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David L. Stanley

2015 Tour de France: July 22
Stage 18 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 18, Thursday 23 July: Gap to St-Jean-de-Maurienne, - 115 MI/186.5 km

In which Froome knows what’s coming…

Two hundred years ago, Napoleon left Elba and headed to town via what is now called The Route Napoleon.  The Emperor’s march ended at Waterloo. We all know how that went. Will an Englishman again take complete control of a French treasure?

Today’s stage features seven categorized climbs; three each of category two and three, plus the HC Col du Glandon. Just for grins, a green jersey sprint has been added at kilometer 108. The sprint comes 20 km after the riders descend the Col de la Morte.

Col de la Morte? Climb of the Dead. Funny guys, those Tour de France route-finders.

In what might be the key section of the entire Tour, the 3.5 km climb at 8% up the Lacets de Montvernier features 18 hairpin turns in less than 2.5 miles. If Nairo Quintana is on form today, he must launch a serious attack to gain back time on Chris Froome.

Stage 18 profile

Stage 18 profile

Stage 17 update: What happened when Peter Sagan sat up in the break? Today’s video showed that when Contador crashed, Sagan was right there. With the team car nowhere to be seen, Sagan slammed down his saddle to suit the 5’9” Contador and sent him on his way. Quite a teammate, young Mr. Sagan.

Let’s cut to the chase:

50 MI/80 km to go: No surprise, a large group of solid climbers has gone away. All of these men can race well, but between Utrecht and here, each has had a bad day or two, or perhaps a serious crash which removed them from an overall placing of high value. There are also several men who are intent on climbing the GC. That includes Andrew Talansky, Dan Martin, Pinot Thibaut, Pierre Rolland, Thomas de Gendt, and Purito. As the race approaches the HC Col du Glandon, this group of 29 is 3:45 ahead of the main field.

40 MI/64 km to go: The break is on the lower slopes of the Glandon. The Glandon is over 13 miles long. It takes Tour riders over one hour to summit. The Col du Glandon was first climbed in the Tour in 1947 and has featured in the race on 14 stages. Today is a magnificent racing day; sunny, warm, and calm. The Alpine scenery is spectacular, and the crowds are dense. A perfect day.
The main field is 2:33 in arrears. Talansky enters the day in 12th place, 16:25 behind Chris Froome. With a good day here, Pitbull could climb into the top ten.

31 MI/50 km to go: In the break: The breakaway is down to eleven riders. They are halfway to the peak. Talansky is in trouble at the rear of the group. He’s gone off the back, and struggled back on twice in the last two km. This stretch of the Glandon is the steepest of the climb. If AT does get dropped here, he’s 85% certain to rejoin on the descent.

In the field: The yellow jersey group is down to 23 riders. The SKYs haven’t had to put Sir Geraint or Richie Porte on the front yet. So far on the Glandon, it’s been all Nicholas Roche. Hey, there goes Porte out the back! He must be spent from all his work yesterday.

Froome announced this morning that SKY is only concerned about the top step. If a rider attacks to move up a few places in the overall, SKY won’t react. They are concerned only with the top GC men.

26 MI/42 km to go: In the field: Alberto attacks HARD out of the field. At 6:06 back of Froome, he’s well off the podium. Nairo looked at Valverde, they shook their heads, and the Movistar men let him go. Froome’s men didn’t even blink. In 1.5 miles, AC has taken 40 seconds from Group Froome.

25 MI/40 km to go: In the break: There is a crash in the break, only 1 km to the top. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) hit a lengthwise crack in the road.* Everyone else is upright. Purito, the current KOM, cracks near the top, under pressure from Romain Bardet. He’ll drift back to the Group Froome and do his darnedest to stay there.

In the field: Nibali attacks three km from the top. The group looks around, looks around some more, and Valverde drags the group up. Nibali goes again. He wants to send this technical descent solo. Froome will not chase. Quintana Soudals up with Nibali (The Lotto-Soudal sponsor is a glue company). Geraint Thomas makes tempo on the front. Valverde sits up at the back of the group. He’ll stay calm and rejoin on the descent.

The group, plus Contador and minus Valverde, is as one over the top of the climb.

20 MI/32 km to go: Words of wisdom: Jens Voigt said he always liked the descent down the Glandon because there are no cliffs to fall off of.

In the break: Romain Bardet is 20 seconds in the lead, ahead of the group. He’s desperate. If he can take 20 seconds from Warren Barguil, he becomes Frenchman #1. That’s a big deal. In France.

In the field: Valverde is bad to the bone on this descent. He gets back to the yellow jersey group. They are 2:41 behind with no danger-men up ahead. Purito, the maillot pois wearer as the best climber, is now in Group Froome. This road is perfect; sweeping bends, like a nice GS course on skis, with excellent tarmac.

Bike racers are exceptional judges of tarmac quality.

15 MI/23 km to go: In the break: Romain Bardet is sending a highly motivated descent- technically perfect. He’s 24, and he’s 40 seconds ahead. With his climbing skills, if he hits the Lacet de Montvernier climb with 60 seconds in hand, he’s a great tip to hold off the chase for the stage win.

And France would go wild.

It’s not a done deal. There are several other Frenchmen in the break who will slay themselves to bring a rival Francophone to heel. Plus, there are 2 C’dales in the group with Talansky and Hesjedel. Hesjedel will suffer a thousand cuts to get Talansky a win.

In the field: Status quo on the descent. It’s simple. Follow the wheel ahead of you. At 55 mph. Oh, and make sure you are nowhere near Warren “Argy” Barguil. (Props to Patrick Mad-dog Media O’Grady for that nom d’isaster.)

