Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Tour de France Stage 11: It's Now Or Never

This stage profile is what awaits the riders for stage 11 of this years Tour de France. The first stage in the Alps and after a mere 15km the road heads upwards lending to a further 130km of tarmac with barely a flat kilometre. For all of the GC guys, though especially the climbers, this stage could be a now or never type scenario...

Stage 10 saw the first HC category climb of the Tour and if anyone was hoping this would be the unravelling of Bradley Wiggins, they were wrong. Sky rode up the Grand Colombier in numbers like it was a speed bump and brought back Vincenzo Nibali's efforts on the descent as soon as the road levelled out. Only Van den Broeck and Pierre Rolland, of all the favourites, took any time back from Bradley Wiggins by the days end and even then it was a meagre 30 seconds.

Stage 11 is different, its short and brutal. The ups suit the pure climbers and there's plenty of downs for the descending specialists. Sky will have to be on guard here to keep an eye on all of the attacks as riders like Van den Broeck and Rolland could escape on the steep inclines whilst Cadel Evans and Nibali may look to gain some time on the steep downhills. So far Sky's tactic has been to ride up the climbs at tempo, at just high enough a pace to prevent others from having the legs to attack - so far though, Sky haven't tried that on a stage like this and if anyone has tired legs here then it will most certainly show.

The short length of the stage means that a climber with a larger amount of time to claw back from Wiggins could be tempted to put in an attack from far out, well before the start of the final 17km Category 1 climb to the finish. This will present a major conundrum for Wiggins. Go with the rider, or sit in with the other GC guys or indeed send Christopher Froome up the road with the leading rider possibly handing his team-mate the yellow jersey in much the same vain as in last years Vuelta a Espana. What is for certain is that tactically, this stage will be difficult to defend against. There will be plenty of riders looking to throw a spanner in the works here and this in itself could lead to enough panic and nerves to put paid to any original plans Sky had for Wiggins.

Of course the stage could just as well be won by a member of the breakaway. Sky will not chase everything, especially if it's not considered a threat to the General Classification. The breakaway could be interesting though - Stage 10 saw riders like Michele Scarponi fighting to get in the break, his idea worked and he got back 3 minutes on Wiggins in the overall classification. Others in a similar position as Scarponi could be tempted to try the same again here.

Stage 11 'shouldn't' be a boring stage. I say shouldn't because often these climbing heavy stages tend to become about limiting losses rather than making gains and have a habit of rolling out as rather underwhelming but thanks to the way the race has been ridden so far there is plenty here to be fought over. Many of the GC riders wouldn't have dreamt they would be this far back so early on and will now simply have to attack, take the fight to Wiggins or call it quits. Others may be able to afford to wait until the Pyrenees to make their move but leaving it so late is risky and could be costly. If a rider feels they have the legs here then they need to take their chance, wait until the Pyrenees and those legs may not be quite so fresh...

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