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David L. Stanley

2015 Tour de France: July 24
Stage 19 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 19, Friday 24 JULY: St-Jean-de-Maurienne to La Toussuire - 83 MI/138 km

In which Chris Froome revisits the scene of his breakout moment…
Whilst the day’s stage may be only 138 km, the Tour’s organizers anticipate nearly 5 hours of racing. This stage features 60 km of climbing. There is one category 2 climb, two category 1 climbs, and the HC climb up the Croix de Fer; the Iron Cross, from its most difficult side.

La Toussuire (pronounced Lah TOO-swee-ah ) is a climb with its own demons. In 2006, disgraced Danish doper Michael Rasmussen won the stage solo. That was the day on which Floyd Landis, in the yellow jersey, had un jour sans and dropped to eleventh place. You may recall that on the next day to Morzine, Landis was fueled by a complete pharmacopeia of performance-enhancing substances and went on a ride beyond belief to climb back to third overall at that point. Let’s move on.

It was during the 2012 Tour’s stage 11 when Chris Froome demonstrated to the world that he was an extraordinary talent. On the way up to the ski station of Les Sybelles at the peak of the La Toussuire climb, Chris Froome, riding in support of yellow jersey Sir Bradley Wiggins, attacked and dropped Sir Wiggo. The team then issued radio orders to Froome, who duly sat up and returned to his captain’s side.

Stage 19 profile

Stage 19 profile

Let’s cut to the chase.

48 mi/78 km to go: A 23 man group nears the start of the HC Croix de Fer. The main field is only 1:30 behind. The climb is 30 km long with sections ranging from 6-10% in gradient.

Tinkoff director Sean Yates stated that “today is the day. There are 60 km, more or less, of climbingand today is The Day. You never know when they're going to crack but there's a very good chance of that happening today if we apply the right kind of pressure. If we can change the circumstances to how you want it, then something can happen. Obviously, Alberto always tries and what are you going to do: sit on the wheel and follow? Or try something?”

45 MI/72 km to go: In the break: The breakaway is down to 21 riders. This climb is relentlessly endless. The group has covered 15 km and yet, they are only halfway to the top. Men slide off the back, struggle back on, try to move up, and those who are passed, slide off the back. There are noteworthys in the group; Plaza, Bardet, Purito, Mick Rogers-plenty of men who can sustain a long attack through the mountains.

In the field: Lotto-Jumbo makes a solid tempo as they ride for Robert Gesink’s sixth place. Gesink is only 1:00 behind Contador. A pleasant change for SKY’s men. On the day’s first climb, Sir Geraint was dropped, so the SKYs are happy for the help. Thomas got back on but perhaps riding for Froome and riding for his own fourth place is one job too far.

40 MI/64 km to go: This is the more difficult section of this climb.

In the break: Pierre Rolland (Europcar) is alone at the front. The main group is at 1:25. There are a few other men dropped from the main breakaway. Rolland is 3:30 ahead of the main field.

In the field: Astana hits the front hard and Luke Rowe (SKY) is dropped. He has a wan grin for the moto-camera. It looks like Geraint Thomas has slid backwards as well. Yep, he’s gone. Froome has Woet Poels with him. Astana has three men.

38 MI/60 km to go: In the break: Rolland still goes well at 1:45. He’s ahead of the yellow jersey group by 2:23. I do believe the main field will suck up all the breakaways. As for Rolland, it’s hard to say.

In the field: Vincenzo Nibali puts in a dig. Froome follows. Poels cracks.
Froome is isolated. Nairo sits squarely behind Nibali, followed by Froome.
This is a genius place to attack – early, rather than late. Poels has dragged himself back up. Sir Geraint is over 2:00 behind.

There goes Valverde! Steepest part of the climb at 12%.
Valverde is chasing down stage winner Ruben Plaza who fell out of the breakaway. Good to have some carrots. Wout Poels is somehow back at the front.

He’s kept Valverde in sight.

Valverde has just locked up. He may have the strength to make the attack, but does he have the strength to consolidate the move?

No. He’s back.

36 MI/58 km to go: In the break: Rolland is alone with 1:52 in hand. The break has evaporated. That’s 1:52 back to the Groupe Maillot Jaune. Rolland has 1 km to the top, and it is about 1 km back to Groupe Froome. It’s darn breezy up here.

