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20.07.2015 @ 14:00 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Katusha made sure that the sprinters got their day in the spotlight but today was definitely not an easy day. Another very fast stage has definitely left some sore legs in the peloton and they can expect another tough stage tomorrow when the classic stage to Gap will be tackled. A breakaway has almost always come out on top in the city on the outskirts on the Alps and while the escapees are likely to fight it out for the win, the GC riders will test each other on the famous Col de Manse.

 

The course

The GC riders are likely to have turned their attention to the Alps where the race will be decided but before they get to the final big battles in the mountains, they have to overcome a potentially dangerous Tour de France classic. When the Alps come in the final part of the race, the riders usually reach the city of Gap at the end of the final week and spend the final rest day in the city on the outskirts of the major mountains. In recent years, they have even used the exact same finale, with the Col de Manse and its famous descent having been the scene of some dramatic racing in recent years. This year the organizers have repeated the successful formula and stage 16 will again conclude with the lumpy circuit in the hilly terrain around Gap.

 

At 201km, it is one of just two stages with a distance of more than 200km and it brings the riders from Bourg de Péage in the flat Rhone Valley to the hilly terrain around Gap. The riders will first travel along flat roads in a southerly direction before they turn to the southeast. From here, the road is gradually uphill for most of the final part of the stage and as it is always the case in the Gap stages, the day is mainly made up of one steady rise. After 86.5km, there will be a small break in the monotony when the riders contest the intermediate sprint which is on a slightly rising, long, straight road in the city of Die.

 

With 80km to go, the climbing gets significantly harder when the riders tackle the category 2 Col de Cabre (9.1km, 4.6%) before they descend back to another slightly ascending road. It leads all the way to a short descent to Gap which they will reach after 177km of racing. However, they won’t head straight to the finish and instead they will tackle the well-known circuit on the northern outskirts of the city. It includes no flat roads as the descent leads to the bottom of the category 2 Col de Manse (8.9km, 5.6%) whose summit is located just 12km from the finish. While the climb itself isn’t very hard, the descent may be a place to make a difference as it is a tricky affair. Its steep and technical part ends with 3km to go and from there the road is only slightly downhill. It is long and straight with just 2 roundabouts, with the final of those leading onto the 1300m finishing straight on a 7m wide road.

 

This finale was last used in 2013 when Rui Costa took his second Tour de France stage victory by dropping his breakaway companions on the Col de Manse before descending to a solo victory. Further back, the GC riders attacked each other and riders like Laurens Ten Dam, Jakob Fuglsang, Dan Martin and Jean-Christophe Peraud who were all in GC contention, lost a minute to the main favourites. Alberto Contador desperately attacked Chris Froome on the descent and ended up almost bringing both of the main favourites down. In the end, they managed to rejoin their key rivals.

 

In 2011, Thor Hushovd continued an excellent Tour by beating Edvald Boasson Hagen and teammate Ryder Hesjedal in a 3-rider sprint. Further back, Alberto Contador showed signs of resurgence by attacking on the climb, distancing the Schleck brothers and joining forces with Cadel Evans and Samuel Sanchez to increase the advantage on the descent in the rainy conditions. Afterwards, Frank Schleck complained about the inclusion of such a difficult descent in the finale of a stage.

 

In 2010, Sergio Paulinho won a stage from a breakaway but back then it was a different finale. Pierrick Fedrigo took the win in 2006 to confirm the fact that Gap stages are usually for breakaways. However, the most famous stage was held in 2003 when Alexandre Vinokourov rode away in the finale to take his first Tour de France stage victory while an in-form Joseba Beloki spectacularly crashed out of the race on the descent of the Col de Manse, forcing Lance Armstrong to go off-road to avoid hitting the deck. Gap last hosted a major bike race in 2014 when Yory Trofimov won a stage of the Dauphiné in the city while Denis Menchov won a Paris-Nice stage here in 2004.

 

 

 

 

 

The weather

The 2015 edition of the Tour de France is likely to be remembered as a very hot one. The start in Utrecht was brutal and since the peloton reached Southern France, every day has been brutally hot.

