14 July 2015

TDF Stage 11 Preview: A tour of the Haute-Pyrenees

Stage 11: 188km from Pau to the Vallée de Saint-Savin finishing at Cauterets  

Over the Col d'Aspin and the Col du Tourmalet!

A second big day of climbing in the Pyrenees is planned for tomorrow. This will be a big day and the order of the General Classification will again change, although Chris Froome will likely remain in the lead. Stage 11 is a finish up a broad 5% climb, after climbing the Col d'Aspin and the Col du Tourmalet, it is not the typical 10% mountain top finish. It will require power in reserve.

“It’s the most legendary Col in the Pyrénées. I always succeeded here because it was long enough to make my adversaries suffer” ~ Eddie Merckx

The Col du Tourmalet, where giants reside. Photo by moi
Route des Cols and des Cows. Photo by moi
A better map of 2015 Tour de France Stage 11 Map

What you need to know about Stage 11
  • Study the GC standings after Stage 10 (results here). Stage 11 will weed out a couple of the top eight riders on GC.
  • There will be a lot of people out to see this stage, even on a Wednesday. 
  • Most riders are familiar with the start along the D938 from Pau to Lourdes from past races, and might have ridden it on the rest day
  • Teams will be pulling and protecting for the first 48km of the stage.
  • This particular route from Pau to La Barthe-de-Neste, is not a path the amateur cyclist would want to ride without moto escort, you would want to stay in the foothills on the D26, along a rather nice peaceful hilly climb, and a recommended path for a loop ride. My recommended Tourmalet Loop Ride.
  • At 105km the peloton will reach the pretty village of Arreau and the big mountain climbing begins immediately. Be ready for some action up the beautiful curves to the top of Col d'Aspin where a herd of cows typically await. This is a fantastic climb (one of my favorites).
  • The climb from Arreau over the Col d'Aspin, down to Marie-de-Campan and up to the top of Col du Tourmalet, is an absolute dream climb in the Pyrenees. This has to be THE premier combo of climbs and a big tradition for the Tour de France, especially in this direction (east to west). 
  • The Col d'Aspin and Col du Tourmalet are listed on my favorite climbs.

This is the D918, if you ever see the sign, keep pedaling, this is gorgeous cycling country:

Primo road over Col du Tourmalet
  • Stage 11 is going to hurt more than a few good men.  
  • If the top eight are still together by the time they reach La Mongie, before the very narrow passage atop the Tourmalet, it will be a happy miracle. 
  • Both the Col d'Aspin and the Col du Tourmalet were first crossed in the Tour de France in 1910. L'Aspin has been used 72 times since. The Tourmalet (being the most popular climb of the TDF) has been used 84 times this year. 
  • No matter which side you ride across the Tourmalet - it is a monster. I have ridden it four times, both directions, the east side has the most recognizable TDF landmarks as you climb, read Today I saw the Tourmalet bring a man to tears
Col du Tourmate profile of climb, east side approach
  • Expect the Col du Tourmalet to be packed with fans tomorrow. The finish in Cauterets - a very popular tourist destination with terrific hiking - has easy access and should have thousands of people waiting in the restaurants for the triumphant first finisher of the Stage. 
  • The decent off the west side of Col du Tourmalet is long, steep, and technical at high speeds. That is why Peter Sagan was thinking ahead today by sharing his teammate's Mic Roger's tips on descending: RideLikeAPro – Top tips for tricky descents.

Descent off the west side of the Tourmalet. Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer®
  • Cauterets together with the Vallée de Saint-Savin are celebrating recovering from the horrendous floods of June 2013. See the photos from my post Pyrenees Floods.
  • The climb to the Cauterets is a nice wide open semi-flat road. For the stage win, we are looking for a fast technical descender who has POWER in reserve at the end of this long climbing stage. 
  • The real race begins again at the town of Pierrefitte-Nestalas, 10km from the finish, on the final climb to Cauterets. 
  • This is the stage when camper vans will be camped out for days in their perfect spot, where fans are sleeping on hillsides this very night to be there in person, where riders rest well in expectations for a huge effort on Stage 11, and where legions of cyclists will climb their own climb to the top. This is excitement and the unknown. 
  • One or two of the eight will falter, but who will it be?

Top 8 on GC After Stage 10

1Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky35:56:09
2Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team0:02:52
3Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team0:03:09
4Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team0:04:01
5Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky0:04:03
6Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo0:04:04
7Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto Soudal0:04:33
8Robert Gesink (Ned) Team LottoNL-Jumbo0:04:35

Who will win?

I am having a hard time picking. With the threesome of Froome, Porte and Thomas working together on team Sky they could put the others in some serious hurt. Valverde looked strong today, Gesink focused, and Gallopin the Energizer bunny that just kept going. I root for Contador and Quintana, so to see any of these men fall out of the Top 10 would be a heart break.

Most likely someone will have a bad day or a mechanical and be left behind, it has to happen, it is competition. I might pick Geraint Thomas being allowed to motor away from Froome. I am not picking Tommy Voeckler. I woke up thinking of Valverde and Rui Costa, or maybe Dan Martin will give it a go. I can't wait to see who wins Stage 11.

The landmark restaurant at the top of the Tourmalet. Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer®

Climbs of Stage 11
    • Category 4 at Km 74.5 - Côte de Mauvezin 2.7km climb at 6%
    • Category 1 at Km 117.0 - Col d'Aspin (1490 m) 12km climb at 6.5%
    • Category HC at Km 147.0 - Col du Tourmalet (2115 m) 17.1 km climb at 7.3%
    • Catgory 3 at Km 184.5 - Côte de Cauterets 6.4 km climb at 5%
    Riding up the steady east side of Col'd Aspin on Tour de France day

    Stage 11 Route Maps

    Stage 11 Route through the Haute-Pyrenees

    Stage 11 Route Map 2015 TDF
    Stage 11 Profile Map

    Stage 11 Profile Map 2015 TDF

    If you are at the Tour, this will be a very early morning due to road closures. The caravan always comes through two hours before the peloton. Plan on roads absolutely closing to all moving traffic (bicycles too) 1 to 1.5 hours before the caravan, before the peloton. Mountain passes close the night before. Being on the route is a commitment and a struggle completely worth the 12-hour extremely exhausting day as a fan.

    At home, it is much easier to see all the action on the television (or NBC online + Cycling News feed like I do):
    • Approximate Finish: 17:17 CET (11:17 AM EDT, 9:17 AM MDT)
    • In France, the Peloton is due to hit the slopes of the Col d'Aspin (1490 m) at 15:05 PM, the Col du Tourmalet (2115 m) at 16:03 PM
    • If you want to see the action, start watching at 7:00AM Mountain Time (9:00am Eastern)

    How many days are we going to sit here and wait for the Tour?
    Combien de jours que nous allons rester ici et attendre pour le Tour ? 

    My dear, it is worth waiting to cheer "you go, go"!
    Mon cher , il vaut la peine d'attendre pour applaudir "vous allez , allez !"

    Enjoying the scenery from the slopes of the Tourmalet (view down the east side). Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer®

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