Stage 10: Mulhouse › La Planche des Belles Filles – 161.5 km
The peloton enjoyed a comparatively easy day in the ninth stage of the Tour de France, leaving the real fighting to the breakaway up the road, from which Tony Martin took a decisive victory with a long attack. That brief ceasefire in GC hostilities shouldn’t come as a surprise: the Stage 10 profile looks like a roller coaster viewed from the side. The day’s seven categorized climbs include four Cat. 1s. The final two will really hurt: the Col des Chevrères grades out at a vicious 9.5%, which will put the riders who prefer to grind out a steady tempo into a world of hurt, while the summit finish at La Planche des Belles Filles comes at the end of a 5.9 kilometer journey up a slope averaging 8.5%, with a section of 20% leading into the line. At 161.5 kilometers, it’s a short stage overall, but with so many uphill tests, the finish won’t come fast enough for the peloton.
The continuous onslaught of uphill challenges and fast descents makes this yet another good chance for a breakaway. The GC favorites will be much more concerned with each other than anyone out of contention who gets up the road, and the sprinters won’t have a chance here. Even if there is a concerted effort to pull back the break, the peloton could struggle to reel in those up front given the constant ups and downs and winding roads. However, unless the breakaway contains some serious climbing talent, it may start to falter as the day wears on, especially as the GC contenders start to ramp up the pace for the run-in to the final two brutal climbs. What’s more, the yellow jersey hunters took Stage 9 pretty easily, and a rest day awaits on Tuesday, meaning that the real powerhouses of this race will be fresh and ready to put it all on the line on Stage 10. That will further complicate things for those riders up the road. I see about a 50/50 chance for the break here. One thing’s for certain: for anyone to win this stage, a healthy dose of uphill ability will be required.
One major feature of the stage that you won’t see in the profile is the date itself: the peloton takes on Stage 10 on July 14th, Bastille Day. It’s been quite a while since a French rider won a stage of the Tour on the country’s national holiday, but it hasn’t been for lack of trying. For a French pro cyclist, there are few things more desirable than a Bastille Day victory, and that means that the French riders will be extra-aggressive trying to get out front on this climb-happy profile.
As with any stage that gives a breakaway a good chance of success, it’s hard to name anyone a favorite, but at least this day of harsh climbs allows us to narrow down the list a bit to the GC contenders and those opportunists with real climbing talent. Among said opportunists, it will be interesting to see which of the uphill chargers from the Stage 9 breakaway have enough left in the tank to give it another go on Stage 10; so many of the strong climbers who are out of GC contention and who might stand out as likely agressors will indeed be coming off a long day out front. Katusha’s Joaquim Rodriguez finally showed some form in the road to Mulhouse, picking up a handful of KOM points behind Tony Martin. If he continues to feel well, he could give it another go. Teammate Simon Spilak was with him in the Stage 9 break, and he is another rider who could be hoping to recover energy quickly to try for another long distance attempt.
Giant’s Tom Dumoulin, Belkin’s Steven Kruijswijk, Europcar’s Cyril Gautier, Bretagne-Séché’s Brice Feillu, Cofidis’s Daniel Navarro and Nicolas Edet (who will also be on the lookout for more mountain points), and Cannondale’s Alessandro De Marchi are other strong-climbing opportunists whose participation in the early move of Stage 10 may depend on how quickly they recover from the efforts of the day prior.
AG2R’s Christophe Riblon has not been very visible so far in this Tour de France, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the winner of last year’s Alpe d’Huez stage was saving his energy for another attempt to win on a momentous day. Stages like this are his specialty. NetApp-Endura’s Leopold Konig has not had the Tour he was hoping for, but this will be an opportunity for him to get something out of the race; he’s an excellent climber. Garmin-Sharp’s Janier Acevedo, Katusha’s Yuri Trofimov (far enough on the fringes of the General Classification that he’ll likely be given some freedom), Movistar’s Giovanni Visconti, FDJ’s Arnold Jeannesson, IAM Cycling’s Sebastien Reichenbach, AG2R’s Blel Kadri, Europcar’s Tommy Voeckler, Cofidis’s Rein Taaramae, and Trek’s Haimar Zubeldia and Frank Schleck are other good long-distance candidates who will come into Stage 10 without having spent the previous day out front. It will interesting to see if any of the teams hunting the yellow jersey send any top lieutenants up the road; Tinkoff-Saxo’s Nicolas Roche, Rafal Majka, and Michael Rogers, Sky’s Mikel Nieve, Lampre’s Chris Horner, and Movistar’s Benat Intxausti and Ion Izagirre would be big favorites if they made it into an early move.