 

There will be no respite as tomorrow will be another day of beautiful sunshine and unlike today, there is very little chance of rain. The temperature will reach a maximum of 32 degrees.

 

It will be a bit windier than it has been recently but it will only be a light wind from a northwesterly direction. This means that the riders will have a cross-tailwind or a tailwind almost all day until they get to the finishing circuit. There will be a crosswind on the on the Col der Manse, a tailwind in the first part of the descent and a crosswind in the finale.

 

The favourites

Katusha didn’t get their just reward for an impressive performance in today’s stage where hard work from the Russian team was enough to bring back a very strong breakaway. Instead, it was André Greipel who came out on top after having shown a surprising recovery from two tough days that have included suffering and crashes for the big German.

 

Looking at the results sheet, it seems that it was an easy day for the sprinters but that was definitely not the case. The strong break forced Katusha to chase hard all day and there were only two brief slowdowns after the long descent at the midpoint and after the break had been caught. This means that everybody will be very tired as they head into tomorrow’s stage which is a real classic.

 

As said, the stage to Gap has almost always favoured a breakaway and it is hard to imagine that it will be any different in 2015. The last two stages have been very fast and most teams are on their knees. At the same time, the Alps are looming in the horizon and most teams will be keen to save energy before they get to the big battles in the mountains. Finally, tomorrow’s stage doesn’t have an obvious favourite and this means that it is hard to find a team with a genuine interest to bring the break back.

 

This sets the scene for another very fast start to the stage. Everybody knows that the break is very likely to stay away and this means that all the strong guys are ready to attack. In 2011, the riders had covered more than half of the stage before the right group finally went clear and it would be no surprise if the scenario will be similar tomorrow. Many teams don’t have a big sprinter or a rider who can win a big mountain stage and for them this is the final real opportunity to take a victory.

 

However, it won’t be possible for everyone to win this stage. The start may be pretty easy which means that many riders have the chance to join the break. However, the Col de Manse is a pretty tough climb that favours the best climbers in the group. In 2013, Rui Costa was in a class of his own on the ascent and rode away with the win. However, the descent is almost equally important as it is very tricky and allows strong descender to get back to the front even if they lose a bit of ground in the finale.

 

Usually, it is very hard to predict which riders will be able to join a break on a stage with a flat start as luck plays a big role. However, at this point only a few guys have something left in the legs and this means that we often see the same guys in the mix every day. It is no coincidence that Sagan has been on the attack two days in a row and that Cyril Gautier has even been part of an important move on three consecutive stages.

 

Like today it will probably take a long time for the break to be formed. As the roads start to rise a bit more, it favours the climbers so if we get farther into the stage before the break takes off, we should get a stronger group. Every time a team has missed out, they are likely to try to bring the break back and this will make for an exciting start.

 

When the elastic snaps, it will be time for a natural break and while Sky sets a slow pace, the gap will grow considerably. It is now time to find out whether one or more teams will try to bring it back.

 

On paper, it is a good stage for Alejandro Valverde but Movistar are unlikely to spend any energy on this stage. Instead, they will probably try to send a rider on the attack to chase the win and extend their lead in the teams classification. Of course Sky and Tinkoff-Saxo will do nothing so it will be up to teams that have missed the break, to bring it back. However, the GC riders are likely to come out on top in this finale so it is hard to imagine that anyone will spend too much energy and so the break will probably make it to the finish.

 

The team that can potentially change the script is Orica-GreenEDGE. Michael Matthews has returned to form and yesterday he told Cyclingnews that the stage to Gap is his next goal. It is his final real chance to win a stage but it is hard to imagine that a six-rider Orica-GreenEDGE team will be strong enough to bring the break back after what is likely to have been a frantic start. Matthews’ best chance is to join the breakaway but if he misses out, it is not completely impossible that he will ask his teammates to chase.

