Preview: 2013 Tour de France — Stage 19

Bourg d’Oisans to Le Grand-Bornand (204.5km)

Friday, July 19 5:00 A.M. EDT – 11:01 A.M. EDT
Live Coverage sponsored by Clif Bar

Christophe Riblon (Ag2r La Mondiale) did what he does best on Thursday and took an impressive stage win after a long breakaway in the mountains. Stage 19 doesn’t finish uphill, but it will be just as hard for the riders.

The route

There are 21.6km to the top of hors categorie Col du Glandon and due to a couple of small descents, the average gradient is “only” 5.1 percent. There are steep parts of 11 percent in the middle and after a long section of five-percent rise, the climb kicks up to eight percent near the top. The first rider over the top gets 25 points for the KOM jersey and with no less than 75 points up for grabs today, this is a very important stage for the riders targeting that competition. Chris Froome (Sky) leads the competition in front of Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and because they will both likely earn points on Saturday’s uphill finish at Semnoz, riders like Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Pierre Rolland (Europcar) really need to attack from afar if they want to win the polka dot jersey.

After the descent from Col du Glandon, there are just 10km before the next HC climb starts. The Col de Madeleine is feared by many and with its 19.2km of 7.9-percent ramps, it’s not difficult to understand why. There are still 121km to go from the top of Madeleine and we will most likely see a breakaway get a good gap at this point.

The finish

The last 70km include three climbs stacked up in a row. First up is Col de Tamié (8.6km, 6.2%) before the steep Col de l’Épine, which holds an average of 7.3 percent with sections over 10 percent near the top. The riders stay on a plateau for about 10km after reaching the top of l’Épine and after a short descent, they face the final climb of the day. The Cat. 1 Col de la Croix Fry is 11.3km and has an average gradient of seven percent. The climb pitches up above nine percent 7km in and doesn’t back off much until the summit. We should see the favorites attack each other on this climb, trying to make a difference onto the descent.

From the top of la Croix Fry there are just 13km to go, and with only a few tricky corners on the descent, we can expect a fast finish. As of Thursday evening, forecasters called for a 50-percent chance of rain during the stage and that could spice things up a bit. The Tour had a similar stage finish in 2004 when Lance Armstrong tried to get teammate Floyd Landis a win. Landis didn’t manage to get away on the descent and in the end Armstrong outsprinted Andreas Klöden to take the stage win (though the record books show no evidence of such a finish).

The favorites

As hoped for in our preview for stage 18, Saxo-Tinkoff tried to make a masterpiece of the double Alpe d’Huez stage. Alberto Contador and Co. failed, however, and now they have to focus on keeping the Spaniard’s podium spot instead of trying to win the Tour. It’s not like Contador to aim for anything other than the overall win, and even though he may not care if he finished second or 10th, his team does. Saxo would risk all by opening the aggression early here, but with Contador, you never know.

Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) had two big goals for this first half of the season: Liège–Bastogne–Liège and Tour de France. He managed to time his condition perfectly for Liège, but in a sprint against Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp), he couldn’t do better than second place. Since April, all focus has been on the Tour and trying to peak in the third week. So far, everything has gone according to the plan and “Purito” is now just 26 seconds from the podium. In his preparation for the Tour, Rodríguez has been training on stage 19 and stage 20 routes, and he knows exactly what to expect. His best chance of making the podium is to drop Contador and his teammate, Roman Kreuziger, and to do that, he needs to put in a couple of strong attacks on Col de la Croix Fry. His teammate, Daniel Moreno, is also peaking right now and Katusha should put on a good show during these last days in the Alps.

“Purito’s” biggest rival for the stage win is Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) but according to Valverde, Movistar is now all-in for Quintana and his podium place. If Contador has another bad day, “Purito,” Froome, and Quintana should be alone in front over the top of Col de la Croix Fry. If they can make it to the line, Rodríguez should be able to outsprint Quintana. Froome will be happy just to keep the yellow jersey.

The Jokers

Nieve is fourth in the KOM competition right now, 41 points behind Froome, but if he is first man over the first two climbs, he will take the jersey — for now. The strong Basque climber is 15th overall, 24:13 down, and he’s not a threat for the top-10 riders, should he get into the morning breakaway. Euskaltel is in desperate need of a new sponsor and it would help quite a lot if Nieve could win the polka dot Jersey.

Europcar tried to attack on stage 18 with Thomas Voeckler and Rolland, but it all came too late as the breakaway already had a big gap. Voeckler and Rolland will be eager to get into the morning breakaway and with a downhill finish, the stage looks very good for the former.

Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale) is another dark horse to watch on Friday. His teammate, Moreno Moser, came close on L’Alpe d’Huez and his third place must have boosted the morale for the coming days. De Marchi himself has tried hard the last couple of days in the mountains and he did very well on stage 18, despite not getting into the morning breakaway. He finished 19th in Alpe d’Huez and showed in the Critérium du Dauphiné that he has what it takes to go all the way. Two years ago, the Italian’s former team boss, Gianni Savio, said that De Marchi is strong but “not a winner.” Things have changed since then and should De Marchi manage get into the morning breakaway he will be very difficult to beat — should the escape make it to the line. —MIKKEL CONDÉ

Follow Mikkel Condé on Twitter @mrconde and visit C-Cycling to read more about stage 19 and see outsiders for the stage win.