Tour de France Stage 14 Preview: A Roller-coaster Day for the Breakaway
Stage 13 – Carcassonne to Quillan – 183.7km – Saturday, July 10
Sometimes you can look at the route of a Tour de France stage and guess with near certainty how it will play out. When you see a route like in Stage 14: hilly but not grueling, with a late climb and descent to the finish, that pretty much screams breakaway.
This 183.7km stage leads the 151 riders left in the race from Carcassonne to the lower Pyrenean peaks of the Aude region, at the northeast corner of the mountain range that divides France from Spain. With five categorised climbs, it’s no easy day, but it doesn’t feature any of the monstrous ascents we’ll see next week. Think of it as a leg-softener.
The climbing doesn’t really get underway until about a third of the way in, with the modest Col du Bac (3.1km at 5.3 percent). If the day’s breakaway isn’t doesn’t go clear by then, this will be a good springboard for an attempt. Several more climbs follow, and we’d expect the break to work fairly smoothly together to get over those.
The real test piece is likely the final climb, the Category 2 Col de Saint-Louis, which is 4.7km long at a 7.4 percent average grade. Its summit is only 16km from the finish in Quillan, so that climb (which features a kilometre-long section at 12 percent) is likely where the break will start to splinter with attacks and counterattacks.
After a descent, the final 5km are mostly flat. The forecast is for highs in the 80s with almost no chance of rain, but winds out of the northwest may pick up later in the afternoon. The course nearly doubles back just before the final climb, which could disadvantage a solo attacker (especially on the descent) and allow a small group to duke out the sprint. In the main field, riders will be attentive to any sign of weakness, but crosswinds don’t usually force splits on hilly stages.
Stage 14 – Riders to Watch
Since this is such a likely breakaway stage on paper, we’d expect the action to be furious from the start, especially from teams that have missed out on a stage so far. There simply aren’t many chances left. We’d expect the following teams to be active: Astana, BikeExchange, Lotto-Soudal, Israel Start-Up Nation, and Trek-Segafredo have all given it a shot and come up empty. Riders like Bauke Mollema, Michael Woods, and Philippe Gilbert or Brent van Moer are likely to be at the front, joined perhaps by Qhubeka-NextHash (maybe Simon Clarke) and DSM; Mark Donovan is a good climber, and the team could use a stage win after getting banged up in Friday’s big crash.
When to Watch
It’s likely the break will go early and, once it does, the pack will primarily just monitor the gap to ensure it doesn’t get too large. So expect a kind of stasis for much of the stage and then late action. But it’s an earlier start and finish on the timetable, so don’t wait too long.