In the field: Froome drops his chain! Nibali attacks! He’s got a big gap. [See below’s “What did we learn to today?” for more on the chivalry of the peloton.] Froome won’t be pleased. Not that Nibbles is a large scale threat, eight minutes to the bad, but it forces Froome to waste energy. Nibbles is about 30 seconds ahead of the Group, and 1:20 up to Rolland. Nibali is a hellishly good descender. On his own, he’ll catch Rolland.

34 MI/55 km to go: In the break: Rolland tops the climb.

In the field: Nibali top the climb 1:06 behind Rolland.

Bardet leads the rest of the group and snags KOM points. Froome is just behind.

30 MI/51 km to go: There are no second chances on this descent. Lots of places to fall off the mountain.

In the break: Rolland is ahead. He’s already lost 15 seconds to Nibbles.

In the field: They have 1:48 up to Rolland. Froome himself is one mean descender. You learn that downhill stuff as a world-class mountain bike racer.

25 MI/40 km to go: In the break: Rolland is on the climb of the 2nd category, 6 km long, col du Mollard. Nibali is 50 seconds back.

In the field: Valverde and Froome are having a “frank and honest exchange of views.” Yo’ momma so skinny…

22 MI/35 km to go: In the break: Rolland is no longer the ‘blithe, bright boy’ of 30 km ago. Nibali is only 20 seconds behind. The Shark has him in his sights. Cue the Jaws theme music.
And he’s got him.

In the field: All together and two minutes behind. Movistar is at the front.

20 MI/32 km to go: In the break: Nibbles and Rolland chat. Nibbles wants the time- he can leapfrog over Valverde and onto the podium if he gains 4:00 before Paris. He’ll be happy to give Rolland the stage. They have 1:51 over the field.

In the field: Romain Bardet escapes near the top of the climb. Nice, smooth pavement. Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff) has rear flat at 50 mph on the descent. Good luck mate, on the corners.

Vincenzo Nibali

Vincenzo Nibali on his way

15 MI/ 24 km to go: In the break: Young Mr. Bardet has a front derailleur issue. He’s leaning over, at 50 mph, and banging at it. When he shifts into the big ring, his derailleur blocks his cranks from spinning around. He’s kicking his front derailleur, he’s punching at it. His team car is in the caravan, unable to pass the yellow jersey group because of the speed of the descent and the dangers of the road.

Bardet is stuck in a 39x11, a 96” gear, not nearly big enough to generate closing speed on this descent. At 110 rpm, that gear gives him only 30 mph.  
Rolland and Nibali look to be in a 53x12. At the same rpm, a 120 inch gear gives them 38 mph, much more suited for a high speed descent.

In the field: Status quo. Rumor (i.e. Twitter) has it that Nairo is feeling a bit off.
Or perhaps that’s what Movistar wants SKY to think.

11 MI/18 km to go: In the break: Nibali and Rolland are on the La Toussuire. Nibali looks very composed. Rolland doesn’t look bad, either.

In the field: Bardet gets a bike. Finally, and he chases back on. Contador also has a bike change but his was planned-his favorite climbing bike. The field hits the climb 1:50 in arrears. And at the back of the group, I spy Andrew Talansky.
Great job, AT. Hang in there!

Movistar moves to the front. They cannot spot Nibbles the 2:00 he lags. He then becomes a serious threat to their 3rd place with a good ride on the Alpe tomorrow.

10 MI/16 km to go: In the break: Nibbles spins up the climb with Rolland still glued up to his wheel. Nope, there goes the glue. Rolland cannot answer. Rolland is over the limit.

In the field: Two Movistars lead. As soon as they hear that Nibali is alone, they must drop the hammer.

Behind the domestique from Jumbo, it’s Poels and Froome, then Quintana and Valverde. Alberto sits on Nairo, with Rafal Majka at his side.

Froome has no pressure here. It’s all on Tinkoff and Movistar to ride to protect their placings.

And it is on Nairo to attack Chris Froome.

8 MI/12.8 km to go: In the break: A great looking Nibali spins round the corner; his legs a`ticking metronome at 90 rpm. He is 2:2o up on Valverde. Rolland is desperate between groups. He’s 00:49 back of Nibbles and 1:28 ahead of the Yellow Jersey group.

