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David L. Stanley

2015 Tour de France: July 14
Stage 10 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,, 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 10, 14 July 2015: Tarbes to La Pierre-St. Martin, 104 MI/167 km
In which we discover who has their climbing legs.

In the southwest of France, in central Gascony, one will find Tarbes. Historically close to the Basque region, Gascony is the spiritual home of D’artagnan and of Cyrano de Bergerac. Gascony is also home to pate de foie gras, prunes, Roquefort cheese, and most importantly, to the oldest brandy distilled in country famed for spirits, Armagnac. I suspect there are no foie gras and Roquefort sandwich rolls in anyone’s feed zone musettes these days. As for brandy in the water bottle, it was not uncommon for riders in the pre-WWI era to dose themselves with alcoholic beverages in an attempt to numb the pain of 14 hour days, and to lower inhibitions enough that they might ride beyond healthy limits.

Today’s stage follows a rest day. Rest days, for the riders, are not spent by the pool. On a grand tour rest day, the riders will go for a two to three hour ride, on the flats whenever possible. World sprint champion & ex-Women’s Olympic Team coach Sue Novara-Reber used to say, “Just go for a walk on your bike.” The theme is low load, high rpm. The hypotheses:

1) Homeostasis. After nine days of intense effort, the body feels more ‘normal’ when it is in use.

2) Remind the muscles and brain that there is still much work ahead.

3) Active recovery for the muscles and metabolism.

The science may not be perfectly understood, but the end result is. Riders who don’t ride on rest days invariably have a rough go the day after a rest day. In the excellent film Blood, Sweat, and Gears; a season with Team Garmin, there is an illustrative segment in which team director Jonathon Vaughters argues with team leader Christian Vande Velde over the value of a three hour rest day ride. Christian wins the argument but with his poor showing post-rest day, Vaughters is proven correct.

Today’s stage is perfect for a post-rest day stage. The first 85 MI/140 km are southwest over lumpy, rolling terrain- excellent for reawakening the legs- and then, boom! Up the first serious climb of Tour2015, the climb up the col de Soudet to the ski area at La Pierre-St. Martin. The climb is 9 MI/15 km long, with an average gradient of 7.4%. The first 10 km are near 9%. That’s longer than Alpe d’Huez. This is a menacing climb.

My pick for the day is Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin). He’s in 14th place @2:43, he’s a stud climber, he’s French, and it’s Bastille Day.

Serge Pauwels and Warren Barguil

Serge Pauwels and Warren Braguil (right)

As the peloton has rolled past vast tracts of land, let’s head to the climb. Yes, it’s time.

Let’s cut to the chase.

As expected, a small group has got away. It’s down to two men: Pierrick Fedrigo (Bretagne-Séché Environnement) and Kenneth van Bilsen of Cofidis. My day’s pick, Warren Barguil, went down very hard, but has struggled back into the group before the climb.

9 MI/15 km to go: As the break hits the climb, the helicopter gives us lovely shot of a soaring hawk. A harbinger, but for whom?

We’re barely several hundred meters on the climb, but instantly, the field is split into several groups. The pace is already well beyond the main group. Polka dot jersey Daniel Teklehaimonot(MTN-Qhubeka) is one of the first climbers out the back.

Movistar, riding for Nairo Quintana, is at the front making tempo.

It’s true that the start of this climb is steep, but I can’t remember seeing a bunch split up this deep, and this fast. Former world champion Alberto Rui Costa is gone like a shot. Ryder Hesjedal, 2012 Giro d’Italia champion is gone. The sprinters and rouleurs have formed their autobus, and are riding comfortably together.
Van Bilsen drifts away from Fedrigo’s wheel.

Nairo Quintana

Nairo Quintana

Shocking - reigning world champion Michal Kwiatokowski is done.

This climb is dreadfully steep at the start. Climbs that start steep after a 140 km long flattish section can destroy the legs.

8MI/13km to go: Movistar is still at the front. Tinkoff is second. Relentless.
Van Bilsen is caught by the chase group, whilst Sky watches and waits. Van Bilsen drifts out the back. There goes my early pick Wilco Kelderman as he and van Bilsen drift back together.

7 MI/11.2 km to go: Pierrick Fedrigo soldiers on, solo, at the front. His gap is 2:08 but it’s obvious he’s soon to be caught. The Movistars are moving at least 50% faster than Fedrigo.

Romain Bardet (AG2R) is a superb climber and he is done. Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Garmin) is without teammates at the back of the group. He’s struggling. I can see his head bob. He’s popped. His gap goes to 10 meters in 3 seconds. Talansky is not alone. There goes long-time French favorite Thomas Voeckler (Europcar). Gone. After two miles of climbing, this group cannot be bigger than 30 riders.

6.2 MI/10 km to go: The group is in view over Pierrick Fedrigo’s shoulder. Fedrigo doesn’t look bad. He’s moving better than many of the riders who were dropped out of the group at the climb’s start. This Movistar driven group is simply on fire. Two minutes lost in a kilometer. Don’t bother with the math.

Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) stood on the third step in Paris last year. He’s gone. The winner of this year’s Criterium International Jean-Christophe Péraud is out the back. The French are popping on this climb like bottles of Moet & Chandon on New Year’s Eve. The only Frenchman left in France’s race on France’s national day is the sturdy Pierre Rolland (Europcar).

Robert Gesink (Lotto-Jumbo) is in 15th on GC @2:52. He puts in an attack. It’s an excellent tactic. Movistar will let him go, as they concentrate on Sky and Tinkoff. Indeed, the group does not raise its tempo.

And brave brave Sir Perrick is caught and rolls slowly backwards through the chasing group.

What’s this back here? Nibali looks terrible. His head is rolling. He has a death grip on his bars. He’s dropped. He looks ill.

For the moment, Nibbles is catching his breath, riding at his own tempo. Rigoberto Uran Uran is with him. Can Uran and Nibali get back on?

Meanwhile, back at the front Robert Gesink has 22 sec. What remains of the peloton, 22 men, seem unconcerned. Quintana has two teammates with him. Froome has three. Tejay looks comfortable near the front with 2008 Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez as his teammate.

No, Nibali will not get back on. He was in a small group, and he let the gap go. He is cooked. Nibbles is done. He has let the gap go from the small group around him and he is alone for the moment. There are several Astana in a group perhaps 20 seconds back, and that group will catch Vincenzo promptly. His Tour2015 is over.

Robert Gesink still leads with 25 seconds in hand. He looks comfortable, as comfy as you can with your heart rate redlined at 186 bpm on a 9% climb on an 84 degree day.

5 MI/8 km to go: Nibali is flying backwards. The Astanas didn’t come up to him. He went back to them. It looks like Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) is there for him. I estimate that Nibali is already 1:30 off the back.

Tanel Kangert and Vincenzo Nibali

Tanel Kangert leads Vincenzo Nibali

As Team SKY goes to the front, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) goes out the back. Chris Froome has 3 SKYs for company. They’re followed by Valverde with Quintana still on his wheel. Tejay is right there with Samuel Sanchez. I believe that we’ll see Valverde throw in an attack. That will demand that SKY lead a chase. As soon as Valverde gets caught, Quintana will attack, in cycling’s classic one-two. That will force Chris Froome, and perhaps Richie Porte (Team SKY) to answer. If Porte and Froome both cover, then Nairo will sit up and attack a bit later. If only Froome answers, then it will be hand to hand combat for Tour supremacy for another 8 kilometers.

Somehow, my pick Warren Barguil is still in the group. Somehow, because his early crash should have put him in the ambulance. He went down very hard. With two more days in the haut-Pyrenees, I don’t see how he could race again tomorrow. After today’s adrenalin wears off, and the pain sets in, he will be near-immobile. There is Pierre Rolland, cozy, near the back.

Gesink is out of the saddle and accelerates on a steep section.

Well behind, Fuglsang is waving his hand at Nibali. He’s smiling at him. He pats him on the leg. Nibali shakes his head and you can see the sweat flip off his face. He does not look well. Fuglsang give him a little push and, with a hand gesture, encourages Nibali to hang onto his wheel.

4.5 MI/7 km to go: There goes Alejandro Valverde! He jumps hard. That’s a real gap. SKY has to chase. Geraint Thomas leads the chase. When Valverde is dragged back by Thomas, let’s see what Nairo does.

Nairo sits there. He looks comfortable. Maybe that was the test attack, the fake attack, to see who feels good for SKY. Valverde has to make another move
TVG is perfect today. He is glued to Froomey’s back wheel. Tejay is followed by Nairo Quintana and Alberto Contador.

There goes Valverde!! And he is dragged back again. I wonder what Quintana is waiting for. All of these accelerations are bringing Gesink back. The Dutch rider’s gap is down to 12 seconds. When this group catches Gesink, I suspect Gesink will drift out the back door as well.  

Nibali has lost 1:50.

Over on LiveUpdate famed cycling cartoonist and all-round funny man Patrick O’Grady just said, “The GC group is shrinking like a spider on a griddle”
Gesink is caught, and drifts a bit behind the small group. A great day so far for Robert.

3.6 MI/6 km to go:n AC explodes!!! He lost the wheel and is instantly 25 meters back of the group. During yesterday’s press conference he said that “I don’t feel like I have that spark yet during this Tour.” He told the truth. He looked okay.

And then there were four.

Richie Porte, Chris Froome, and Nairo Quintana are together. TVG rides his own tempo 5 meters back.

Alberto Contador

Alberto Contador limiting the damage

CHRIS FROOME GOES!! He goes from a comfortable looking 90 rpm to an eye-blurring 120 rpm in 4 pedal revs. He didn’t shift. He upped his cadence like a match sprinter who jumps down the banking. His feet are a blur. It is an awesome physical sight- to see a rider capable of that level of tempo shift after 5 hours of racing.

Froome has a thirty meter gap in a blink. At these speeds, he has 6 seconds.

