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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Tour 2009: Waiting for the Alps

Waiting for the Alps: Tour building to a crescendo (we hope)

The Tour has ticked over (as much as 'ticking over' happens when you ride 200 km a day in a bike race), and we're now on the verge of the big showdown in the Alps. After the relative disappointment of the Pyrenees, the Alps provide the next potential stage for the big showdown for the overall leadership of the Tour.

You'll excuse the lack of posts in the last two days, as my own posting has mimicked the lull in the Tour - I have been doing some reading, and I came across this absolutely brilliant article from SI in the USA. It's lengthy, but really well worth the read. Some of the best quotes you'll read on cycling.

The race - status quo remains

Nocentini continues to look after the yellow jersey for the big contenders, Mark Cavendish has now taken ownership of the green jersey, and the polka dots are on the line from tomorrow onwards where that battle starts to heat up. The radio ban on Tuesday produced what Lance Armstrong called the easiest day ever in the Tour de France, and when you start to factor in the neutralized climbs of the Aspin and Col du Tourmalet, and the "easy" rides through the transitional stages, the big contenders for the Tour should have a great deal to throw down come the high mountains in the next week.

The shake-up in the Alps awaits us

The ride through the Alps really only starts on Sunday, but we have what are called "medium mountains" starting tomorrow. A Category 2 and a Category 1 climb await on a stage that welcomes the Tour to its crucial week. The Cat 1 summit is 60+ km from the finish line, so much like the Tourmalet stage, it's suited to a break and not to a big battle between the top 10. Therefore, it's unlikely to shake up the leader board, though some aggression from anyone (something that has been sorely lacking in the Tour so far) might see yellow change hands.

That would of course be a significant moment in the race, but it is unlikely that any of the podium challengers will be aggressive or be dropped on this day - their battles seem likely to be begin on Sunday, with three consecutive days in the mountains (broken up by a rest day on Monday) including a mountain-top finish on Sunday, a couple of out of category climbs, and a very tough day on Wednesday featuring four Category 1 climbs. That is followed by the Individual Time-Trial in Annecy on Thursday, and so by then, we should have a much clearer idea of where the yellow jersey is destined.

The protagonists remain much the same as they have - Contador and Armstrong, supported by Kloden and Leipheimer, hold the team-aces with Astana. Andy Schleck will count on brotherly support from Frank, while Cadel Evans and Carlos Sastre are quite close to "last-chance" territory and really have to attack to regain lost time. Andy Schleck in particular looked brilliant in the Alps last year, and has featured at the front of climbs in the Pyrenees.

Contador, for his part, said the other day that if Armstrong were to attack, he'd be obliged NOT to respond. That may be part gamesmanship, part truth, but I suspect Contador is staking that statement on the expectation that Evans, Schleck and maybe even Sastre WILL attack first (probably on Sunday), and he can of course follow their attacks. I expect that Evans will be first to attack in the Alps, but that Schleck will be doing most of the early damage when he does attack, probably in response. As for Armstrong and Contador, they'll follow, and depending on the form of Schleck, it might open the door that Contador needs to counter attack and build his lead on the rest of the race.

No indication of form so far

Unfortunately, because of the relatively sedate pace of the climbs, debating who has form is guesswork at this stage. Of course, we know more or less who is going to be competitve, based on the prologue and the way they rode the Pyrenees, but so far, little has been done to really suggest who will come through and who will fade away on the very steep climbs when the pressure is turned up. When a group of 70 riders summits the Tourmalet, you know the pressure is right off.

Similarly, even on Arcalis, where the biggest attacks of the race have come, the race didn't exactly fragment - Cadel Evans threw in an attack that split a group of 40 into a group of 20, and then Contador did break away, but about 10 riders were able to follow Evans in the chase. So, at this mid-way point of the Tour, it's anyone's guess who has the legs.

We will see what the Alps reveal...

Sorry for the lack of data today - just an opinion post. The mountains provide the most food for analysis, so we'll get into that as the peloton gets into the Alps!

Join us then!



Ron George said...


The lull in the Tour has been orchestrated by the organisers. All the action is left for the second week, and the top in the GC is still close. This is an interesting Tour, to say the least.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Ron

You're absolutely right, it's an artefact of the designed route. I don't think good for the race as a whole - to condense the entire action into one week is a big risk.

I have a feeling that we won't see a great finish on the Mont Ventoux that everyone is hoping for. I know the GC is bunched at this stage, but I think it will open quickly, and the narrow time gaps are themselves an artefact of the route. I don't believe there are genuinely 8 or 9 men in with a chance of winning this, but only 2 or 3 - that would have been the case regardless of the route.

But I do think the Tour has been dead boring so far, and there's only a small chance it will get interesting between now and Sunday next week. It might, but I will still look back on the Pyrenees and first 12 days as the most boring I've seen in a long time. The last two years have been far more interesting.


Ron George said...

Yup. Hincapie in 2nd place now in the GC. What a Tour.

Ron George said...

Must also say that the broadcast that you and me look at does not tell the whole story. Attacks are going left and right and the pace is pretty solid during the first two hours in a race. Ask the riders! Then everyone falls into a lull after that because these are humans, they want rest, and so the groupetto comes together. I suspect the broadcast goes into full blast on the climbs when the pace is slow after the first 2 hours. What we see is then this. Tour is not really dead boring. Sports coverage is.

djconnel said...

The profile:
Shows 638 meters gained over 9.0 km. 7.5% @ 8.7 km would be 653 meters gained. Using the former number reduces the VAM to 1856. Contador beat Sastre by 66 seconds. Using Sastre's VAM from Vesuvius in the Giro from 53x12.com (consistent with what I'd calculated from video coverage)of 1782, adjusting for the 1% difference in grade (which reduces VAM by around 40, according to 53x12.com), the gap should have been 81 seconds. So given the relative freshness of the riders and the excellent roads in Switzerland, this is consistent. So I think 1900 for Contador is too high, that 7.5% @ 8.7 km is too much climbing for that hill.

1856 is still phemonal, however.

A more detailed route profile is available here:

You can download the elevation data as csv.