Part three in a trilogy of short but steep uphill finishes in the 2015 Tour, Mende treads an almost perfect line between being a climb for explosive puncheurs and for climbers and GC riders, who it favours slightly.
The Côte de la Croix Neuve is longer than the Mur de Huy and Mûr de Bretagne climbs, and also has a steeper average gradient. With such a hard course through both the Pyrenees and Alps, the Tour’s organisers have avoided the temptation to take in many of the Massif Central’s longer climbs in 2015, but there’s a short burst of 40 kilometres at the end of this stage which are still very tough. A rolling start, a long descent and flat stretch in the first 137 kilometres will give the favourites and sprinters a chance to hide away in the peloton and recuperate, briefly at least. During this part of the stage, a breakaway group should gain enough time to ensure that they contest the finish, although they’ll need a big lead – it’s amazing how fast time gaps come down on steep climbs like the Croix Neuve.
The final part of the stage is much more technical. There’s a nine-kilometre climb, a short descent, and the final run-in to the Croix Neuve takes in another fourth-category climb. The Côte de Chabrits is not hard enough to decide the race, but it will further shrink the main group before the final climb. On the Croix Neuve, the strongest puncheurs and climbers will fight for the win. But there’s one final complication – after the top of the climb, there’s an exposed final kilometre and a half of flat road (actually an aerodrome landing strip). It’s a finish that is not only brutally hard, but technically and tactically challenging too.
The Côte de la Croix Neuve might be dwarfed by longer and higher summit finishes like Alpe d’Huez, La Toussuire and Plateau de Beille, but it’s still an opportunity to gain time and momentum. But how much time can be gained and lost, realistically, on a climb like this?
The last time the Tour came here, in 2010, Joaquím Rodriguez and Alberto Contador attacked and finished just ahead of Alexandre Vinokourov, and 10 seconds ahead of a group of five riders (including Andy Schleck, who finished second overall to Contador, then was awarded the win when Contador was disqualified following his positive test). All five riders were GC contenders, rather than puncheurs – in fact the only rider in the top 10 who was a puncheur was third-placed Vinokourov. Three more riders were just off the back of the Schleck group, then 11th-placed Ruben Plaza conceded 31 seconds. As a rough metric, fifth place conceded 10 seconds, 15th place conceded 31 seconds and 25th place conceded a minute.
In short, the climb’s bark is probably worse than its bite – it’s significant, rather than crucial. But either way, it will be spectacular.
Bernard Thévenet's View
"This is the kind of stage where you get two races, one between the escapees and one between the contenders. The break will have riders who are already quite low down on the GC, and they should contest the win today. But five minutes after that, we’ll probably see a short but very big fight between the GC riders. The climb at Mende is very very steep, even if it’s not very long – it’s good for climbers but also puncheurs. It will be very important for leaders to be well protected by their team before the climb.
"It’s worth attacking here because the effort will last eight or 10 minutes, and a good climber can gain 30 or 40 seconds, which doesn’t sound much but is still a lot in the modern Tour. If you are behind here, you have to try and follow – on a big col you can recover and chase, but at Mende you have to go all out to the finish."
Stats & Facts
- Mende hosts a Tour stage finish for the fourth time.
- The climb just before the finish, the Côte de la Croix Neuve, is the steepest classified climb of the whole Tour, at 10.1 per cent, just ahead of the Pyrenean Col de Portet d’Aspet, which is 9.7 per cent (but longer, 4.3km compared to the Croix Neuve’s 3.1km)
- The Croix Neuve used to be referred to in the Tour literature as the ‘Montée Laurent Jalabert’ but this appears to have been quietly dropped since the 1995 stage winner here was linked with an alleged positive test dating from 1998.
0km Start Rodez 12:35
20km Cat 4 climb Côte de Pont de Salars
78.5 Sprint Millau 14:37
146 Cat 2 climb Côte de Sauveterre 16:13
169.5km Cat 4 climb Côte de Chabrits 16:47
177km Cat 2 climb Côte de la Croix Neuve 16:58
178.5km Finish Mende 17:00
The text in this preview first appeared in the July edition of ProCycling magazine