In the field: Wout Poels is on the front. He looks back at Froome. Froome nods. I can’t believe that Poels has survived to this point.

Nairo is glued to Froome, and Nairo has a Contador shadow. Poels gets some help from Maka. Talansky is still attached, barely.

6.2 MI/10 km to go: In the break: Nibali looks solid. Rolland is at 1:40. No way Pierre can stay away.
The yellow jersey group is at 2:18.

In the field: No one has budged. No one has done a thing. They’re going 12 mph on this steep, tough climb. Maybe they have nothing left.

5 MI/8 km to go: In the break: Nibali is 2:17 ahead of the group. Rolland is caught.

In the field: The group had 20+ riders at the start of the climb. They are now down to 11. Talansky is gone.

How steep is this? You need to be in 2nd gear in a car. You can hear the motos whine and LUG® as they make their ways up the climb.

3.5 MI/6 km to go: In the break: All Vincenzo, all the time.

In the field: Maka rides tempo. Poels follows. Froome third. If Contador goes here, Froome will let him go. But a quick look and Contador looks really drained. He’s not going anywhere.

3 MI/ 5 km to go: In the break: Nibali is 2:05 to the good.

In the field: Poels pops. Quintana goes hard, out of the saddle, and it’s just a jump to the right. Froome sweeps wide of the bunch to follow. Contador is hanging in there. Nairo has a bit of gap. Froome drops AC and Valverde like they threw out anchors. Nairo has six seconds.

2.4 MI/4 km to go: In the break: This could be good for Nibali. He has his closest rival Valverde 2:12 behind. Valverde is fatigued and losing time because of the intensity of the Nairo/Froome chase. If Nibali goes well on Saturday’s stage on Alpe-d’Huez, it’s adios bebé to Valverde’s podium place

In the field: Nairo has 12 seconds.
2.0 MI/3.2 km to go: In the break: Nibali is just 1:21 ahead of Quintana, but that should be enough. He is 2:37 back to the main group. Froome is 20 seconds behind Nairo. This is the only time this year we’ve seen Chris Froome out of the saddle for even ten seconds on a climb.

Nairo looks really pained. They’re both on the rivet.

In the field: Gesink is doing all the work.

RED KITE TIME: In the break: Nibali is 1:03 up on Quintana. There is 1:24 back to Froome. 2:39 back to the group. He’s going to win this stage and jump up the standings.

Vinnie has buried himself but he looks good.

Venga Venga Venga!!!

He’s biting on his cross necklace. Over the line.

“I’m BACK!!” he shouts in English.

Here comes Quintana.

Nairo Quintana

Nairo Quintana when he attacked Froome

What’s the time gap? 44 seconds back of the Shark. And here is Froome. His gap? 29 seconds behind Nairo.

In the field: Valverde is driving the break to the line, but he’s lost 2:27 to Nibali.

The finish order:

  1. Signor Nibali @ 4:22:53
  2. Senor Quintana @ 00:44
  3. Mister Froome @ 01:14
  4. Monsieur Pinot @ 02:26
  5. Monsieur Bardet @ 02:26

The GC:

  1. Mr. Froome 78:37:3
  2. Sr. Quintana @ 02:38
  3. Sr. Valverde @ 5:25
  4. Sr. Nibali @ 06:44
  5. Sr. Contador @ 07:56

What Did We Learn Today?

1) Nibali is back. That changes the tactics for the Alpe-d’Huez. There are two climbs tomorrow; once again over the Croix de Fer; from the other side, and Alpe-d’Huez.

Movistar would like two men on the podium. Nairo is a lock for second. Movistar cannot honestly hold out hope that Froome suffers a total breakdown. Neither Froome nor Quintana can conclusively drop the other. Ergo, Nairo sticks to Froome like they’re conjoined twins. When chance presents, he attacks Chris. Froome, meanwhile, worries about no one but Quintana.

The rest of the team is dedicated to the preservation of Valverde’s third place. Astana should put all their men on the front up the Croix de Fer and burn off all the Movistar men. On the Alpe, Movistar cannot allow Nibali to attack out of the group. But when he goes, Valverde must answer. It is entirely possible that Quintana, secure in his 2nd place, may ride to protect his teammate. It will be a most tactical day.

