24/07 - Stage 19 - Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to La Toussuire / Les Sybelles - 138 km

The route
The Alps offer no mercy for the riders in this year’s Tour de France. Even though the last two days have been hard, it’s nothing compared to what awaits the peloton today. The stage is only 138 km long but it doesn’t mean it will be easy - quite the contrary!

The riders start climbing right from the beginning of the stage. The 15.4 km towards the top of Col du Chassy have an average gradient of 6.3 %. Many riders will be dropped already at this point, fighting the rest of the day just to make the time cut to stay in the race. Some may be able to rejoin the peloton on the following 30 km of flat terrain after the descent. In Saint-Étienne-de-Cuines, the riders start on one of the hardest climbs in this’s Tour. Col de la Croix de Fer is 22.4 km long and has an average gradient of nearly 7 %. There are a few parts of just 3 % but there are even more parts of double-digit gradients. If you are having a bad day on this climb, you can kiss your GC dreams goodbye.

From the top of this HC-climb, a 15 km descent follows down to Belleville. Here, Col du Mollard awaits the riders. Its 5.7 km kick up with 6.8 %. After another long descent, the peloton gets back to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne where the stage started. This is where the final struggle of the day begins.

The La Toussuire ascent is 18 km long and has an average gradient of 6.1 %. The first three kilometers are the steepest ones. Afterwards, the gradients are steady around 6.5 % for about 6 km before it evens out a bit. This is followed by another steep kick and then a couple of kilometers of 7 %. The last 3 km of the stage kick up with 4.5 %. In the unlikely case that a small group arrives together, it’s very important to be the first rider into the right-left s-bend with less than 200 meters to go. Remember, you can see a detailed profile of the climbs by mousing over the area on the stage profile at the top.

The favorites
With 60 KOM points up for grabs, this is yet another very important day for the riders targeting the polka dot jersey. Especially because the HC-climb (25 points) is located far from the finishing line. The first rider over the top of Col de la Croix de Fer gets more points than the stage winner does. Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez took the lead on stage 18. The Katusha captain has good memories from this climb. In Dauphiné in 2011, he soloed away to win on La Toussuire. However, after his brilliant performance yesterday, Romain Bardet has just as many points as the Spaniard. Jakob Fuglsang is third in the KOM competition after a motor bike took him out just before the top of Glandon. All three riders will be eager to make the early breakaway again today, especially Fuglsang. If the Dane can transform his anger and frustration into motivation and power, he may finally win a Tour de France stage.

Movistar claim they are still gunning for the overall win. The last couple of days, they have seemed more eager to secure two spots on the podium, though. Hopefully - for the excitement of the race - Nairo Quintana is ready to risk losing the podium in order to win. If he keeps on waiting for the last few kilometers, he will never be able to challenge the yellow jersey. Quintana says he’s feeling great. These long and difficult climbs suit him perfectly. In theory, Movistar should have Alejandro Valverde attacking already on the Col de la Croix de Fer, trying to put Froome under pressure. However, Valverde is now third overall. He has never finished on the podium in Tour de France before. This is most likely the last chance he’ll ever get to make top3 overall in the Tour. I think he’s going to ride much more conservatively than he has done so far. Personally, I don’t think that Valverde is willing to risk losing his podium place just to help tired out Team Sky.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Chris Froome had put an asterisk next to this stage in his road book. In 2012, Froome attacked on La Toussuire hoping to win the stage. However, soon after, he had to stop his attack since his team leader (and yellow jersey) Bradley Wiggins was dropped. Everyone who saw that stage will know that Froome could have won had he been allowed to go full speed. Froome doesn’t forget these kinds of things. Having some unfinished business with this climb, I expect him to try to go for the win. It requires that the peloton catches the early breakaway, of course. So far, the GC riders haven’t seemed interested in doing that. Team Sky don’t have chase hard. Their main objective is to keep the yellow jersey. Also, there is a huge stage again tomorrow. The British team needs all their riders as fresh as possible.

The outsiders
Back in 2012, Pierre Rolland won on La Toussuire after a long breakaway. He proved on stage 18, that his legs are still spinning nicely on the long climbs. Usually, Rolland is always best in the Alps. Unlike Purito, Bardet and Fuglsang, the Europcar leader doesn’t have to waste any energy fighting for the KOM points. Instead, he can focus solely on the stage win. The French team is in desperate need of a new sponsor. While Rolland won’t have any problems finding a new team, many of his teammates aren’t as lucky. They need to prove their worth and therefore, we can expect to see a handful of Europcar riders in the break again today. For other strong breakaway candidates look to riders like Thibaut Pinot, Samuel Sanchez, Mikael Cherel, Andrew Talansky, Rafa Valls, Brice Feillu and Tanel Kangert.

Alberto Contador has tried to attack from afar two days in a row but without any luck. Since the Spaniard is nearly seven minutes down in the GC, Froome doesn’t seem eager to chase him down. If Contador attacks on Col de la Croix de Fer or Col du Mollard, he may be able to open up a gap big enough to keep the other GC riders at bay on La Toussuire. However, again, it means Tinkoff-Saxo will have to take control of the stage to make sure the break doesn’t get too far away.

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

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