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David L. Stanley

2015 Tour de France: July 16
Stage 12 reviewed and assessed

Back to Commentary index page | 2015 Tour de France

David Stanley is an experienced cycling writer. His work has appeared in Velo, Velo-news.com, Road, Peloton, and the late, lamented Bicycle Guide (my favorite all-time cycling magazine). He blogs regularly for Dads Roundtable. Here's his Facebook page. He is also a highly regarded voice artist with many audiobooks to his credit, including McGann Publishing's The Olympics' 50 Craziest Stories and Cycling Heroes.

STAGE 12, 16 July 2015: Lannemezan to Plateau de Beille, 121MI/195 km
In which the riders tackle the most brutal of climbs; up the Beille

It is said that on the third day in the high mountains, everyone is in pain. After stage 12, no one will be without pain. Today, the riders must first face the Col de Portet. The Portet has not seen the Tour since 1995. On 18 July 1995, the much-loved and highly talented Fabio Casartelli (Motorola) crashed on the descent of the col and struck his head on a concrete road pylon. Despite quick intervention, Casartelli died in the helicopter en route to the hospital. He left behind a wife and young daughter. Today, a breathtaking white marble memorial stands near the site of his crash.

Following safe passage down the Portet, the riders have 10 km to recover before they head up the 1st category Col de Core followed by a steep and testing descent. The riders roll across 25 km of valley roads before the 1st category Port de Lers.

Thirty km of descent should allow for some recovery before the race tackles the most brutal climb of the race; the hors categorie (steep beyond belief) Plateau de Beille. Sixteen kilometers of climbing at an average grade of 8%, with several ramps at 12%. No hairpins. Just up.

The Beille comes last in the Pyrenees – 3 climbs earlier in the day, 7 categorized climbs yesterday, and 4 climbs on Monday. The Tour has tackled the Plateau de Beille four times. Each time, the stage winner has hoisted the luscious cobalt blue and gold trophy overhead as the Tour champion.

This is Tour made for the climbers.

Stage 12 profile

Stage 12 profile

Let’s cut to the chase.

A group of 22 went away early. The contenders are nearly 10:00 behind. None of the 22 men are a threat to the top GC men. That break is now down to a dozen men.

12.5 MI/20 km to go for the leaders: World champ Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx) is away with the Classics specialist Sep Vanmarcke (Lotto-Jumbo). There is a small group of chasing specialty climbers: Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Romain Bardet (AG2R), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), just behind them at 1:50.

The main GC contenders are all present and 11:00/3 km in arrears. There are two races today; one for the stage win, and one for the GC. The leaders have 3 kilometers to go until they hit the start of the Plateau de Beille.

At the outset of today’s stage, the weather was hot, with temperatures of 95F/35C. That has changed dramatically. There is now blueberry-size hail on the Plateau’s summit, with a temperature of 65/18. On the leaders, there is rain. It is dry on the main group.

Michal Kwiatkoski

Michal Kwiatkoski

9.3 MI/15 km to go for the leaders: Our 2 leaders, Kwiatkowski and Vanmarcke, are ahead of the chase at 1:49.

The peloton is SKY-led at 11:32. Froome has seven teammates with him. That’s an impressive show of strength.

As the group moves towards the climb, BMC leader Tejay van Garderen has five teammates with him. More teammates, more better.

Up ahead, Kwiatkowski motions Vanmarcke through with a wave of his hand. Sep is a terrific one-day Classics rider, but he is not a noted climber. He shakes his head “no.” He is salt-stained, even in this downpour, and his tongue is in full view. Kwiatkowski looks again, stands up on the pedals, and Sep makes no effort to go with him. The World Champ rides away, into a downpour, and finds a good rhythm. His head bobs in time to a secret song.

Sep Vanmarcke has had a long day. When he drifts back to the chasing group, he’ll drift right out the back. Should he recover well, the next two stages suit his skill set.

7.5 MI/12 km for the GC group: Moments from the right turn which leads to the Plateau, the field, led by the SKYmada, has ramped up the tempo. Froome is fourth wheel. The right turn and they’re on the climb.