2) It is time for ‘racing chivalry” to become a relic of the past. As with every sport, there is a professional code amongst bike racers. Part of that code is that you do not attack race leaders when they suffer mechanical issues; flats or bike problems. That code needs to go away.

a. Once upon a time, there were no support vehicles. In the years leading up to the 1930s, the Tour was contested by individuals. In those early years, pre-derailleur shifting, the riders had two gears. One cog was on each side of the wheel and at the base of the climbs, the riders would stop en masse and flip their wheels to their climbing gear. For many years, riders carried spare tires wrapped figure eight style over their shoulders. No spare wheels were provided by Mavic neutral support or your team cars. Neutral support didn’t begin in 1973. In those days, the idea of “All for one, and one for all” made perfect sense. With no help forthcoming, riders crossing the high-alpine goat paths that passed for roads in the post-WWII era needed the support of each other.

In 2015, rider support has become more sophisticated.

b. Once upon a time, equipment was unreliable. In the years leading up to the Merckx era, equipment was not to be trusted. Rims were wood. Tires flatted frequently. Post-war derailleur mechanisms were sketchy, and often went out of adjustment. Chains broke. When Mavic popularized the aluminum rim, early glues often came unglued from the heat generated during braking. As a consequence, the tires would peel off at speed, and riders would crash. With all of these issues, the idea that one should profit from a competitor’s mechanical issue seemed both un-sporting and unwise. Unwise, because he who would profit at another’s expense would surely be the next to suffer a mechanical.

c. Once upon a time, there was no money in cycling. Riders were called “les forçats de la route,” the convicts of the road, for a reason. They were poor. The sport made money for a few sponsors, but little was left for the racers. Today’s world-class racer is the monetary equivalent of many sporting heroes. Today’s teams are multi-million dollar investments for sponsors. The sponsors are now Fortune 500 companies. They invest in the teams because the teams generate return on investment. French business magazines estimate the value of the Tour at between 1 and 1.5 billion dollars.

With this much money at stake, let’s envision a meeting between a team and a sponsor who has not yet decided to renew a 10 million euro contract.

Oleg (the sponsor): Well, the Tour didn’t go as well as we’d hoped. We were promised a top stage finish. Our guy Vincenzo was right there. He looked great. When he attacked, I knew he’d win the stage. Talk about a great return. He’d be on the cover of L’Equipe wearing my company’s jersey! Why’d he sit up?
Sean (the team’s sporting director): Well, his big rival Chris had some problems with his chain.

Oleg: So? Sounds perfect to me.

Sean: Well, cyclists don’t like to take advantage when something like that happens.

Oleg: So, let me get this straight. I write checks for about 10 million bucks. I write a check to Vinnie for about an extra million five. And you’re telling me that because this Chris guy breaks a fifty dollar chain, we have to wait for him to fix everything up before we can race again? Are you nuts? That chain is this Chris guy’s problem. Not ours. Your problem is winning races. Oh, and you gotta another problem-finding a new sponsor. This is crazy. I’m out.

It is crazy. When Sebastian Vettel has an engine problem, does Lewis Hamilton slow down and wait? No. Formula One is a big business, a freaking huge business, and the teams hire the very best people to run their programs.
In 2015, professional bike racing is also a freaking huge business, and it is time to start acting like one.

3) It is hard to believe that Nibali was healthy at the start of this year’s race. In week III, the week when it is said, “everybody feels like shit,” Vincenzo is flying like he did in last season’s Tour. Kudos to him for not making any excuses. A lifetime ban for him and all Astana management if he has had any outside help.

Random Race Fact: The classic French single bladed, wooden handled folding knife; the Opinel, has been manufactured in St-Jean-de-Maurienne for 125 years. They sell about 15 million a year. Since I’ve had mine since 1984, somebody is losing a lot of knives. They don’t wear out.

Join in the conversation. Froome will not get caught. But can Nibali claim the third spot on the podium?

And please, no wagering.

Hit up the McGann Facebook page to make your case, and give McGann a LIKE.

On the Twitter, you can follow BikeRaceInfo here.

Stanley’s Twitter is here.  I tweet early, and often.

For great live text updates of the daily stages, don’t miss LiveUpdateGuy.com 

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