Jun 26, 2014

7 Defining Tour de France Stages

The Tour de France takes place over 21 stages. Let’s be honest here though. Nobody wants to watch all 21 of them. Many are dull and boring and others are long and not worth the trouble. Today, I look at the seven stages that are worth the trouble (other than the finish on the Champs-Elysses as that stage is always fun and is the only one that is pretty much the same every year).

Stage 2 - York to Sheffield; Sunday, July 6; 198 km
A day to be attentive for GC men. With nine categorized climbs (though only one above category 3), this figures to be a day of attrition. None of the GC men should have too much difficulty, but with so many riders still in the race on narrow roads there is a high risk of crashes, especially with unknown British descents. Additionally, expect the racing to be fierce as the yellow jersey will likely be waiting at the end for the stage winner considering none of the likely stage 1 winners are likely to have any hope of winning on this day.

Stage 5 - Ypres to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut; Wednesday, July 9; 156 km
A day where the Tour can be lost. There is reason most Grand Tour men do not ride the Northern Classics over cobbles. They aren’t well suited for it with their lighter weights and the risk of injury in a crash is quite high, especially compared to the normal mountain climbing. Having the cobbles show up in the Tour de France is especially frightening for GC men (Frank Schleck famously crashed out of the Tour in 2010 the last time cobblestones were included). If it rains, all bets are off for everyone. Beyond that, having the cobbles in the Tour attracts some riders that would normally not be there as the Paris-Roubaix specialists that normally are nothing more than domestiques if they are even in the race at all often turn up for the sole purpose of contesting a stage like this when included.

Stage 10 - Mulhouse to Les Planche des Belles Filles; Monday, July 14; 161 km
The second mountain day in a row, but the first summit finish. This is the site of where Chris Froome took his first Tour stage win two years ago, also putting Bradley Wiggins into the yellow jersey he would not relinquish. Still, this stage is much more difficult than the one that finished at Les Planche des Belles Filles two years ago. That stage had two small climbs in front of the finish climb, both a long way from the end. This year, that stage has seven total climbs with three category one ascents in front of the finish climb. In other words, this stage is a monster despite not reaching truly high elevations like those seen in the Alps and Pyrenees.

Stage 14 - Grenoble to Risoul; Saturday, July 19; 177 km
The second day of two largely unimaginitive days in the Alps. Both include summit finishes and while the stage 13 climb to Chamrousse is more likely to be decisive, the racing throughout the stage here will likely be better with all manner of tactical options available for those willing to take risks (such as an attack from distance on the Izoard).

Stage 16 - Carcassonne to Bagneres-de-Luchon; Tuesday, July 22; 237 km
The annual descent finish stage. This is often fun, especially if someone of importance gets away on the final climb. And the final climb this year is the feared beyond category Port de Bales. Its late position in the stage complicates matters further as if the race finished at the summit, it would be the second longest stage of the race. From there, there is a 20 km descent into town. The GC is unlikely to be overturned on this day, but it will be fun to watch teams try, especially if Chris Froome is the leader still as we would see if Sky learned anything from last year’s ambush on a similar stage.

Stage 18 - Pau to Hautacam; Thursday, July 24; 145 km
The final mountain stage is a big one with the seemingly annual climb of the Col du Tourmalet followed by a finish at Hautacam, hopefully this time without the spectre of doping that has haunted all four previous finishes on this climb (either the yellow jersey or the stage winner has been busted three of the previous four ascents and the 2008 ascent won by Juan Jose Cobo after the disqualification of teammate Leonardo Piepoli is one of the most ridiculous looking things ever with top riders sprinting their way up the climb like it was a flat time trial). Still, the climb itself is difficult, especially with the Tourmalet in the legs already, even if it doesn’t look like it when watching the end of the 2008 stage over the same parcours pictured below.

Stage 20 - Bergerac to Perigueux; Saturday, July 26; 54 km Individual Time Trial
There is only one time trial in the race this year and it is a big one. Still, it has climbs and is not pan-flat, even if it is not a true hilly time trial like the second time trial a year ago. This time trial favors whoever is strongest in the final stages in the Pyrenees more than a time trial specialist because of the hills and the position in the race. As usual with trials, watch the final 90 minutes as the stage win isn’t all that important and the GC guys are likely to be fighting for it anyway (along with a few specialists like Tony Martin and Fabian Cancellara).

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