• Rúben Silva

Tour de France Stage 15 Preview

What a stage we had in the Tour, it's been some years since we've seen INEOS overhauled like this and although sadly that overshadows everything else in Alaphillipe and Pinot there is some serious love by the French. Thibaut Pinot surged to win atop the Tourmalet after a brutal stage that was decided in the final meters with Alaphillipe amazingly resisting the pace of Movistar, FDJ and Jumbo throughout the day to keep and in fact extend his lead over Geraint Thomas who cracked in the final kilometer. A dramatic day with several contenders faltering and some shining, who were they?

Positive: First of all Alaphillipe is the big news of the day, he can climb we knew that but at this level in this type of climb it is almost unseen, and he is indeed now a genuine candidate for the Tour, he passed the biggest of tests and now he is officially in the race for the win and the way he's riding he has to be feared and put into the acounts of everyone else. Pinot showed his best legs as I hoped since the begining, I thought Albi would've shaken his confidence but today he showed why he's one of the best climbers in the world right now. Kruisjwijk and Jumbo in general another big big up, they were the team with the best strenght in numbers and the Dutch corresponded perfectly with a third place and an assault on Thomas' second place. Buchmann and Barguil, both at their level, surprised positively today and showed great legs for what's to come.

Negative: INEOS was far from the dominant team we've seen over the last few years but that wouldn't be much of an issue as long as Thomas' performed but he cracked today, he is still in second it wasn't a disaster but his confidence must be shaken, attacked by several riders who aren't that far from him and loosing time on Alaphillipe. Quintana, Mas faltering, not completely out of the GC but only in for the Top10 with some luck at this point, although Mas' objective is now to help Alaphillipe no doubt. Dan Martin, Patrick Konrad and Adam Yates cracked very early on the climb and Romain Bardet still in the Soulur, no longer a GC candidate at this point.

The Route

Stage 15 is the final one in the Pyrinees and antecipates the second and last rest day of the race. It's another day of proper climbing but this one will be a lot more of a multiple-climb effort, with more climbing than the previous day with 4350 meters of vertical ascent.

In the last few years there's been a very iconic duo of climbs with the Port de Lers and the Mur de Péguère, the first one is 11Km long, a bit shaky climb but more constant than Péguère which has been used not quite some times due to a favourable location in the mountain range and the steepness of it's final kilometers, averaging 11.6% in the final 3.5Km, and it comes with only 38Km to go so there's a chance to see some action there.

The final climb is a first in the Tour, the Prat d'Alvis above Foix, it's an interesting climb, almost 11Km long at an agressive gradient, with some sharp kilometers in the middle, it's definetely a climb - and a stage - that can be attacked hard, coming after two weeks and a set of very hard days there's big differences to be made in these climbs specially taking into acount how today unrolled.

The Weather

It is going to be a hot day in the Pyrinees, the wind won't be strong but in the possibility that the gusts are it's good news for those hoping to attack, as it will come from northeast, giving a clear picture of a tailwind early on the day but also on the final climb of the day.

Tactics for a hard day

Tactics are going to be a mind boggler here. Everything is open wide which isn't a regular sight in the Tour. Ok first of all let's consider Julian Alaphillipe, at this point he is considered a great threat to the rest in the sense that he has proven that he has the legs to win the race if he doesn't have a crack, at this point it's clear but right now the priority of two teams in particular, Groupama and Jumbo, is to test Geraint Thomas and INEOS again. Bernal looked good but not great and the same thing in the TT, he is strong but doesn't give as many guarrantees as Thomas did but today could've been a sign. Alaphillipe is a threat but there is room in the final week to attack him, priorities must be considered and INEOS are the ones that must be attacked currently.

The same way today Movistar, Groupama and Jumbo picked up the race tomorrow they MUST do the same, if they let INEOS take a hold of the race Thomas and Bernal can climb as they want, so they must be put under pressure. Gaudu, de Plus and Bennett are all in for their leaders and they were brilliant today, tomorrow the plan must be the same and they have to exploit this crack in INEOS' armour, because even if Thomas has good legs again tomorrow he won't go in with the confidence he came into today.

The Favourites

A bit like yesterday's balance I made but tomorrow the attacking side will receive another team in. Adding to Groupama and Movistar's attacking needs, I would say Jumbo have everything to win from doing so. Today not only Kruisjwijk but the whole team raced conservatively and they functioned perfectly when it counted, tomorrow they have to help the race to be hard not to set up for an attack but to make sure others don't, and adding to that to clearly test INEOS has I've mentioned. They lost van Aert and have a team directioned for the sprints so I doubt they'll play with the breakaway but FDJ might very well do it as they have Molard and Reichenbach in the ideal place to do so, the begining of the stage is rugged and lots of riders will be making moves from which they can benefit, they will likely be the team that will attack the race the most. Movistar, the same, Quintana has cracked but at this point he must be warry that the important is to bounce back and help Landa by racing hard, Valverde aswell, Movistar looked very strong today and there are several riders with freedom to fly into the head of the race for good use later, I can even see Landa attacking far from the finish if the stage is hard enough until Péguère, he has the legs but he's lost too much time in previous stages, he will have a certain freedom as do all of his team.

The other rider I see putting on an agressive stance is Waren Barguil, he legitimately looked good and fresh today, similar to 2017 and as always I expect him to go deep, he has the freedom but even if he doesn't I don't think there's a way to block his way of racing. Some riders like Uran and Fuglsang may try to benefit from such jokers as they, although looking good, in direct confrontation with the best may struggle to be in the same level, and Astana can certainly play with their depth.

As for INEOS, well they will have to race as they always do, the plan must stay the same and they will do it they have more than enough experience. With the race sure to be taken by other teams it's up to Thomas and Bernal to control and keep themselves ready for action because it will be needed.

There are two jokers in the middle of all this, two riders who are setting without a definitive strategy I would say, Alaphillipe and Buchmann. Alaphillipe's limits are unsure at this point, Devenyns looked very good today and Mas will be in support, the best thing he has to do at this point is to let the race unroll, if he's feeling good there are always wheels to follow in such a strong conglomerate of favourites, he will likely be in the unknown again just going by feel and that's what he should do exactly. As for Buchmann it's a bit of the same, he is strong, he is well positioned so he should race conservatively, but he has the advantage of still being a relative "unknown" in the GT scene, he has the legs but not the reputation but that most times can be a good thing and his wins this season are an excellent display of that.

With the new scenario unveiled I don't see a breakaway resisting although earlier in the race I assumed it was a good stage for it, with the rest day coming after I see everyone giving their best tomorrow, but there are riders that can play a factor. In case of just a bad day I don't completely exclude Yates (both of them actually) and Dan Martin from trying to be in the break, Nibali looked very good today and maybe he'll wait for the final week, but if he sees clarity he will surely try it again as Bahrain don't really have any other goal in the race besides stage wins.

Prediction Time

Pinot, Buchmann, Landa

Kruisjwijk, Alaphillipe, Bernal

Thomas, Barguil, Fuglsang, Mollema, Nibali

I'll put my cards exactly on Pinot. I was dumb, in the Dauphiné I was 100% sure he'd win a stage, he didn't and I took it as a sign. Since before the race I considered Pinot the strongest climber, and he took his win now clearly benefiting from a suffering INEOS, this time win will get him the confidence he needs, not only to win again, but to believe in himself, for the team to believe in him and above all, to believe he can still win the race!

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