Yesterday’s most combative rider, Dan Martin of Cannondale-Garmin, goes POP! His ride yesterday was heroic. Today, he hung in there to help team GC leader Andrew Talansky for as long as possible, but Martin needs to ride this climb at his own pace.

The Movistars are at the front with SKY. Quintana is right on Froome’s shoulder. Everyone feels that today, Quintana will seriously test Chris Froome’s ability to handle multiple accelerations - the Colombian’s specialty. We’re waiting.
SKY is riding a solid tempo and they are watchful of Quintana. The three SKYs at the front keep glancing around only to see that Nairo is still glued to Froome’s shoulder. Not only does Nairo need to pressure Froome today, he needs to close down some time on Tejay.

Daniel Martin

Daniel Martin

Tejay’s stage race history is that Week III is his. You can see Nairo glance past Froome and make eye contact with TVG.

Here’s a name I was not sure I’d mention again. Vincenzo Nibali has managed to stay in the GC group. After the Tour is over, I suspect we’ll hear he fought off a virus during Week I.

6 MI/10 km to go for the leaders: The Fuglsang/Bardet/Rodriguez group have caught Vanmarcke. Sep lets them roll past. He’s wise. No sense in burning any more matches today with two good stages on tap this weekend. Roll it in. Purito jumps from the eight man group and takes Fuglsang and Romain Bardet towards the World Champion in rainbow stripes Kwiatkowski. With this rain, we won’t be seeing another rainbow any time soon.

6.6 MI/11 km to go for the GC group: Talansky is under pressure. He’s hanging on at the back. There’s a little gap. He closes it. The Pitbull can’t hang on much longer. Up front, yesterday’s winner Rafal Majka and three-time world TT champion Mick Rogers make tempo for Tinkoff and Contador. TVG has only Sanchez at his side. Talansky is gone.

5.5 MI/9 km to go for the leaders: Kwiatkowski has hit the 10 km to go banner with 00:38 on Fuglsang, et al. With Fuglsang is Romain Bardet. Yesterday, on the Tourmalet, he got off his bike to vomit from heat exhaustion. Today, he’s in the chase for a stage win on one of the toughest days of the Tour. Incredible courage and recovery.

9:43 back to the GC group: Vincenzo Nibali looks like a bike racer again-sweaty, sleek, and attentive. These three days have been tough on him. Astana team management, led by convicted doper and suspected buyer of races Alexander Vinokourov, have not been kind in the media to their star rider.

Nibbles rubs shoulders with TVG. He looks at him for a few moments, scopes him out, and tries to get a read on his status. Now for a quick glance across to Contador. Everyone who matters is here, and they all know the way to the podium’s top step is repeated attacks on Chris Froome and Team SKY.

The group of three in chase of the rainbow jersey is having a discussion. They’ve been attacking each other. That won’t work. With every attack comes a quick chase. After every chase, they slow down a bit for a general regrouping. Meanwhile, up ahead, Kwiatkowski rides on. Discussion over. Agreement, or agree to disagree?

5 MI/ 8 km to go for the GC group: Majka goes to the front and drops the hammer. He has stretched the GC group to its limit. He may have gone too hard. He’s alone, off the front, and Contador is desperate to close a small gap behind TGV. Majka looks around, sits up, and the field goes past him so fast, it looks like he dropped anchor on the Plateau de Beille.

4.2 MI/7 km to go for the leaders: There goes Purito. Up and OUT! A couple of pedal strokes and he has at closed the gap to Kwiat down to 13 seconds. Fuglsang makes a half-hearted attempt to follow, realizes that’s a bad move and settles down to ride own tempo. Bardet is left behind.

Purito has Kwiatkowski already!! He closed a 20 seconds gap in about 500 meters. Kwiatkowski will sit on Rodriguez’s wheel and recover. No, he won’t. Kwiat pops. The rain pours down, and Joaquim is long-gone.

Kwiatkowski is in a bad patch. Fuglsang rides past him straightaway. No response from the rainbow jersey.

