25/07 - Stage 20 - Modane to Alpe d'Huez - 110.5 km

The route
Originally, ASO had a different route planned for today, including Col du Galibier as the first climb of the stage. However, after the landslide in April, closing the Chambon tunnel for repairs, the race organizers were forced to make a modification. Instead of Galibier, the riders will now take on Col de la Croix de Fer once again. This time from the side they descended off on stage 19.

With a total distance of just 110 km, this will be a very fast stage despite nearly half of the stage being uphill. The first 25 km are downhill towards Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne. From here, the riders start on Col de la Croix de Fer. The ascent is not as steep as yesterday but as the riders will know, it’s longer. The 29 km towards the top have an average gradient of 5.2 %. There is a short descent after the first 5 km before the following 6 km kick up with 8 %. The next 10 km are fairly easy with an average gradient of just 4 %. The gradients start to rise again on the last 6 km of the climb. Here, they barely drop below 7 %.

From the top of Col de la Croix de Fer, the peloton starts on a long descent. It would make for a great show if some of the GC riders attacked over the top to gain a gap before starting on Alpe d’Huez. However, despite a tailwind, it probably won’t happen since there are still 40 km to cover before the road starts to rise again. This happens about 2 km after the riders pass the intermediate sprint in Bourg-d'Oisans.

Alpe d’Huez is a classic Tour de France climb. Most of the riders in the peloton know exactly what to expect. It starts out very steep with 2 km of double-digit gradients. This is followed by 7 km of 7.5 % before the climb kicks up again for a couple of kilometers with very steep gradients. The last 2.5 km are the easiest ones with gradient of ‘just’ 5-6 %.

The favorites
Except from the first mountain top finish on La Pierre-Saint-Martin, the GC riders have not been interested in stage wins. Today however, I think we will see a different mentality. This time, there is not another big mountain stage waiting the next day. Nobody needs to save any energy. Furthermore, there is a lot of prestige in winning on Alpe d’Huez. Therefore, I think we will end up seeing the best climbers in the race going up against each other.

Once again, Nairo Quintana and Movistar waited too long before putting in their attack on stage 19. They missed out on yet another stage win and at the end, Quintana only managed to get 30 seconds closer to the yellow jersey. However, Quintana has now proven that it’s possible for him to drop all his rivals. The Colombian climber says that Alpe d’Huez is his favorite climb in the Tour. It suits him perfectly and, naturally, he would like to have his name added to the long list of great climbers who have won here. The big question is; how long is Quintana willing to wait before attacking? If he still thinks he can win this race overall, he has to attack on the steep part at the bottom of the climb. However, such an attack is risky and could cost him the stage win. So far, Movistar has seemed uninterested in winning stages. Hopefully - for the excitement of the race - this continues today, meaning that Quintana will put it all on the line and attack early. If he waits for the last 5 km, like on La Toussuire, he may win the stage but not overall.

Already early in this year’s Tour de France, Chris Froome said he would love to win on Alpe d’Huez wearing the yellow jersey. Today he has the opportunity to do just that. In 2013, Froome cracked a little on the climb due to a hunger knock. I’m sure he will be very cautious not to let that happen again today. Also, it’s worth noting that in 2013, Froome came to the last week tired out. This year, he’s much fresher. Team Sky had a hard day on stage 19. They lost a lot of riders early on. If they can recovery well enough, I would imagine Team Sky to set their trademark high pace at bottom of Alpe d’Huez to thin out the competition. Then, Chris Froome can try to go for the stage win.

The outsiders
Personally, I have a hard time seeing anyone else than Quintana or Froome winning this stage. The only rider who may be able to pull it off is probably Alberto Contador. In 2011, he tried a remarkable attack early on the stage to Alpe d’Huez. His GC was already over at that point. All he had left was his heart and willingness to put on a big show for the audience. Contador fought bravely but on the final kilometers, Pierre Rolland overtook him and won the stage. Before the Tour, Contador referred to that stage in 2011 as one of the days he’s most proud of in his career. He knows that he won’t win this year’s Tour and he doesn’t care for the podium either. For him, only winning counts. I wouldn’t be surprised if he attacked already on Col de la Croix de Fer today. In Dauphiné 2010, the yellow jersey Janez Brajkovic gifted Contador the win on Alpe d’Huez. This time, I’m sure he would love to solo away to win on this climb like many great champions have done in the past.

Another very important thing today is the KOM competition. Right now, Romain Bardet leads with 90 points. However, Froome is only 3 points behind him. There are 50 KOM points to the winner of the stage. Therefore, it’s very important for Bardet - and Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez (78 points) - to make it into the early breakaway and get over the top Croix de Fer first. This HC-climb offers 25 points. If Bardet takes the maximum points here and Froome doesn’t get any, the Frenchman has to make top5 on the stage in case Froome wins. If Froome finishes second on the stage, Bardet has to make top8.

For other strong breakaway candidates on the Col de la Croix de Fer, look to Jakob Fuglsang, Thibaut Pinot, Pierre Rolland, Serge Pauwels and Dan Martin. As always, the Dutch riders want to do well on Alpe d’Huez. However, I can’t see neither Robert Gesink nor Bauke Mollema winning today. Most likely, both riders will focus on maintaining their spot in the GC.

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

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