10 MI/16 km to go: FYI- the climb up to St-Jean-de-Maurienne is closed to spectator cars. Bikes and feet only for the fans.

18 switchbacks. 3.4 kilometers. Eight percent slope. Let me do the math for you-that’s one hairpin bend every 200 meters. Picture SFO’s Lombard Street or Burlington, Iowa’s Snake Alley on steroids.

In the break: Bardet hits the corner at the bottom of the climb at warp speed. He has 42 seconds. From the 53x12 at 110 rpm to the 39x24 at 80 rpm. Bardet dances out of the saddle as the break hits the climb behind him. Cyril Gautier (Europcar) jumps hard to lead out teammate Pierre Rolland and drops his captain. Rolland struggles back to his young teammate. The lack of spectators makes this climb very striking. The riders and the team cars and race officials is all. Very cool.

In the field: Homeostasis reigns.

7.5 MI/12 km to go: In the break: Bardet has 37 seconds. Gautier is leading the chase. This road is barely one mini-van wide. The C’dales are not to be seen. If the descent is like the climb…

In the field: On the climb, Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) has taken Contador with him.

6.2 MI/10 km to go: In the break: Bardet has 32 seconds with just a handful of hairpins to go. Gautier is cooked in the chase group, and the speed is gone.
There!! Romain dances over the crest. A kilometer of flat, and nine kilometers down. He’s got 43 seconds in hand. The chasers softpedal without Gautier to set the tempo.

In the field: I am shocked, shocked I tell you, that Nairo is still sitting in.
Yes, he has Froome on his wheel and Froome has hardly been tested today, but
!Vamos Nairo, Vamos!

Tactically, this would be a dumb place to waste the energy but I’d love to see Quintana dance up these short little hairpins. Robert Gesink leads the group. Nearing the summit, Nibali takes a dig as the group crests the climb.

Lacets de Montvernier

The day's final ascent, the Lacets de Montvernier

4.5 MI/7 km to go: This descent is much more open than the magnificent climb. More perfect tarmac.

In the break: Bardet has 52 seconds and again, descends like the offspring of Lindsay Vonn and Ted Ligety.

In the field: All together again, the group looks resigned. Heads are down. Breath is caught.

2.5 MI/4 km to go: In the break: The moto driver struggles to keep pace with Bardet on the descent. At 42 seconds, he’s looking solid on the run-in. Pierre Rolland is going well, in chase of Bardet, but like Talansky yesterday, he lacks enough road.

In the field: Gruppo compatto.

2 km to go: In the break: Bardet hammers away with 38 seconds back to Rolland.

RED KITE TIME: In the break: All of France is on vacation in this tiny town. Bardet rockets through the tunnel of noise. A great statement win for the AG2R men.

A Romain Holiday.

Romain Bardet wins stage 18

Romain Bardet wins stage 18.

Romain Bardet moves into 10th place on GC. He’ll be best Frenchman, 12:52 behind Froome. Good on him.

Please, French media, do not create a “next great French rider” mythos about him. Let him win a few races, and earn his title. I understand the frustration. No French rider has won this race since Bernard Hinault in 1985. The last French winner of the Vuelta a Espana was Eric Caritoux in 1984. No French rider has won a Grand Tour since the late Laurent Fignon won the Giro d’Italia in 1989.
That’s quite a drought. If you are under 30, you’ve never known a great French Grand Tour rider.

Rolland is in, 00:33 back, for a French one-two.

At 00:58, here comes the first Colombian of the day, Winner Anacona (Movistar). Andrew Talansky is in @1:52. On GC, he stays in 12th place at 15:18

Red Kite Time: In the field: For all the body blows thrown by Nibali, the Group Froome comes across as one, led by Gesink. Gesink was on a huge day.
Look out! Here comes Mathias Frank to pip Gesink on the line.
*After the race, Fuglsang states that he was knocked down by the moto driver. Video evidence shows he speaks the truth. Jakob says, “It is a good thing that moto driver is not near me now.”

The finish order:

  1. Romain Bardet (AG2R) 5:03:40
  2. Pierre Rolland (Europcar) @ 00:33
  3. Winner Anacona (Movistar) @ 00:59
  4. Bob Jungels (Trek) s.t.
  5. Jakob Fuglsang s.t.

The GC:

  1. Froome (SKY) 74:13:31
  2. Nairo (Movistar) @ 03:10
  3. Valverde (Movistar) @ 04:09
  4. Geraint (SKY) @ 06:34
  5. Contador (Tinkoff) @ 06:40

What Did We Learn Today?

1) It is all about the team. Chris Froome is the strongest rider in the bunch, but with his team; riders as formidable as Geraint Thomas, Richie Porte, Leopold Konig, and Nicholas Roche, Froome’s true quality has even more chance to shine. Movistar is not far behind. With Nairo Quintana backed by Valverde, Winner Anacona, Castroviejo, and Izagirre, Movistar is also a very strong quartet. These last two days in the high Alps will be about the attack. But, tactics don’t matter if you don’t have the firepower. As Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

2) It’s a big deal for a Frenchman to win a stage in the Tour de France. A really big deal. It’s a huge deal. Check out today’s front page of L’equipe, the French sporting news paper.

3) It’s official- the coolest name in the peloton belongs to the young Movistar Colombian rider, Winner Anacona.

Random Race Fact: In 1990, the late Thierry Claveyrolat led the peloton over the Glandon en route to a finish on Alpe d’Huez.  Gianni Bugno nipped Greg LeMond on top of the Alpe for the stage victory, whilst Greg ended the race with the maillot jaune.

Join in the conversation. Can anyone halt the invasion of France by SKY? What to do?

And please, no wagering.

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