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David L. Stanley
2015 Tour de France: July 25
Stage 20 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

Plato's dialogue Crito is available both in audiobook and Kindle eBook versions. For your copy, just click on the Amazon link on the right.

STAGE 20, Saturday 25 July: Modane to Alpe-d’Huez, - 68 MI/110 km
In which Nairo goes all in, and Froome has his toughest day…

For a stage which has come to define the modern Tour, the Alpe-d’Huez was not a part of the Tour until 1952. Fausto Coppi, il Campionissimo, was the first winner on the Alpe as he claimed his 2nd Tour victory. Coppi had the gift of grand timing: 1952 was also the Tour’s first mountaintop stage finish. More importantly, 1952 was the year that motorcycles made their debut. The movie footage that was shot, and the blow-by-blow descriptions provided by nervous reporters perched on the backs of the motos cemented Coppi’s fame.

How great was Coppi? French cycling great Raphaël Géminiani, still spry at 90:

    When Fausto won and you wanted to check the time gap to the man in second place, you didn't need a Swiss stopwatch. The bell of the church clock tower would do the job just as well. Paris–Roubaix? Milan – San Remo? Lombardy? We're talking 10 minutes to a quarter of an hour. That's how great Fausto Coppi was…

Today’s stage is perfectly designed. Just long enough to weed out anyone who dares to go early, just short enough to ensure GC drama, and brutal enough to reveal the ‘le vrai champion’- the true champion. Sadly, due to a landslide, the Galibier will not feature this year. However, the Croix de Fer and the 21 hairpins from Bourg-d’Oisans to the ski resort at Alpe-d’Huez will suffice.

It’s Alpe-d’Huez, n'est pas?

Stage 20 profile

2015 TDF stage 20 profile

Let’s cut to the chase.

40 MI/64 km to go: The riders are on the 30 km long Croix de Fer. 4 riders are in a breakaway, but the break lacks sufficient climbing firepower to stay away. They have a 5:19 lead, halfway up the Iron Cross. The descent will be testing, and no doubt there will be a general re-grouping on the 15 km run-up to the 21 turns up the Alpe.

35 MI/56 km to go: In the break: Two riders are alone at the front. They are 3:12 ahead.

In the field: Winner Anacona sets a hard tempo. Froome is down to two teammates: Roche and Porte. Valverde leaps away from Anacona’s tempo and opens a gap. He’s no threat to the yellow jersey. There are 2 km to the summit of the Croix de Fer.

34 MI/55 km to go: In the field: Holy moly, there goes Quintana! He’s going to bridge to Valverde. Valverde is a great descender and that’s good for Movistar.

This is tactical daring and genius.

Froome is un-panicked behind Richie Porte. Froome needs him.

Contador has been dropped. It’s down to Porte, Froome, and Nibali.

32 MI/52 km to go: In the break: One man away and down the hill.

In the field: Nibali has gone away! Richie Porte is dropped. Froome leads Nibali and they all crest the climb.

On the way down!!

Froome closes the ten second gap on the downhill to Nairo in an eye-blink. Clearly, he’s the superior descender. Nibali is right with Froome. Valverde is also there.

Quintana spent a lot more energy on the way up to open his gap than Froome did on the way down to close it.

28 MI/45 km to go: In the break: Our leader, Alexandre Geniez, is 3 minutes ahead. He’s been away since Kilometer Zero. There is also a group of four which includes Pinot, Anacona, Plaza and Hesjedal about 1:15 ahead.

In the field: The group is together. 3 SKY-guys are at the front. But as soon as the Croix de Fer went up, SKY began to lose their guys. That bodes poorly for the big show-down up the Alpe. SKY must needs to be ready for the climb, not for the flats on the way up to the Alpe.

21 MI/33 km to go: In the break: Geniez flies on the descent. The group of four chases on.

In the field: The field rolls downhill. Another SKY is now on the back. That’s four SKYs plus Froome. Those men are dedicated to their leader.

12 MI/20 km to go: In the break: Geniez has 4:00 over the field. He has been out front since Kilometer Zero, remember, and alone for about 40 miles. There are nine riders between him and the Yellow Jersey group. But today, none of those riders really matter. It is glorious to win the stage on the Alpe, but we’re focused on the tomorrow’s final Paris podium. Ryder Hesjedel is a terrific climber is still up there, a winner of the Giro d’Italia. That’d be a nice win.