Whoever ends up in the breakaway, they’ll have their work cut out for them staying away from the pack of GC contenders. The Tour de France has spent two days in the hilly Vosges region already, but this one is by far the most likely to shakeup the General Classification. Stage 10 is the best opportunity so far in the race for the elite climbers to get ahead, and that could make for a very fast day among the yellow jersey contenders; even if they aren’t actually focused on reeling in the riders up the road, it could very well happen anyway.
As might be rather obvious on a day with four Cat. 1 climbs and an uphill finish, Tinkoff-Saxo’s Alberto Contador is the favorite among the GC contenders. He is the best climber in the race, and he has an excellent team around him to put him into the best possible position to get ahead when the road goes up. If he gets away on the Col des Chevrères, with a meandering descent and another steep climb to follow, his rivals may not see him again until they get to the finish line, and for that reason he will be the day’s top favorite. It is important to note that by naming him as such, I am not saying that he is favored against the field, but given the fact that the GC contenders could very well reel in the day’s breakaway, and since it would be impossible to name any one rider as the favorite to take victory from the early move anyway, Contador is, in my mind, more likely than any other single rider to win Stage 10.
He will, however, have plenty of competition among the yellow jersey hunters. Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali looked up to the challenge in the steep finish of Stage 8, though this will be a much tougher day. Furthermore, his team has spent quite a long time at the front of the pack so far in the Tour de France, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them showing signs of fatigue here. Still, Nibali appears to be very strong right now, and his position on GC will allow him to follow moves rather than having to worry too much about making them himself.
Sky’s Richie Porte put in a nice performance of his own on the uphill finish in Gérardmer, coming in only four seconds behind Nibali. These are very steep climbs he’ll be undertaking on Stage 10, but he does have a strong supporting cast, and they have not had to do too much work in this race so far. Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde tends to like the steep stuff, but he was not at the same level as the likes of Contador and Nibali on Stage 8, and he’ll need to find that form fast if he wants to keep fighting for the yellow jersey with so many uphill tests on Stage 10.
FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot was very impressive in Gérardmer, next to cross the line after Porte. For him, the big challenge of Stage 10 may be the barrage of difficult descents. He looks to have improved both his bike handling and his general confidence, but this will put him to the test. If he can manage to stay out of trouble while going downhill, he’ll be very well positioned to strike out for glory on Bastille Day when the road goes up. AG2R’s Jean-Christophe Peraud and Romain Bardet could also be planning to attack on Stage 10. Both have looked strong, with Peraud’s form coming as a bit of a surprise after he seemed to be struggling in the Dauphine. Europcar’s Pierre Rolland will almost certainly try something on one of the later climbs, but having picked up a chunk of time on GC on the way to Mulhouse (he is now 8th overall), he won’t be given nearly the same level of freedom to get ahead anymore.
Lampre-Merida’s Rui Costa, Belkin’s Bauke Mollema, and Lotto Belisol’s Jurgen Van Den Broeck are all sitting one after another in the General Classification and could try to pick up time on Stage 10 while the riders at the very top of the GC leaderboard are worrying about each other. BMC’s Tejay van Garderen has looked sharp on the climbs so far and I like his chances to continue to be in the mix as this race goes on. This will be a tough day for his compatriot Andrew Talansky, who has been on the deck more often than he would have liked in these past few days, but he is known for his tenacity and this is a day that will require a healthy dose of fighting spirit.
VeloHuman Stage Favorites
1. Alberto Contador | 2. Vincenzo Nibali | 3. Alejandro Valverde
Be sure follow @VeloHuman on Twitter for live commentary on this and every stage of the 2014 Tour de France! With a rest day on tap after Stage 10, the next preview will be up on Tuesday, so stay tuned. In case you missed it, the overall Tour de France preview can be found here.