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David L. Stanley
2015 Tour de France: July 15
Stage 11 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). 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.

David L Stanley

David L. Stanley

Bill & Carol McGann's book The Story of the Tour de France, Vol 1: 1903 - 1975 is available in print, Kindle eBook & audiobook versions. For your copy, just click on the Amazon link on the right.

STAGE 11, 15 July, 2015: Pau to Cauterets-Vallee de St. Savin, 117 MI/188 km

In which we learn who has any morale left after yesterday’s Froome-ination:

Pau, located in the ancient state of Bearne, sits 100 kilometers from the Atlantic Ocean and 50 kilometers from Spain. At the center of Pau, one finds the Chateau de Pau. Henry IV was born here. His love of a sauce made from egg yolks, butter, shallots and tarragon vinegar gave the sauce its name: Sauce Bernaise. Marie Antoinette spent her summers here, no doubt baking both cake and bread for the townspeople.

Octavo Lapize won here in 1910. The Tour and the haut-Pyreenes grew up together. These epic climbs are as much a piece of the Tour as the fans who race on foot alongside their idols, screaming encouragement and the fields of sunflowers that feature in every Tour de France photo gallery.

Octave Lapize on the Tourmalet

Octave Lapize on the Toumalet in the 1910 Tour de France

Today, the race tackles the circle of death. The Tourmalet, and the cols du Peyresourde, Aspin, and Aubisque, form a narrative mythos of the Tour de France.
Stage 11 heads up the Aspin before it heads to the Tourmalet. The Tourmalet is the highest spot in the Tour, and the first over the top wins the Souvenir Jacques Goddet; a cash prize of €5,000. The Tourmalet is the most crossed col in the Tour- 82 times including today. From the peak of the haut-Pyrenees, the peloton descends 1.7 km over 30 km of switchbacks until they hit the day’s final climb – the shortish climb up to Cauterets. Convicted doper Richard Virenque, in 1995, was the last man to win on the Cauterets.

Today, there was no chase: A climbers’ stage, once a rider has stamped his authority on the race, is no different than a sprinters’ stage. Control is exerted by the patron’s team. A group of riders who do not threaten the overall lead are allowed to break away. The patron’s team will make tempo at the front until the last miles of the last climb. Riders will attack from that group as they seek to gain a few moments and climb in the overall standings. The maillot jaune will be interviewed moments after the race as he towels off and he will speak of how well his team is riding.

Today followed form.

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Let’s look at the anatomy of a stage.

1) Yesterday, Chris Froome established himself as the Patron. His team, and his final attack, demonstrated that no one, at the moment, is in Froome’s class. That could change. There are still seven days of climbing left before Paris in nine days. But barring a complete collapse, the race is now for the second and third podium positions. Today’s winner, Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) started today’s stage in 104th place, 51:04 in arrears. He attacks. Froome and SKY shrug. Give him the bone. We got the meat.

Rafal Majka

Rafal Majka on his way to winning stage 11

Today’s second place finisher, Dan Martin (Cannondale-Garmin) started the day in 30th place, 21:05 in the red. French national hero Tommy Voeckler (Europcar) was fifth on the day. He’s won stages of the Tour. He’s won the polka dot jersey. He’s worn yellow for several weeks. Tommy V. is a stud. All these men are outstanding pros. They have major wins; Classics and Tour stages amongst them. Such is the power of Froome and SKY that they were allowed to ride away.

While the day’s lead riders raced for a stage victory, SKY sat at the front, made a comfortable tempo, and saved themselves as much energy as possible. Or as Richie Porte, an Australian on Team SKY must have said to Froome as riders went away early, “No worries, mate. No bloody worries.”

2a) While today’s stage was difficult, tomorrow’s stage closes with a climb that suits Chris Froome from valley to peak; the Plateau de Beille. Long, steep, and imposing; it will be the climb on which Chris Froome will consolidate his lead. It may be that a group of men with no GC hopes get away for the stage win, but the GC contenders will hit the Plateau together, and Froome will relentlessly attack, and add to his lead.

2b) Today was a rest day for the GC contenders. After the shock of yesterday settled in, the GC riders and their key teammates rode comfortably at the head of affairs. Yes, there were 6 categorized climbs in today’s stage from Pau to Cauterets, and for the leaders, it was an active rest day.

The finish order:

  1. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo)                  
  2. Dan Martin (Cannondale-Martin) @ 01:00
  3. Emanuel Buchman (Bora-Argon 18) @ 01:23
  4. Serge Pauwels (MTN-Qhubeka) @ 02:08
  5. Tommy Voeckler (Europcar) @ 03:34
  6. Chris Froome @ 05:21

The GC:

  1. Chris Froome 41:03:31
  2. TVG @ 02:52
  3. Nairo @ 03:09
  4. Valverde @ 03:59
  5. Geraint Thomas @ 04:03
  6. Contador @ 04:04

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What Did We Learn Today?

1) Team SKY recovered well after yesterday. You don’t win the Tour solely with training, or on the road during the day’s stage. You also win the Tour overnight with recovery. With diet, massage, physical therapy, with confidence in your coaches and staff, your teammates, and your preparation. Being able to go hard for several days is par for the course for all Tour pros. Being able to go hard for 21 days is another issue entirely.

Chris Froome

Chris Froome enjoying another yellow jersey

2) There are plenty of good climbers in the Tour. Dan Martin, Majka, Serge Pauwels; all non-GC guys who can climb. It makes for exciting racing. It will be interesting to see if Tinkoff-Saxo holds Rafal Majka back tomorrow as an aide de camp for Contador on the Plateau de Beille. Contador will need support if he’s to challenge Nairo and TVG for the podium.

3) Heat is bad. Today’s thermometer topped out at 92F/33C. Riders were grabbing for ice bags to shove down the back of their jerseys. Heat exhaustion caused two riders, including Romain Bardet to vomit on the Tourmalet. In all, six riders withdrew today. Look for more to withdraw tonight, or not sign on for tomorrow. For tomorrow’s finish on La Beille, the temp is forecasted to be 96F/35C. That’s a tough day at the office.

4) Today, the GC teams of SKY, Tinkoff, Movistar, and BMC were content to work together. That signals a bow towards SKY and Froome’s dominance. It also indicates that there will be fireworks on Stage 12.

5) On a very hard day, it was stirring to see riders willing to stretch themselves for stage win glory. Morale is high amongst the peloton.

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Random Race Fact: Legend has it that as Octavo Lapize crested the Tourmalet, then an unpaved, very bumpy goat track, he spit on the ground. He turned to organizer Henri Desgrange and his assistant who drove up in an automobile, and through gritted teeth said, "Vous êtes des assassins! Oui, des assassins!" French for "You are murderers! Yes, murderers!" Lapize became a fighter pilot in World War I, was shot down in 1917, and died in hospital.

Henri DEsgrange

Henri Desgrange (with beard) smoking and watching a racer enjoying a day in the mountains.

Join in the conversation. What’s going to happen on the Plateau? Have the other teams caved to SKY? Where can Tejay stand on the Paris podium

And please, no wagering.

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