The final transition stage of the 2015 Tour describes a steadily-rising line from not far above sea level at the start in Bourg de Péage, to the finish in Gap, in the foothills of the Alps, at 745m altitude. The steady drag upwards over 201 kilometres is interrupted for a pair of second-category climbs, one of which will be of interest only to the break of the day, but the other of which could play a crucial part in the Tour.
The Col de Manse is a relatively innocuous climb, nine kilometres long, which is formed of a junction of mountain roads just above Gap. It’s a selective climb, but generally anybody in the top 15 or 20 of the Tour wouldn’t normally expect to be dropped too badly on it. However, the descent is a different story. It’s a high speed drop down into Gap, with some technical sections which are bad in the dry and horrific in the wet. It’s where Alberto Contador crashed in front of Chris Froome during the 2013 Tour, while trying to put pressure on the British rider. It’s also where Alberto Contador and Cadel Evans rode away from Andy Schleck during the 2011 Tour – the Australian put 1-09 into Schleck, two thirds of his final winning advantage in Paris. There won’t be any holding back on both the climb and the descent in 2015 – the rest day comes next, and it’s the ideal place to bank a little time before the four hard days in the Alps.
This Tour de France will be won and lost mainly on the mountain climbs. But what if two or more riders are climbing at a similar pace? The Tour organisation have been incorporating more and more middle mountain stages and technical terrain in the race in the last few years, with the express aim of encouraging riders to attack more, and negate the inexorable sporting logic of the summit finishes and time trials. An unpredictable Tour is an exciting Tour, and race director Christian Prudhomme is giving the riders territory where tactical racing can gain an advantage on the stronger climbers.
This stage is symbolic of that concept – in some previous Tours, the race has gone directly up the valley road into Gap, leading on some occasions, to large bunch finishes (for example when Jelle Nijdam won with a very late solo attack in 1989 and when Erik Zabel won a bunch kick in 1996). But these days, the organisers have been adding the extra loop of the Col de Manse, which is hard enough to lose the sprinters, just hard enough for a really explosive climber to attack, and has a descent technical enough for a bold and confident rider to seek advantage there. This may be a transition stage, but it’s one of an almost daily series of traps and opportunities for adventurous riders and teams.
Jens Voigt's view
"Andy Schleck lost a Tour de France on the descent of the Col de Manse but even worse was when Joseba Beloki finished his career by crashing on it. On downhills like this, every year there are crashes and stress. Then people know it's dangerous, so they try to break away there and use the descent to their advantage. A day like this is physically hard for the sprinters but mentally they can take the day off. The GC riders have to be focused every day, especially days like this. They have to be well positioned from the first kilometre to the last, which mentally is super hard."
Stats & Facts
- 2015 is the 23rd time Gap has hosted a stage finish in the Tour.
- Of the last seven visits to Gap, the rider wearing the yellow jersey at the end of the stage has gone on to stand on the top step of the podium in Paris.
0km Start Bourg de Péage 12:25
86.5km Sprint Die 14:40
130km Cat 2 climb Col de Cabre 15:41
189km Cat 2 climb Col de Manse 17:04
201km Finish Gap 17:20
The text in this preview first appeared in the July edition of ProCycling magazine