The Tour de France finally arrives in the Pyrenees today with the first mountain test of the race. For the likes of Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) who have seen their hopes of the podium all but evaporate on the first nine stages of the race, the lure of a stage win on Bastille Day will be strong.
A showdown between the ‘fab four’ of Chris Froome (Team Sky), Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) plus new recruit, Tejay van Garderen (BMC), has been booked with the riders to decide on how many fireworks should be let off.
For the peloton, the stage 10 parcours is a rather straight 152km affair with Tarbes will host the stage start for its 13th time while La Pierre Saint-Martin adds its name to the list of summit finishes having featured in the 2007 edition, climbing in reverse, with the 15km climb to ensure further gaps on GC are opened up.
The beginning of the first stage after the rest day is often an unknown quantity. Add in the HC finish and a jour sans could sink the ambitions of several optimistic riders.
The first mountain battlefield for the ‘furious five’ on the HC summit finish should squash the hopes of a breakaway with victory to be as psychological as opening up gaps. Today marks ten years since the French won on Bastille Day, David Moncoutie in Digne les Bains, is added incentive for the French riders who make the breakaway.
Daniel Teklehaimanot enjoyed the rest day in the king of the mountains polka-dot jersey but will need to take maximum points on all three category four climbs and mop up the left overs on La Pierre Saint Matin to extend his stay in the jersey.
Throughout the first week, Chris Froome looked to gain as much time as possible on his maillot jaune rivals and enters the Pyrenees in pole position. Froome and Sky have announced their strategy in the mountains is one of defence having been aggressors throughout the first week.
Team Sky will need their riders to play mathematician on the climb, noting who’s attacking and what advantage Froome holds over them. First though, expect the Sky train to take full control of the race ahead of the foothills to the climb.
Tejay van Garderen is the closest challenger to Froome, sitting second 12 seconds in arrears on GC and with bonus seconds on the line, could see himself in yellow at stage end. Van Garderen was able to stay with Froome on the early slopes in the Dauphiné before the Sky rider kicked away and only lost the race on bonus seconds.
Contador is the next best placed, 1:03 minutes down in seventh place. If he didn’t have enough motivation before, the announcement of Ivan Basso’s testicular cancer has seen operation yellow jersey Paris step up a notch. Contador hasn’t been at his best in the Tour so far with a hard Giro d’Italia still in his legs. Losing Basso won’t help Contador in the mountains but with Rafal Majka, Roman Kreuziger and Michael Rogers, the support should be adequate and the Spaniard never shies away when the roads turns upward.
Nairo Quintana is the joker in the peloton for today, 1:59 minutes down doesn’t look like much with a summit heavy finish to the Tour. Teammate Alejandro Valverde is nine seconds ahead of the Colombian on GC and provides Movistar with a second option for attack. Mauricio Soler was the first rider over the summit in 2007 and the Colombian could be spurred on by the memory of his compatriot. In 2013, Quintana was also the first rider to launch an attack and in doing so, announced himself to the cycling world at large.
Vincenzo Nibali’s 2:22 minute deficit to Froome is approaching disaster territory for the defending champion. While Astana struggled through the team time trial, a succession of strong turns from Nibali suggested he is ready for the mountains. Whether his time loss on the Mur de Bretagne was anomaly or the norm will be revealed at the top of the HC climb. Nibali’s climbing, erratic at the Dauphiné, is yet to recapture his Tour wining form which saw him claim four stages, including victory on the Hautacam.
Nibali is yet to enter the top-ten of the Tour in 2015 and his performance on the climb will go some way to determining if he can become the first rider since 1995 to officially defend the yellow jersey.