Jakob Fuglsang

Jakob Fuglsang

Meanwhile, back in the GC group: SKY is still riding a solid tempo. Chris Froome sits in 3rd wheel. TGV is one of 11 men who remain, along with his teammate Samuel Sanchez. Tejay is four or five riders back, and he’s glued up to Nairo, who is glued to Froome.

In this rain, on the climb, those new paint stripes look deadly.

AC looks terrible. He’s just in labor.

And Contador attacks!! That was a great fake. He slumped his shoulders, dropped his jaw, and he opens up six seconds inside of a few hundred meters. The SKY-guys don’t blink. Richie Porte adjusts tempo slightly (I can imagine in his ear “Brailsford here. Please increase wattage by 20. That is all.”) and AC is back.

NIBALI!!! Holy Mackerel! Nibbles puts in a dig. Kudos, man. Let the fellows know you’re back. Everyone will let him go. One, he’s seven minutes behind. Two, after several lousy days, the men up front are saying to themselves, “He’ll be back.”
Nairo Quintana still has Valverde at his side, but TVG is without a teammate in the group.

A quick look up the road: Romain Bardet looks to have recovered. He’s in a firm third place. Quite the turnaround-from heat exhaustion to the podium in 24 hours. Take that, Jack Bauer (of 24, not Cannondale-Garmin)!

Nibali’s gap has grown a bit. No response from the field.

Valverde and Quintana have a word.

Valverde goes!! Team SKY’s Richie Porte goes with him. Froome looks to have struggled a moment to close the gap to his teammate. This climb has no rest spots. Everyone will have suffered by the end of today.

3.1 MI/5 km to go for the leaders: Rodriquez looks solid. He’s on the limit, but he’s at his limit of his own volition.

Back in the GC group (about 6:30 behind): Nibali has a big gap, at least 10 seconds. Valverde jumps away again. Valverde is @4:00 so no one will go to the limit to chase him. In addition, the GC guys are cautious that if they go to the limit for Valverde, then Quintana will attack, and he is the true Movistar dangerman. Valverde has caught Nibali. Here come the SKYguys. Ergo, the GC group is gruppo compatto. Froome still has 2 teammates at hand: Porte and Thomas.  TVG is on Nairo Quintana. LIKERIGHTTHERE.

2.5 MI/4 km to go for the leaders: Rodriquez is still alone as he plows through the downpour. His roostertail flies up and over his back wheel. He has 00:52 on Fuglsang and 1:55 to Brave Sir Romain.

Joaquin Rodriguez

Joaquin Rodriguez flies up the mountain

Back in the GC group:

What is Nairo, sitting 4th wheel, waiting for?

Richie Porte is done. Pulling the Valverde-Nibali attack back cracks him. Good work, sir. There! There goes Nairo! Finally. Geraint Thomas for SKY is on the front and just rolls him back in.

Nairo has to jump again. He has to.

TVG is now on Froome’s wheel. Tejay is on the limit but looking good. Everyone is on the rivet. Extreme heat this morning, several severe climbs, and now racing through the rain in colder weather; no one feels good.

1 MI/1.6 km to go for the leaders: Purito cannot go any harder. The man is going to bite through his lower lip. Fuglsang is at 00:68 and will hang in there for second place. Bardet is going well, but he’s not closing the gap to the Astana. No word on Kwiatkowski’s locale. He’s somewhere between third place Bardet and the GC group. Wherever he is, he’s struggling. He was all in for that attack.

2.8 MI/4.4 km for the GC group: The GC group flies past Vanmarcke. He doesn’t look happy. Why should he? The rain is well and truly on.

2.5 MI/4 km for the GC group: Froome JUMPS!! I really thought he’d wait until Quintana went so they would be away together and then Froome would pummel him with an attack. Not today. Quintana is on him like that! Contador is on Nairo just as fast. TVG, with that turbo-charged diesel of his, reels them in without apparent effort.

What a show of strength from TVG. All together again.

Valverde takes another dig, and he’s back.

Here’s the Nairo counterattack.

“Not today, mate,” says Froome and drags him back.

