20/07 - Stage 16 - Bourg de Péage to Gap - 201 km

The route
Looking at the profile, you can see it’s pretty much uphill the first 130 km of the stage. A tailwind will make for another very fast start with numerous attacks to make it into the final breakaway. It’s another warm day in the saddle for the riders and many will hope for a quiet day before reaching the Alps.

Andre Greipel brought some excitement back into fight for the green jersey when he won stage 14. He will be eager to take more points in the intermediate sprint in Die after 86.5 km. Most likely, a breakaway will be up front at this point but there should still be points left to sprint for.

Even though it’s been uphill all day, the first categorized climb doesn’t start until after 120 km on the bike. Col de Cabre is 9.1 km long and has an average gradient of 4.6 %. After the descent, the terrain may look flat but in fact, it’s slightly uphill the next 30 km before another descent takes the riders to the bottom of Col de Manse.

This 8.9 km long category 2 climb isn’t very steep but the descent is very technical. Most likely, we will see more drama on the downhill section than on the actual ascent. This is very Joseba Beloki crashed and ruined his career in 2003. In 2011, Alberto Contador took advantage of a wet descent to gain time on Andy Schleck. Last time the Tour de France was here, Rui Costa soloed away to win from an early breakaway, while Contador crashed on the descent in a desperate attempt to drop Chris Froome.

The final 2 km of the stage include three roundabouts. The last one comes 500 meters from the line. In case a reduced peloton ends up fighting for the win, it will be important to be well placed in order to not lose any positions in these roundabouts.

The candidates
Usually, a strong breakaway ends up fighting for the win in Gap. It all depends on the GC riders. Movistar has let go of several opportunities to win a stage in this year’s Tour de France. Alejandro Valverde is a very skilled descender and extremely fast on the line. The way I see it, Movistar should try to test Froome as often as they can if they want him to crack. It would make perfect sense to let Nairo Quintana attack on Col de Manse and then have Valverde counter-attacking over the top, trying to solo away on the descend. Actually, Valverde doesn’t even have to go solo in order to win. If a select group of GC riders arrives together, I doubt anybody will be able to match the speed of the Spanish champion in a sprint. Tony Gallopin is probably the only rider with a chance.

Back in 2003, when Beloki crashed and Lance Armstrong continued over the field, the group of favorites was chasing Alexander Vinokoruov. The Kazakh managed to keep them at bay to win the stage and now he hopes to celebrate another win in Gap with his Astana team. Vincenzo Nibali is always eager to attack on the technical descents. The Italian started the Tour as one of the top favorites for the overall podium but he’s now over eight minutes down in the GC and not exactly an imminent threat to Froome. Unless Quintana or Contador join him, I would be surprised to see Froome chase down Nibali if he attacks on over top of Col de Manse. Astana may also try their luck in an early breakaway with the likes of Jakob Fuglsang, Lieuwe Westra and Tanel Kangert. Especially Fuglsang will be interested in joining the break and take the 10 KOM points on the two climbs.

At the beginning of the Tour, it’s a bit of a lottery to make it into the final breakaway. However, this late in the race, it’s all about who has something left in the legs. Recently, riders like Jan Bakelants, Wilco Kelderman, Serge Pauwels, Michael Rogers, Cyril Gautier, Jarlinson Pantano, Bob Jungels, Rigoberto Uran and Romain Bardet have seemed very strong. Bardet has already finished 3rd twice after long breakaways in this Tour. He’s must be eager to finally get it right soon.

The other day, Michael Matthews pointed to this stage as a good day for him to try his luck. Despite his horrible crash on stage 3, the Australian is still in race. He’s been getting better every day and on Sunday, he finished 8th in the reduced bunch sprint in Valence.  Matthews is clearly still in good shape. On his best days, he will have no problems following the favorites on Col de Manse. If he’s in the front group starting on this climb, he will be very difficult to beat.

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

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