Juan Antonio Flecha's take on the Tour's longest stage
Ahead of the 16th stage of the 2014 Tour de France, Juan Antonio Flecha and inCycle ventured to the south of France for a reconnaissance of the first Pyrenean stage of the 101st edition of the race.
Flecha retired from professional cycling at the end of 2013 having enjoyed a career that saw him race the Tour on 10 occasions and claim victory in his debut Tour on stage 12 of the 2003 edition and is inCycle's guide for the recce of the longest stage in the 2014 Tour.
Starting in Carcassonne, the peloton will finish 237.5km later in Bagnères-de-Luchon but first face five catergortised climbs. Four minor category climbs will pass under the rider's wheels before the peloton hits the HC-ranked Port de Balès which arrives after 204km and for the first time since 2010.
First though, the peloton must tackle the Portet d'Aspet climb and it's a fair chance the first rider over will be French. The climb has featured nine times since 2001 and on only one occasion has the rider been from outside of France – Dutchman Erik Dekker in 2005.
"A short climb and very steep in the final especially," Flecha said. "And the famous descent with a terrible downhill and the tragic death of Fabio Casarteli. It's very steep and some tricky corners. Riders will want to be in the front here at the top and take the descent in the first positions."
Casartelli died in 1995 after a crash in which he hit his head on the roadside concrete blocks which is marked by a memorial and plaque in his honour.
After the riders make their way down the tricky descent, which maybe complicated if the roads are wet and slippery, it is onto the main course of the stage.
The final climb of the day over the Port de Balès was the sight of the infamous 'chain gate affair' of 2010 when Andy Schleck, in the yellow jersey, slipped his chain and lost the overall lead to Alberto Contador at the end of the day, and the ascent could again see a reshuffle in the overall standings.
"Probably a breakaway will be here and rider from the breakaway will try to go on attack," Flecha said of the HC climb. " This is a mountain stage in the Pyrenees but not with an uphill finish.
"It is a difficult climb, narrow, steep … and it's a long one."
And who does Flecha think will win stage 16?
"A strong guy and probably a guy in the breakaway is going to be the winner today."
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