17/06 - Stage 12 - Bourg-en-Bresse to Saint-Étienne - 185.5 km

On paper, this is another day for a breakaway to make it all the way. The GC riders will have their focus on Friday’s first big stage in the Alps.

The route
Starting out in Bourg-en-Bresse, the riders head west for the first 40 km towards the intermediate sprint in Romanèche-Thorins. Even though this looks like a good stage for a breakaway, we might not see the final break getting clear until after the sprint. Peter Sagan already seems sure to win the green jersey, but riders like Andre Greipel and Alexander Kristoff haven’t given up yet. As we have seen, anything can happen in this Tour de France. Nothing is decided until the peloton reaches Paris.

The weather forecast shows temperatures over 30° at the start of the stage. There is almost no wind at all, meaning the riders are in for very hot day on the bike. After the intermediate sprint, the terrain starts to get more undulating. From here on, there is hardly one meter of flat road for the following 135 km.

With about 65 km to go, it’s time for the longest climb of the Tour so far. However, the 15.3 km towards the top of Col des Brosses have an average of only 3.3 %. The first 11 km are relative easy with very low gradients. The final 4.5 km have an average gradient of about 5 % with a few short sections close to double-digits gradients. After a short descent, the road kicks up again for about one kilometer (low gradients) before the following 10 km are downhill. It’s an easy descent where the riders will be able to keep a fast pace.

The finish
Coming down from Col des Brosses, the riders immediately take on the last climb of the day. According to the road book, Côte de Grammond is 9.8 km with an average gradient of 2.9 %. However, the descent doesn’t start until the riders reach Fontanès more than 2 km after the KOM sprint. From here, there are 19 km to go. While there are some technical parts for the riders to tackle, this descent is also very fast. The 10 km downhill won’t take long for the riders to overcome.

With about 2 km to go, the road starts to kick up yet again. The following 500 meters are uphill before the riders turn right onto a short descent. As the riders pass under la flamme rouge, the road slightly kicks up one last time. It’s not steep, but it’s enough to make it a hard sprint. It will be very important not to start the sprint too early.

The favorites
Despite two long climbs within the final 65 km, the strong sprinters should be able to fight for the win today. Unless a big breakaway gets away early, I would imagine Cannondale, Giant-Shimano, GreenEdge and Omega Pharma Quickstep to control the stage.

Peter Sagan missed out on stage 11. Once again, he was too eager and attacked too early instead of waiting for the sprint. Sagan wanted to win the stage on his girlfriend’s birthday. It didn’t work out and, after the stage, Sagan threw his bike through the air in frustration. You can’t really blame the strong Slovakian though. Without teammates, it’s difficult, tactically, for Sagan to decide what to do. In case he stays in the peloton, everybody will be looking at him, not wanting to chase down the break. Despite an incredible effort by Alessandro De Marchi, Sagan had no teammates left at the front in the final of stage 11. I doubt we will see the same scenario today. The climbs are not very difficult and with a handful of teams to organize the chase, it will be very difficult to break away as Tony Gallopin did so brilliantly in Oyonnax.

The biggest threat to Peter Sagan in a sprint is John Degenkolb. The German had a very difficult start to the race after crashing in one of the first stages. Degenkolb has been licking his wounds [no but jokes] ever since, not showing up near the front until stage 11. He’s obviously still in great shape. This means that Giant-Shimano now has to try to set up Degenkolb for the win today. They are used to working hard at the front of the peloton and I think they will do whatever they can to deliver John Degenkolb in a good position for the expected sprint.

Omega Pharma Quickstep and GreenEdge probably have the same tactic. If they don’t manage to put a rider in the early break, both teams will have to take part in the chase. GreenEdge looked very strong on stage 11 but their defensive tactic backfired as Simon Gerrans ended up alone in the group, not able - nor fast enough - to sprint for the win. In hindsight, it would have probably been a good idea for GreenEdge to let Simon Yates or Michael Albasini join the attacks instead of betting everything on Gerrans. It will be interesting to see what they decide to do today. In theory, this is another good stage for a rider like Michael Albasini. If he gets into a winning break, he will be extremely difficult to beat. The same goes for Simon Clarke.

Matteo Trentin is the best card for OPQS. He seems to be in the shape of his life right now and he packs a very fast sprint. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Belgian team try to send Tony Martin up the road again. Few are able to follow Der panzerwagen these days. If he gets just a small gap over the top of the final climb, he might as well sail away on the descent to another solo win.

For other fast riders in a sprint within a reduced group look to: Greg Van Avermaet, José Joaquin Rojas, Daniele Bennati, Paul Voss, Samuel Dumoulin and Kevin Réza. On a good day, we might even see Bryan Coquard, Alexander Kristoff and Andre Greipel participating as well. In this case, they would naturally be the top favorites. Still, it will require a big effort since Cannondale and others will try hard to eliminate all the pure sprinters.

In case of a breakaway
If a big break gets away, it might be too much for Cannondale and GreenEdge to control. They will probably try to put a rider in the break, if more than six riders get clear. Despite having John Degenkolb as one of the top favorites today, I think it would be a good move by Giant-Shimano to send a rider like Tom Domoulin up front. He’s very strong right now and these kinds of climbs suit him perfectly. Dumoulin is also good on the descents and he’s actually quite fast on the line too. Having him up front would mean that Giant-Shimano could let the other teams do all the chasing, giving John Degenkolb a free ride to the finish in case of a sprint.

For Sylvain Chavanel this might be the last day to shine in this year’s Tour de France. On stage 11, he stayed in the main group on the tricky climbs, showing he’s in good condition. He never tried to attack, but I think this will change. If Chavanel wants something from this race, today is the day. If a big group gets away, I would be surprised not to see the French veteran in it. These climbs are no match for Chavanel and being strong on the descents and fast on the line, this seems like the perfect stage for him.

For other good break candidates look to rider like Adam Hansen, Michael Mørkøv, Lars Boom, Giovanni Visconti and of course Thomas Voeckler. Except of stage 16, this is probably also Voeckler’s last chance in this year’s Tour de France.

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