 

While the escapees are likely to fight it out for the stage win, the GC riders will have a battle on the final climb. History shows that the main contenders always take the chance to test each other on the Col de Manse. However, it has also been evident that the climb is not hard enough to make a big difference and unless one has a bad day – like Andy Schleck had in 2014. The best climbers may be able to drop the riders from the lower part of the top 10 but it is hard to imagine that Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana, Alberto Contador, Tejay van Garderen, Vincenzo Nibali and Alejandro Valverde won’t reach the top together,

 

There is little doubt that Nibali, Valverde and Contador will try to attack on the descent and there is no doubt that Froome is pleased with the fact that the roads are dry. As Nibali is pretty far back in the overall standings, he can allow the Italian to go clear and will focus on the two Spaniards. He may not be the best descender but his descending skills are generally underestimated. In 2013, Contador was unable to distance him and we doubt that it will be any different this time. Furthermore, he can probably rely on Porte and Thomas in the final flat section so he is unlikely to lose any time.

 

With a breakaway likely to decide the stage, the stage winner is likely to be a strong climber who is still fresh and has the strength to escape on the flats. We have already pointed to Tanel Kangert as a potential stage winner on several occasions. Until now he hasn’t been able to join the right break but tomorrow he has a great chance. Astana have proved that they are not fully focused on Nibali and there is room for their strong climbers to go on the attack.

 

Apart from a bad day on the stage to Plateau de Beille, Kangert has been among the strongest climbers in the race. His performance on the Col du Tourmalet was especially impressive and he has all the skills to shine in this kind of stage. He is strong on the flats and if he joins the right group, he is likely to be the best climber. Furthermore, he is a solid descender and he has the power to keep himself going in the final section to the finish. This makes Kangert our favourite to take the win.

 

Another strong candidate is Wilco Kelderman. The young Dutchman had lofty GC ambitions in this race but he crashed in the first week and was on the verge of withdrawal due to back problems. However, he bounced back with a great ride in stage 13 and he has evidently returned to form. He is still not at 100% but LottoNL-Jumbo have made it clear that he is now in a position to go for stage wins. Tomorrow’s stage suits him well. He is powerful on the flats, a great climber, a strong descender and has a pretty fast sprint. He may not be fully fit but he seems to be strong enough to win this kind of stage.

 

Most have been impressed by Serge Pauwels in this race. The Belgian has been one of the best climbers in the race and was close to a stage win in Cauterets. Today he was again part of the action when he joined the big 24-rider group that got clear early in the stage and he will definitely try again tomorrow. He is strong enough to join the right break and it is hard to imagine that anyone will be able to follow him on the climbs.

 

Ryder Hesjedal finally hit the right break in today’s stage and showed that he is getting better. That is no surprise as he usually gets stronger and stronger towards the end of a grand tour. He will be attacking constantly in the third week and he will definitely be eager for tomorrow as he was third in Gap in 2011. At the moment, there are better climbers than him but he is still one of the strongest. Furthermore, he is a solid descender.

 

As said, this stage is the big goal for Michael Matthews. Even though he is a great climber, we doubt that he will be good enough to win the stage in a battle with the favourites – especially as he is still injured – but he will have a great chance to win from a breakaway. The final climb is a bit too long to suit him perfectly but even if he loses ground he will have time to get back and use his fast sprint.

 

Jan Bakelants has been riding very strongly this week. He was third in the uphill sprint in Rodez and he was in the break on the stage to Mende where the final climb was too steep for him. Tomorrow’s stage suits him a lot better. He is strong enough to join the right break and he is perfectly suited to this kind of climb that is not very steep. Furthermore, he has a solid sprint to finish it off.

 

Cannondale-Garmin have numerous cards to play. In addition to Hesjedal, Andrew Talansky will be keen to get on the attack after he punctured out of the breakaway yesterday. He has not been at his best in this race but his diesel engine usually gets better and better throughout a grand tour. If he joins the right break, he will definitely be one of the best climbers in the group and could ride away with a solo win.

 

Rigoberto Uran suffered a bit a few days ago but now he is getting better. He showed signs on resurgence yesterday where he was one of the strongest in the breakaway. Tomorrow he will again try to be part of the action and he has the skills to finish it off. He is fast in a sprint, a great descender and obviously a fantastic climber.