In the field: SKY and Movistar at the front. They roll along, and wait for the hijinks to ensue 4 km hence.

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8.6 MI/13.8 km to go: In the break: Geniez is on the climb. 21 corners to go.
The group of 9 is 1:40 behind. The Groupe Froome is 3:47 behind Mr. Geniez.

In the field: Nibali flats near the start of the climb. Movistar attacks, but 3 Astanas come back for him. They’re chasing through the cars.

Men are flying out the back. The contenders are all together.

7.6 MI/12 km to go: In the break: Ryder drops the group and goes after Geniez.

In the field: Nairo goes hard and takes ten meters. Porte is on him. Froome slowly spins up to them and we’re all together. Nairo eases.

Nibbles is not yet back to the group. At the speed of this climbing group, he won’t get back to the front.

7.3 MI/11.3 km to go: In the field: Boom goes Quintana. It’s a five meters gap. Wout Poels is again on him. There’s a gap. Nairo looks back. Porte is trying to get Froome up to Nairo. And they make it.

Nairo drifts back and eye-balls Froome. It’s not a dare. It’s more a questioning look: “How’s Froome feeling? Are you good? Dragging? Lying doggo?”

7 MI/11 km to go: In the break: Geniez is only 00:37 ahead of Ryder. Geniez’s teammate Thibaut Pinot bridges to Ryder. They chat.

In the field: Poels and Porte lead Froome. Nairo is on the shoulder of Froome. Valverde is present. Contador is also there.

Nibali is alone behind, and slaying himself to close the gap.

There are far too many chubby men in mankinis on the climb.

6.2 MI/10 km to go: In the break: Geniez is hanging in there. 28 seconds back to Ryder and Thibaut. Ryder attacks. Pinot reels him in.

In the field: Valverde jumps hard, opens a clean gap, and SKY must let him go.

Dancing among the cars, Nibali is still not back in the group. He’s not going to make it. The main group is climbing much too fast.

5.6 MI/9 km to go: In the break: Thibaut is away. Geniez looks done. It looks like Ryder is back a bit, but the crowd is so dense, who can tell?

In the field: Away goes Nairo!!! Quintana is going to jump and jump and jump until his gap sticks. That’s the province of a pure climber. Wout Poels follows him.
Poels can’t jump too hard after him. Froome doesn’t jump well and the jumps are too tough on him. Contador is dropped.

Nairo jumps again. Insatiable.

Froome has two men with him but the Movistar man has a real gap that will stick.

Nairo and Valverde hook up. They are hammering up the climb.

The SKYs need not panic. Just ride steady for the next 8 km and it’ll be okay.

Easy to say.

5 MI/ 8 km to go: In the break: Ryder, Thibaut, and Geniez together. But just for a moment. Geniez is done.

In the field: Nairo and Valverde are one-half a switchback ahead. Valverde is popped. Winner Anacona was in the break. He sat up quite a few km back as part of the day’s plan. He waits for Quintana. They’re together. Winner will die a thousand deaths to drag his countryman to the summit. Froome follows Porte and Poels. They look concerned but not frantic.

4.5 MI/ 7.2 km to go: In the break: Ryder drops Thibaut. Thibaut struggles back on. A Frenchman, near the front, with 20 minutes of climbing left on Alpe-d’Huez? Yep, he’ll hang in there.

The Quintana duo is only 65 seconds behind.

In the field: Nairo and Winner have 30 seconds over the Froome Group. Froome is riding near, but not at, his limit. In the team car, they do the math. Seven km to go, 2:00 in hand on the road, velocity equals distance divided by time.

4 MI/6.4 km to go: In the break: Thibaut attacks and drops Ryder through the madness of Dutch corner. If you lift your head to the left, you can see the summit. Anacona/Nairo rocket past Geniez. They have 35 seconds on Froome.
The gap in the crowd is barely one bike wide. The Egyptians had an easier time with the Red Sea as they chased the Israelites.

Thibaut Pinot

Thibaut Pinot on the attack

In the field: Two SKYs with Froome, and Valverde right behind.

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3.1 MI/5 km to go: In the break: The crowd is so manic, I can’t find Ryder.

In the field: The Quintana group holds at 35 seconds, and Nairo drops Winner.

He’s alone, and the chase is on. Froome has Porte for help.

