Carcassonne > Foix 178.3km
Welcome to the third week of the Tour de France. The first two weeks of the race have been raced at an infernal speed, and with the added complication of the extreme heat, a lot of riders already seem to be way beyond their limit. This week could see some high on GC explode, and it also gives an opportunity to those who have ridden smart in the first two weeks. Stage 16 looks like a classic breakaway stage, especially as Jumbo-Visma and UAE are down to just five workers each.
Maximum temperatures of 35 degrees, it’s another roasting hot day. The wind at the start of the stage is above 20km/h and is a crosswind, but the road isn’t exposed.
First up is the Port de Lers. This cat 1 climb is a pretty steady effort, it’s the descent the riders will be worried about, as it’s fast and narrow.
The Mur de Péguère is a horrible climb, the final 3km are incredibly steep and take place on a tiny little bike path. The atmosphere on the road will be amazing, I can’t wait to see Pogačar and Vingegaard trading blows.
They might only be cat 4 climbs, but the presence of two of them in the opening 40km is good news for climbers wanting to make the break. It will give the opportunity to stretch out the peloton, making it easier to slip into the morning move. At this point of the race, it doesn’t really matter what type of rider who are, those with the legs will make the break.
The KOM competition is delicately balanced, this is a break Simon Geschke needs to be in if he wants to keep a hold of the polka dot jersey. He’ll be keeping an eye on Powless, Latour and Ciccone, they seem to be his main challengers. At this point in a grand tour, we’ve seen breaks chased down as the team leading the KOM competition missed the move, but I don’t think Cofidis are strong enough to pull of this move, Geschke needs to make the break.
Once the move does establish, Jumbo-Visma will be hoping for an easy couple of hours, so carefully selecting the break will be very important. Both Mas and Vlasov are sitting around 10 minutes down, they would prefer if both men were not in the break, that would allow them to let the gap balloon, saving the energy of their domestiques for later in the stage. To make sure this happens, expect to see a lot of Van Aert marking certain riders, once this happens, they’ll get the message and stop trying.
The size of the break will also be important. The trend in modern cycling is to attack early, things have really changed in the last few years. Not only do we have two big climbs to deal with, but there are also two fast descents, which will be just as important as the hills. The final climb crests almost 30km from home, a good descender can make up a lot of time as they drop down to the finish, it’s a stage where the climbers need to drive the climbs and create big gaps. In 2012 we had a similar stage, with Luis León Sanchez winning from the break, with Peter Sagan in 2nd place. Climbers need to push it when the road goes up.
Back in the GC group, we’ll have to see how everyone responds after the rest day. The fact the bunch have had a day off makes this stage even more important, it will be a big worry for most in the top 10. The placement of the climbs would normally mean the gaps at the end won’t be big, but I’m not so sure. As the last 3.3km of the Mur de Péguère averages a whopping 11.8%, the gaps could be significant. If you are having a bad day, your bid for a good spot on GC will be over, the climb is incredibly difficult. In previous stages, we’ve seen Pogačar throw the kitchen sink at Vingegaard, but he’s responded every time. Significantly, when Pogačar has attacked out of the saddle, the Dane has been able to respond while staying seated, that’s an indication that he’s not even close to his limit. Pogačar needs to keep on trying, but the hot conditions aren’t ideal for him, but it’s the same for everyone.
I think this is another day for the breakaway to take the win, with fireworks on the final climb in the GC group. Jumbo-Visma need to ride conservatively as they are now down two men, but I don’t think it will have an impact on the fight for yellow, Vingegaard “only” needs to follow Pogačar, it would have been different if UAE had another rider high on GC, but they don’t.
Dani Martínez – he’s not had the race most expected, but much of that is due to him being on antibiotics in the first two weeks. He hit the break on Saturday, and was looking good, but the final climb was too hard for him. That was only to be expected given how the start of the race went for him. With that effort in his legs, and a rest day to recover, I think he’ll be one of the best in the final week of the race. The Colombian is one of the best climbers in the whole race, if things had gone his way, he had a realistic shot at finishing on the podium. Ineos have one stage win, I like that they aren’t just throwing everything behind their GC men, if Martínez makes the break, he’ll be a hard man to beat.
Thibaut Pinot – two things worry me about him for this stage, the descents, and the heat. Yes, he is an amazing climber, but we know his body normally doesn’t cope well with the hot conditions.
Damiano Caruso – Col du Granon ended his GC bid, but we’ve seen him trying to make breaks at the weekend. Bahrain have not had the race they expected, no stage wins and nobody challenging on GC. The rest day will have allowed the team to consider their approach for the final week, it should be centred around the Italian, he has the ability to win stages in this final week. Luis León Sanchez won a stage very similar to this back in 2012, he’ll be able to pass on valuable information to Caruso.
Bob Jungels – already has a stage win, but he wants more. The Mur de Péguère will likely be too hard for him, but he’s one who can use the descents to his advantage.
Neilson Powless – I’ve been really impressed by the American throughout this race, he’s one who always seems to leave it all on the road. He sits close in the KOM competition, but I think he’s more focused on trying to pick up a stage win. Having featured in several breakaways, he could be one who starts to feel those multiple efforts in his legs, but the rest day will have helped.
Alberto Bettiol – normally a stage like this would be too hard for him, but he climbed brilliantly in Mende. Looking at the mountain stages over the next three days, this is the one that suits him the best, the placement of the climbs means a non-climber can take the win. EF have enjoyed a good race, if they can manage another stage win, it will be a brilliant race.
Alexandr Vlasov – as I’ve already mentioned, I don’t think Jumbo-Visma will be too keen at letting him in the break. He’s battled on through the race after crashing in the first week, sitting in 11th place on GC gives him some options for the final week. The top 10 shouldn’t really be a goal, winning a stage should be his focus, but he might need to lose some more time before getting the green light to get up the road.
Tadej Pogačar – we’ve seen in previous stages, he wants to race, it doesn’t matter how far away from the finish it is. Launching a move on Port de Lers is an option, but I think he should wait for Mur de Péguère. He’s not been able to shake Vingegaard, but he’ll keep trying to crack him.
Jonas Vingegaard – his strategy is clear, follow Pogačar. Losing Roglič and Kruijswijk is a blow, but given the GC position, it doesn’t really change anything. Jumbo-Visma no longer have the men to go hard on the early climbs, it’s all about saving Kuss and Van Aert for the final hill. He knows that Pogačar will throw everything at him, but I sense a young man riding with huge confidence, dropping him will be very difficult.
A breakaway win for Alberto Bettiol. Back in the GC group, I don’t see Pogačar able to drop Vingegaard, I would expect both to finish with a gap to rest of the GC contenders.