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Preview: 2013 Tour de France — Stage 15

Givors to Mont Ventoux (242.5km)

Sunday, July 14 4:45 A.M. EDT – 10:58 A.M. EDT
Live Coverage sponsored by Clif Bar

As expected, a breakaway made it on stage 14 and now the focus is back on the GC riders. This last week of this year’s Tour de France will be extremely tough and it starts out with a killer mountain stage finishing on the legendary Mont Ventoux.

The route

In the past, the stages on the French National Day were made for the breakaways. This year it’s different. Stage 15 is the longest stage of this year’s Tour and despite finishing on Ventoux, the first 221 kilometers are more or less flat. This means it’s highly unlike a breakaway will make it all the way to the line. It will be another hot day in the saddle with temperatures over 85 degrees Fahrenheit, and after two hard stages, many will hope for a quiet start to the day.

A tailwind will help a morning breakaway get a good gap, but the peloton will make sure it won’t get out of control. The intermediate sprint is located in Malaucène 15km from the bottom of Mont Ventoux. Since the stage hasn’t been very hard until now, most of the sprinters should be able to fight for points for the green jersey, meaning an extremely high pace should carry the riders nearly to the bottom of the climb.

The finish

The 20.8km climb to the top of Mont Ventoux has an average gradient of 7.5 percent. The climb starts gradually, with the first five kilometers not going over five percent. From here, however, the road really kicks up, with 9km at 7.5 percent or greater. It’s always very windy above treeline on the lunar landscape of Ventoux and this year should be no different. The riders will likely be fighting a headwind and this will make it very difficult to attack and stay away alone. The last right-hand turn before the finish is the final struggle of the day and with a kicker of more than 10 percent, a rider needs to have something left in the tank if he’s not already alone in front.

The favorites

The last time the Tour de France had a stage finish on Mont Ventoux, Juan Manuel Garate won in front of Tony Martin after a long breakaway. The breakaway seemed doomed early on the final climb, but since Andy Schleck didn’t want to attack without his brother, Fränk, the GC riders killed the stage and let Garate and Martin stay in front. That will not happen this year.

Chris Froome (Sky) already has a good gap to his rivals and they need to make use of every opportunity they get. Froome’s rivals simply have to attack and gain time, and everybody wants to win on this mythical climb. Froome himself had his first-ever rendezvous with Mont Ventoux just two months ago when he went to test his legs on the climb. Riders like Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff), and Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Leopard) already know what to expect of Mont Ventoux and will have a little advantage on Froome. However, it doesn’t help much if they can’t drop him uphill — and it appears unlikely that they can.

Froome is the big favorite for the stage win. He lost a minute to third overall Contador and second overall Bauke Mollema (Belkin) in the crosswinds on Friday, and I’m sure he will be eager to take back the lost time time and show who’s the strongest rider in the race. Sky is missing Vasil Kiryienka and Edvald Boasson Hagen, but still has mountain goats David Lopez, Peter Kennaugh, and Richie Porte to set the pace and keep Froome in front. It’s not ideal, but it has to do.

If the stage winner is not Froome, he will likely be Spanish.

Movistar will most likely make the race hard, but they only have Nairo Quintana for the overall classification. The Colombian super climber will probably put in a couple of strong attacks, but I think Froome will respond. He knows he can’t let Quintana get away. On the other hand, if Valverde tries an attack, I doubt Froome will chase him down instantly. “Balaverde” has good memories from Mont Ventoux. In 2009, he took the yellow jersey in the Critérium du Dauphiné (which he later won) on the stage to Mont Ventoux. Back then, he gifted the stage win to Sylvester Szmyd, but this time Valverde isn’t giving anything away. The Tour was his big goal this season and he lost it all when a rider broke his wheel on stage 13. Movistar is out for revenge and with a fast finish — should it come to that — Valverde would be tough to beat, especially if Froome is focused solely on keeping the jersey. It would not be a surprise to see Valverde and Froome ride to the finish together.

Also, look out for Andy Schleck. He’s getting stronger every day and he may have some unfinished business with Mont Ventoux from the last time he was here. The headwind won’t favor Schleck, but on a good day he could take another big stage win in the Tour.

The jokers

The French riders will be eager to get something out of this Tour de France, especially on La Fête Nationale (Bastille Day). When the route was revealed, Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.fr) was quick to mind as a favorite for this stage. He seemed to arrive to the Tour in great shape, but had nothing in his legs in the Pyrénées. Lately he’s been getting better, but apparently he has some kind of throat problems now. If he’s back at his 2012 level, he will be a dangerous outsider, but that is unlikely.

Pierre Rolland (Europcar) is another strong French candidate and contrary to Pinot, Rolland seems to have great legs. A stage win on Mont Ventoux would help Pierre Rolland significantly in his fight to keep the polka dot Jersey and the other GC riders don’t have to worry about him. Rolland is 25:33 behind Froome in the overall and is only focused on stage wins and the KOM competition.

Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp) is another strong candidate. The Irishman has already won a big mountain stage in this year’s Tour de France and he’s been saving bullets for Mont Ventoux the last couple of days. Martin is 11th overall, so he won’t be given carte blanche. Still, he won’t be the first rider Froome, Contador, and Mollema will start chasing down, either. Martin is a big fan of the cycling history and, naturally, winning on a famous climb like Mont Ventoux would be amazing. He seems to be in the shape of his life right now and he has a strong kick too. With a stage win in the bag, Martin may not fit the joker category any longer, but if so, he’s chief amongst these riders.

Follow Mikkel Condé on Twitter @mrconde and visit C-Cycling to read more about stage 13 and see outsiders for the stage win.