Can Nairo get two minutes on this climb? He’s looking solid.

2.1 MI/3.5 km to go: Nairo has 1:02. Plus, there’s a 12 second time bonus for winning the stage. It’ll be incredibly close. He needs a total of 2:38. Nairo is only 32 seconds behind Pinot. Ryder is in there somewhere, but who knows where?

1.8 MI/3 km to go: Tour telemetry shows Nairo’s speed at 3 mph faster than everyone else. I’m anxious to see what his time was for the climb. Fast, that’s for certain.

There’s Ryder up ahead. Nairo blows his doors off in passing. Ryder is dying to haul Nairo back, Nairo jumps away again. 26 seconds up to Thibaut for the Colombian.

1.3 MI/2 km to go: Nairo now has 1:15 over Froome. He’s out of the saddle and he can see Pinot up ahead. Nairo needs another 1:25 or so. He’s not going to make it. Not enough steep road is left.

The last kilometer of the Alpe is flattish. That’s an advantage to Froome.

Chris Froome

Froome with Valverde and Rolland

RED KITE TIME: Pinot heads under the banner. He’s 22 seconds ahead of Nairo.
Porte has popped. Froome is alone with 1.5 km to go. He has lost 1:46 to Nairo

Quintana in about 8 km.

Here comes Pinot!!! A Frenchman. On the Alpe!

Thibout Pinot, last year’s best young rider; the maillot blanc, takes the victory and the 12 second time bonus.

Il est formidable !

Nairo storms in 16 seconds later and he earns a 6 second bonus.

Ryder does a great race. 3rd place.

Thank-you, Ryder, eh?

Watching the clock with 500 meters to go for Froome. He’s flying across the plaza!!!

Froome sprints in 1:19 behind. He’s made it with 1:12 to spare.

Chris Froome will wear yellow on the Champs-Élysées tomorrow. An incredible Tour: Team Sky took a lead in Week I and defended it with honor and strength.

Frrome and Valverde

Froome and Valverde finish

The finish order:

  1. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) 3:17:21
  2. Nairo Quintana (MOV) @00:18
  3. Ryder Hesjedel (C’dale-Garmin) @00:41
  4. Alejandro Valverde (MOV) @01:38
  5. Chris Froome (SKY) @01:38

The GC:

  1. Chris Froome (Team SKY) 81:56:33
  2. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) @01:12
  3. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) @05:25
  4. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) @08:36
  5. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) @09:48

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What Did We Learn Today?

1) O Canada!!! This was a fine day for the 2012 Giro d’Italia champion, the Victoria, BC native Ryder Hesjedel.

2) I’ve been watching the Tour de France since 1985, and this was one of the finest days of racing I’ve ever seen.

3) #Tour2015 was an incredibly difficult race. There was a 22 minute spread between the eleventh place rider, Andrew Talansky (C’dale-Garmin) and first placed Chris Froome. How tough was the climb? A fine climber, Vincenzo Nibali flatted at the base of the Alpe-d’Huez. Despite three teammates at his disposal, cars to follow, and plenty of men ahead of him as carrots, he never saw the front again. He ended the stage over two minutes behind Froome and Valverde.

4) Chris Froome does not flinch. There was never a moment’s panic on his face, his body language, or his riding. Froome, and the SKY team car, kept track of the time gaps. They knew they were 2:38 to the good.

5) Team SKY was not just strong, they were dedicated. It was obvious that Wouter Poels and Richie Porte had empty tanks, yet they somehow dug deep into their suitcases of courage to be there for captain Chris Froome.

6) Movistar rode a tactically brilliant race today. They made sure that Winner Anacona got in the early move. They saved Valverde for a late attack. It played out as perfectly as possible. Valverde attacked and SKY had to let him go. Nairo attacked and bridged to Valverde. The pair went incredibly hard, Valverde sold himself out, and Nairo went on. Anacona was soft-pedaling up ahead, and buried himself for Nairo. When Anacona was used up, Nairo went on ahead. Froome rode a terrific day, and ultimately, he had too big a gap from Week I for Nairo to take back all of the time.

Random Race Fact: Until 1999, the Tour did not keep crash statistics. They tracked everyone who crashed, became sick, or otherwise left the race as abandons. Since 1999, the average rider in the Tour de France crashed 1.9 times. This year’s race is slightly better than average. For 2015, the average number is 1.7 crashes per rider.

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