18/06 - Stage 13 - Saint-Étienne to Chamrousse - 197.5 km

Today the peloton enters the Alps. This is the first big mountain stage of this year’s Tour de France. We should be in for quite a show. Remember, you can see detailed profiles of the final two climbs by holding your mouse over the areas on the stage profile.

The route
Just 10 km after the official start is given in Saint-Étienne, the rider start on the first climb of the day. Col de la Croix de Montvieux is not very difficult but its 8 km of 4.1 % are a great place to attack. We can expect a very fast start.

These two days in the Alps will prove very important for the final outcome of the KOM competition. Saturday’s stage is probably the most crucial one in regards of collect points for the polka dot jersey. However, with 62 KOM points up for grabs, today’s stage is also very important for Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez and the rest of the riders battling for the jersey.

From the top of Col de la Croix de Montvieux, there are almost 100 km until the riders start climbing again. A light headwind will help cool down the riders on this very hot day. Depending on the tactics of the GC riders, we can expect the breakaway to gain a big gap on the peloton on this long flat part of the stage. It needs as big a gap as they can get before taking on Col de Palaquit. This is the first time the Tour de France uses this climb. Many riders won’t know what to expect. INRNG made a good description of the climb, which you can read by clicking here.

Col de Palaquit is 14.1 km long and has an average gradient of 6.1 % according to the road book. However, the low average gradient is due to a 2 km descent after a very steep start of the climb. The first 3 km have numerous parts of double-digits gradients. We can expect a huge selection in the peloton at this point already. After the descent, the following 3 km uphill aren’t very steep - around 4 %. Then, with about 6 km to the top, the gradients start to get serious again. The following 4 km barely drop below 10 %. If the GC riders want to test Vincenzo Nibali and his team, they should try on Col de Palaquit already.

The finish
After a long descent and a trip through Grenoble, where the intermediate sprint is located, the riders start climbing again when they reach Uriage-les-Bains. The following 18.2 km up to Chamrousse have an average gradient of 7.3 %. The first 7 km are the steepest ones with many parts of over 10 %. Hopefully, we will get to see the GC riders starting to attack at this steep beginning of the climb already. The last 10 km are very steady with gradients around 7 %. Only the last kilometer evens out a bit with gradients around 3 %.

The favorites
Since this is an important day for the riders targeting the KOM jersey, my personal favorite today is Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez. Katusha has no rider for the general classification anymore, meaning it’s all for Purito in the mountains. The Spaniard came to the Tour hoping to win stages. His crashes in Amstel Gold Race and Giro d’Italia meant he didn’t start off the race in top condition. He may not have reached top condition yet but on stage 10, he proved to be in good enough shape to fight for the win on La Planche des Belles Filles. Saturday’s stage may suit him better, but aiming at the polka dot jersey, he can’t afford to let his rivals join the morning breakaway without him. If so, Katusha has to start chasing in the peloton since there are 50 KOM points on finishing line today. The morale at the Russian team must be great after Alexander Kristoff’s impressive win on stage 12. Hopefully, Purito held back on the champagne so he can be ready for today’s big day in the Alps.

Vincenzo Nibali has already won two stages and has a solid gap to his rivals. I doubt Astana will set a furious pace, trying to catch the breakaway. It’s up to the other teams to make the race today. Team Sky, Movistar and Ag2r will have to put Astana and Nibali under pressure already on Col de Palaquit if they want to shake him. The final 10 km of the stage suit Nibali just fine, as he can keep a steady rhythm on the climb. Unless the Italian has a bad day, the other GC riders most likely won’t be able to drop him if they just wait until the final part of the climb. If so, we might even see Vincenzo Nibali put in another attack trying to gain even more time on his rivals.

To me, Richie Porte is still the biggest threat to Nibali. So far, we haven’t see any real mountains in this year’s Tour de France. Porte may not have been able to follow Nibali on La Planche des Belles Filles, but he was clearly the strongest one of the rest. The stage result doesn’t show this, but to me there is no doubt. While Nibali was sailing away, Porte was the only one of the other GC riders trying to organize a chase. However, for some reason, the other riders seemed more interested in racing against Porte than trying to catch Nibali. I would like to see Porte’s teammate Geraint Thomas take the front early on the final climb, reducing the group significantly. Then Richie Porte should put in his attack. The Tasmanian doesn’t have a strong kick uphill, but he can keep a furious pace much longer than any of the other GC candidates. If Richie Porte just gets a small gap, the rest will have to work very hard to catch him. Will they manage to work together this time?

Amongst the other GC riders, I would expect Alejandro Valverde to be the strongest. Coming from the hot Murcia region in Spain, Valverde thrives in the heat. The final climb suits Valverde well and in the unlikely case that this ends in a sprint, Valverde is definitely the fastest one in this field. The French riders, Thibaut Pinot, Romain Bardet and Jean-Christophe Peraud have a unique chance of an overall podium spot this year. It will be interesting to see if they are still racing for the overall win or just focusing on the podium. Hopefully, they will put on a show, attacking from afar. Especially Ag2r should use their strength in numbers to reach for the stars.

The other candidates
With over 60 KOM points up for grabs, riders like Thomas Voeckler, Alessandro De Marchi and Blel Kadri will be eager to make it into the morning breakaway. However, I doubt any of them will be able to keep the peloton at bay on the final climb. Instead, lets’ look to riders out of the general classification who are strong on the climbs.

My personal outsider is Dani Navarro. Last year, the Spanish climber finished 9th overall in the Tour de France. This time, his focus has been on winning a stage more than repeating the Top10 performance from 2013. Navarro is more than 40 minutes behind Vincenzo Nibali. Not even the teams of the GC rider aiming for Top10 will be concerned if Navarro gets into the break. Despite Cyril Lemoine’s time in the polka dot jersey, Cofidis hasn’t had much to cheer for in this Tour. They have no riders for the general classification and their young sprinter Adrien Petit hasn’t been able to do well in the bunch sprints. If Cofidis is to win a stage in this year’s Tour de France, Dani Navarro is their best chance. On La Planche des Belles Filles, he proved to be in great shape when he attacked on the final kilometers. Nibali wasn’t going to let anyone slip away but the scenario is different today. Not only will Dani Navarro be able to win from a breakaway, he’s also strong enough to attack from a group of favorites. Without being a threat for the GC riders, I doubt they will start chasing him down right away.

For other strong climbers out of the general classification look to the Tinkoff-Saxo duo Nicolas Roche and Michael Rogers, Pierre Rolland, Fränk Schleck, Brice Feillu andespecially Leopold König who’s very eager to show his big talent after his GC ambitions were ruined by crashes in the first week.

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