Nairo is not blown. He doesn’t look worried. To chase at Froome’s tempo would be tactical suicide. He chose not to go into his red-zone. He’ll wait a few moments, catch his breath for a second (yes, Froome’s attack was breathtaking), and up his tempo just enough to draw himself up to Froome. That’s the plan, but as I look up the road, I see Froome’s gap getting bigger. If Nairo has any gas in the tank, now’s the time.

TJ and Gesink are now together, as AC struggles far behind. AC looks not unhappy, just resigned.

3.1 MI/5 km to go: Robert Gesink catches his breath and drops TVG. Rolland, from behind, and TJ join forces at 00:57 behind the leader.

Nairo is at 27 seconds. It looks as if he’s riding his own comfortable tempo. I believe he’ll be content with second place today, and will make his plans for the next two days of climbing.

Contador looks like a very tired man.

1.8MI/3 km to go: Bring out the holy hand-grenade! Richie Porte is flying up to Nairo Quintana. Nairo is not going slow, yet he has lost 60 seconds to Froome in 2.5 km and he’s probably lost 45 seconds to Richie Porte exploding up to the Movistar rider.

1.2 MI/2 km to go: The crowd through here reminds me of those mid-1980s scenes I watched on the CBS/John Tesh coverage of the Tour. The instant the lead motos part the crowd, the crowds slam shut again like the surf going off at Maverick’s. Too bad the barricades aren’t at 4 km to go.

Froome has 1:15 in hand. He may be ungainly, but he is also the class of the field, and that makes him a very lovely bike rider to watch- the perfect mesh of concentration and talent.

0.8 MI/1.2 km to go: Porte can see Nairo just ahead.

RED KITE TIME: Froome is spinning as fast now as he ever has. No signs of fatigue here. Is that a smile? Yes, it is, for the moment. Back to work, he’s hammering out of the saddle with 400 meters to go.

Chris Froome

Chris Froome is gone....

600 meters to go: Porte catches Nairo. Quintana’s poker face is gone. This is bad, very bad. He got dropped by Froome, and caught by Sky’s number 2.

300 meters to go: Froome is not now smiling. He will take as much time as possible. He also wants to eliminate all doubts that no one, NO ONE, is in his class.

Froome’s over the line. There’s that smile! He looks very pleased.

400 meters to go: The race for second is now on. Porte sits on Nairo. He jumps, gets the gap, looks down under his arm, no Nairo. Nairo tries to answer, gets out of the saddle for a moment, but he can’t. There is nothing left. Quintana sits up.
Porte rides away to take the time bonus from Quintana. That’s a Win-Win. Porte worked hard all day for his team leader. He claims 2nd on the podium on the day. More importantly, as a man who just put himself on cycling’s free agent market, Richie Porte just added lots of $$$ to his new asking price.

Gesink looks great at the finish, wasted but strong for fourth place.

Valverde leads Geraint Thomas to the line. Geraint gives him a good on ya’ push on the butt over the line, and gifts Valverde with fifth place.

TJ got dropped from his group. He’s lost about 2:30 to Froome. Here comes Alberto Contador at about 2:50.

We’re waiting on Nibali. Oh my, 4:25.

The finish order:

  1. Chris Froome
  2. Richie Porte @ 00:59
  3. Nairo Quintana @ 1:04
  4. Robert Gesink @ 1:33
  5. Alejandro Valverde @ 2:01
  6. Geraint Thomas @ s.t.
  7. Tejay van Garderen @ 2:30

The GC:

  1. Chris Froome 35:56:09
  2. TVG @ 2:52
  3. Nairo Quintana @ 3:09
  4. Valverde @ 4:01
  5. Geraint Thomas @ 4:03

What Did We Learn Today?

1) At the top of the list, good health to Ivan Basso. The Italian great retired from the race after a diagnosis of testicular cancer was made. TC is the most common cancer among young men, and among the most treatable. The Testicular Cancer Foundation is among the many organizations that do good work in this area. You can even order a waterproof card to hang in your shower that teaches how to do a testicular self-exam. Yep, it’s okay to grab your nuts.

2) Team SKY – at the post-race presser, Geraint Thomas said, “Froomey told us he felt strong. He said, ‘Hey, let’s crush it and see what happens.’ We all saw what happened. Team Sky has the strongest team in the race. Three of the eight men left in the break at crunch-time were SKYs. As the old tennis coach Vic Braden once said, “You know what happens when you play an opponent with a great serve, a great volley, and great groundstrokes? You LOSE!”

3) No one has the measure of Chris Froome. He rides comfortably in the bunch. He’s stayed upright. He doesn’t need to push a big gear on the climbs and that leaves him with more in reserve. He has no fear of going deep in the pain-zone. Today, barring un jour sans : The Day Without – the empty bad day that struck Nibali today – the Tour is over.

With a three minute lead, Froome can ride easily at the front on the climbs, go with a serious move by TVG or Quintana, ignore everyone else, and wear the yellow into Paris. Alternatively, he go open up an even bigger gap on Wednesday’s Plateau de Beille, and a still bigger gap on July 25 up the Alpe d’Huez.

Random Race Fact: Nibali is pronounced knee-BAH-lee. Not NIB-a-lee.

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