is fairly flat. The most interesting point is the intermediate sprint in Laboutarie. After the feed zone however, the terrain changes. So does the wind direction. After battling a headwind in the first part, the riders will now be enjoying a tailwind for the remaining part of the stage. This means we can expect a fast pace despite the very undulating profile.

The climbs today aren’t long, neither very steep but this late in the race, it’s still enough to create gaps. The last categorized climb is Côte de la Selve (3.6 km / 3.7 % avg). Still, the last 30 km still include a couple of hills. The longest one comes with 15 km to go as the riders reach Bonnecombe. The following 3.5 km kick up with 5 %. A kilometer of false flat follows before the riders turn onto D888 where they start to climb again. From the top, there are just over 10 km to go.

At first glance, you may not notice that this stage actually finishes on a hill. If you zoom in, though, - by mousing over the area on the profile at the top - you will discover a steep kick towards the finishing line. The riders start to climb just after passing under the highway on the last kilometer. The first part is not very steep but in the hairpin-like corners, the gradients start to rise well into double digits. It evens out a little towards the top but it doesn’t change the fact that these last 600 meters of stage have an average gradient of nearly 10 %. It’s very important to time your effort perfectly if you want to win in Rodez.

The candidates
Given that a breakaway has a solid chance of making it all the way today, we can’t really talk about any top favorites. After the last three hard days in the Pyrenees, especially yesterday’s stage, it’s all about who has something left in the legs. First of all, you need to be strong enough in the flat terrain, battling the headwind, to make it into the break. Then, you need to be good enough on the climbs not to get dropped on the last hilly part. Finally, you need to pack a good uphill sprint unless you manage to solo away.

Cannondale-Garmin has missed almost every chance to join the early breakaways. They must be extremely eager to finally make it. Today’s stage reminds me of stage 7 of last year’s Vuelta España. That day, Ryder Hesjedal joined the winning move but only to crash (causing a lot of speculations about a motored bike) and finish 2nd. Usually, Hesjedal gets better as the race goes on. The Canadian might have marked a stage in the Alps to try something but I think he’ll have a better chance today. In an uphill sprint like this, Hesjedal is actually very good. He’s also not afraid to attack from afar. His teammate Dan Martin is another good candidate today. The finish suits him perfectly. After missing out on stage 11, Martin now has another chance to get it right.

For the French teams, this will serve as a rare opportunity to win a stage in the Tour. Ag2r has Jan Bakelants as their best card, Europcar has Thomas Voeckler, Cofidis has Julien Simon, Bretagne - Séché Environnement has Pierrick Fedrigo and FDJ has the hometown hope of Alexandre Geniez. For other strong candidates to win from a break, look to Simon Geschke, José Herrada, Bartosz Huzarski, Giampaolo Caruso and Lars Bak who has been incredibly strong in the Pyrenees and has this stage marked in the road book. Etixx - Quickstep has numerous riders with a good chance today. Their best candidate is probably Zdenek Stybar who won in Le Havre last week. Few in this field will be able to beat Stybar in an uphill sprint like this. With Rigoberto Uran out of the GC, we may see Etixx start to chase the break, to set up Stybar, if they don’t manage to put a rider up front.

Another team who should be chasing hard if they miss the break is Giant-Alpecin. John Degenkolb is still gunning for his first ever Tour de France win. He’s been close on many occasions and today is another great chance for him since the pure sprinters won’t be there. It will also be of huge importance for the points classification where Degenkolb still hopes to play a role. So does Peter Sagan. A win today will be very important for him in order to keep the green jersey and to distance Andre Greipel. The German is the fastest rider in the peloton right now, but today’s finish is way too steep for him. Instead, if it ends in a sprint, focus on punchy riders like Alejandro Valverde, Greg Van Avermaet, Tony Gallopin, Bryan Coquard and especially Edvald Boasson Hagen who may also try to join the morning breakaway. Knowing how strong he is at the moment, it won’t be a surprise to see the South African MTN-Qhubeka team make top5 three days in a row.

Despite crashing hard on stage 3, Michael Matthews is still in the race. The young Australian has been suffering a lot but he’s finally starting to feel better. He knows his condition is good and I’m sure he will give it a go if he’s there in the final. Usually, Orica-GreenEdge would try hard to control the stage in order to set up Matthews. However, with only five riders left to support him, they have to rely on the other teams. Therefore, we may see them put a rider like Adam Yates in the break. The uphill finish suits the Brit very well.

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

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