Geraint Thomas has had enough. He takes control. Right at the front. His attitude says, “Go ahead. I dare you. I double-dog dare you.” Froome is on GT’s wheel.
The usual suspects are present.

Up ahead, Rodriguez hits the Red Kite. He’s the wise survivor of a 22 man break. He sat in the wheels of that group, got across quickly every time it split, ate frequently, and today, he’ll earn another stuffed lion. He won a stage back on the Mur de Huy, you should recall. He has a home not far from here in Andorra, and his family waits at the finish.

1.8 MI/3 km for the GC group: Kwiatkowski is caught by peloton. Cooked.
Quintana jumps. Froome and Contador cover the move. TVG is right there every meter of the way. Young man is having a strong day.

At the Finish: What a brilliant gutsy win for Purito!! His grimace is now a huge grin. Two well-taken stage wins in Tour2015. He’s not tired now. Wet, yes. Ecstatic, yes. And there’s his wife with his girls. What a great Tour. He might be the greatest stage racer of this generation to never have won a Grand Tour.
Here comes Jakob Fuglsang for a very much deserved 2nd place for at 1:12.
Romain Bardet, only 24 years old, is in for 3rd at 1:49

0.9 MI/1.5 km to go for the GC group: Geraint Thomas now rules the GC group with a fist of iron. The group is status quo. And very select. You earned your way into this group today. The climb took care of that. Look at the back of the group – there’s Pierre Rolland (Europcar). Good sign, look for Rolland to go on the attack in the Alps.

500 meters to go: Alejandro Valverde gives it a big jump for a one second lead in the group over Froome. The GC group’s finish order:

  1. Valverde   
  2. Froome
  3. Quintana
  4. TVG
  5. Contador

The stage finish order:

  1. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) 5:40:14
  2. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) @01:12
  3. Romain Bardet (AG2R) @ 01:49
  4. Gorka Izaguirre (Movistar) @ 04:34
  5. Louis Meintjes (MTN-Qhubeka) @ 04:38

The GC:

  1. Froome 46:50:32
  2. TVG @02:52
  3. Nairo @03:09
  4. Valverde @03:58
  5. Geraint Thomas @04:03
  6. Contador @04:04

What Did We Learn Today?

1) Geraint Thomas is Sir Geraint, serving selflessly at King Froome’s side, and always ready for battle and adventure. Without the work of Porte early on the climb, and Thomas in the closing kilometers, today’s stage takes on a much different tenor. Froome would have had to expend a massive amount of energy to close the attacks of Valverde, Quintana, and yes, Nibali. Froome might be the best pure climber in this race, but the wise head and powerful motor of Sir Geraint gives him his wings. It was Thomas who came to the front with several kilometers left and shut down the attacks upon Froome. I waited all day for Froome to slam his fist down on the Plateau de Beille and say, “I am the man!” but instead, we saw his right hand, Sir Geraint, do so instead. Three stars, a chapeau, kudos, and the man of the match to Geraint Thomas.

2) Tejay van Garderen is a man to be feared. He may not have the explosive jump on a climb like Quintana, but he cannot be dropped. He has an incredible power-to-weight ratio. Even better for fans of TVG, he knows it. Confidence, in a Grand Tour, is crucial, and the first half of this year’s Tour has proved to Tejay that he is indomitable. You cannot stop him.

3) The riders have not laid down arms. Today, we saw Froome near his limit. The hard attacks that people threw at the Kenyan had an effect. Those attacks are cumulative over three weeks. The Alps are only several days away. We did not see him falter, but we did see that he is racing at a human, not superhuman, level.

Chris Froome

Chris Froome gets another stuffed lion.

Random Race Fact: Born in Siberia, Oleg Tinkov (who changed his name to Tinkoff so he could claim descendancy from Russian royalty) made his first fortune when he sold his ‘craft brewery’ to InBev for €167 million. His net worth is now estimated at $1.4 billion (US).

Join in the conversation. What do you think? Did we see a crack in the Team SKY armor today, or was this another tour de force by Froome’s men?
And please, no wagering.

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