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Tour de France

Tour de France stage 15 preview: Big chance for sprinters in Carcassonne, but beware the breakaway

Sweltering transition stage in south-west France offers an important opportunity for Ewan, Jakobsen, Groenewegen and other fast men.

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The Tour de France heads south into Occitanie, France’s southernmost mainland region, with a 202.5 kilometer transition stage between Rodez and Carcassonne.

For weeks, bunch sprinters have had stage 15 circled as their likely shot at victory. It’s certainly been a while, a potential first chance since the long Danish opening weekend. But will it actually come to pass?

The balance of power, and interest in a bunch gallop, has potentially shifted: many teams will be keen to take a chance on the breakaway with attacking baroudeurs instead, which will make for an interesting dynamic when it comes to the day’s chase – and how many are allowed to get away.

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Fatigue is setting in among the fast men. Caleb Ewan is tired, bruised from a crash and down on his luck. He and his Lotto Soudal team-mates have been riding all-out just to stay in the race on recent days. But victory would vindicate all the hardships of the last fortnight.

In his debut Tour, stage 2 winner Fabio Jakobsen undoubtedly has the speed and a committed team, but he had a little difficulty holding onto the bunch during stage 13 to St-Etienne. Florian Sénéchal is a possible secondary option for Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl.

BikeExchange-Jayco left chasing down a strong group too late that day, but it’s likely it will put all their chips on flying Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen.

However, we’ve also seen its fast finisher Michael Matthews and Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) infiltrate breaks and triumph this week. Opportunities for pure sprinters are limited at this year’s race and they are finding other ways to win.

When it comes to escapees, powerhouses who have missed out thus far will be motivated for this stage, such as Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost), Matej Mohoric (Bahrain Victorious) and Taco van der Hoorn (Intermarché–Wanty–Gobert Matériaux).

As for Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma), who leads Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) by 2:22, and the other GC contenders? They’ll just be hoping to make it to the rest day with a stage low on drama or difficulty.

A long and rolling road

Out of Rodez, the road rolls with several sharp, uncategorized climbs before a descent into Ambialet and its third-category côte (68.9km). If the speed stays high as breakaway bids shoot off and come back, a few sprinters could be briefly out the back.

Midrace, the stage goes through the village of Lautrec, officially rated as one of France’s most beautiful. As the surname would suggest, the 19th century painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec had family lineage there too.

It’s no pan-flat crepe of a profile. Even if there are no big climbs, the road rolls up and down through the Tarn. However, the closing 50 kilometers to the finish after the third-category Côte des Cammazes (154.6km) are predominantly flat or downhill, which favors the sprinters.

Hydration and heat management will be essential today, heading into the cauldron of France during a heatwave. The temperature will hover around 100 degrees, with little respite from the slight wind, which will be in riders’ faces for much of the day as they head south.

Perched on a hill, the magical finish city of Carcassonne is popular with tourists, with its grand city walls and medieval citadel.

It was delightful for Mark Cavendish – he won here last year to equal Eddy Merckx’s Tour de France record of 34 stage wins. Which rider will have a fairytale triumph in its streets this year?

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.