 

If the early break is caught, Alejandro Valverde will be the favourite. The Spaniard has all the skills to win this kind of stage. We doubt that anyone will be able to drop him on this kind of climb and he is one of the best descenders. Finally, he is extremely fast in a sprint. The main challenge will be to prevent anyone from attacking in the final flat part as he can’t expect to have other teammates at his side than Quintana. Luckily, the flat final part is not very long which will make it easier for the versatile Movistar rider.

 

Thibaut Pinot has clearly found his best legs. He has already been on the attack two days in a row and this proves that he has returned to form. In fact, it was probably a bad decision to spend energy in today’s break as tomorrow’s stage suits him a lot better. Of course he is no great descender but if he joins the right break it is hard to imagine that he won’t be one of the best climbers.

 

Jakob Fuglsang has set his sight on a stage win and tomorrow’s stage could offer him a chance. However, he also has his eyes on the mountains jersey and has made it clear that he will mainly focus on the Alps. However, he is unlikely not to give it a try in the early part and even though he won’t use too much energu, he may have the luck to join the right move.

 

On paper this is a great stage for Daniel Martin as he is a great climber, a fantastic descender and a fast sprinter. However, he has been ill for a few days and even though he is feeling better, this stage may come a bit too early for him.

 

Michal Kwiatkowski is getting better and better and this stage must be a goal for him. It is tailor-made for his characteristics as it has a long flat part, a climb that is not too steep and a downhill finish. With his great descending skills and fast sprint, he has the chance to come out on top even if he loses ground on the climb.

 

Stephen Cummings has already won one stage but there is no reason that he can’t take another one. Tomorrow’s stage suits him well and he is obviously in great condition. He climbs well, is a good descender and is strong on the flats which makes him a formidable contender.

 

It will be interesting to see whether Tinkoff-Saxo will try to go on the attack. They may choose to stay compact around Contador but they may also give the freedom to Michael Rogers, Roman Kreuziger and Rafal Majka to chase a stage win from a breakaway. The stage could also be a goal for Peter Sagan as it is probably his final chance to win a stage and it actually suits him pretty well with a descending finale and a climb that is not very steep. However, he has been on the attack twice in a row and seemed to be a bit tired today.

 

Bob Jungels was really strong in yesterday’s stage but the final climb was a bit too steep for him. Tomorrow’s stage is much better for him. He is in great condition and one of the best rouleurs in the peloton. Furthermore, he is a solid climb with good descending skills and a reasonable sprint.

 

Edvald Boasson Hagen was second in this stage in 2011 and he would love to make amends for his defeat. On paper the stage suits him well as he can climb, descend and sprint. Unfortunately, he has not been at his best in the last few stages so it remains to be seen whether he is strong enough to limit his losses on the final climb if he makes the right group.

 

For other breakaway candidates, look to Alexis Vuillermoz, Gorka Izagirre, Winner Anacona, Damiano Caruso, Simon Geschke, Adam Yates, Cyril Gautier, Thomas Voeckler, Laurens Ten Dam, Steven Kruijswijk and Rafael Valls.

 

If it comes down to a GC battle, the door will be open for late attacks in the flat final section. This will make it possible for riders like Bauke Mollema, Robert Gesink, Samuel Sanchez, Vincenzo Nibali, Geraint Thomas, Pierre Rolland and Tony Gallopin to take the win.

 

CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Tanel Kangert

Other winner candidates: Wilco Kelderman, Serge Pauwels

Outsiders: Ryder Hesjedal, Michael Matthews, Jan Bakelants, Andrew Talansky, Rigoberto Uran, Alejandro Valverde

Jokers: Jakob Fuglsang, Thibaut Pinot, Daniel Martin, Michal Kwiatkowski, Stephen Cummings, Rafal Majka, Roman Kreuziger, Michael Rogers, Peter Sagan, Bob Jungels, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Gorka Izagirre, Simon Geschke, Adam Yates, Cyril Gautier

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