Saturday, 16 July 2011

#TDF Stage 14 Saint Gaudens to Plateau de Beille

It is a fifth trip to the ski station finish at Plateau de Beille, and while this ski station is the centre of cross country skiing in France if is anything but an easy climb for the peleton. Whoever takes the stage win today is most liely going to be a contender.

Today's sprint come on the descent of the 2nd category Col de Portet-d'Aspet. Whether any of the green point contenders apart from Philippe Gilbert will be there to contest for points is going to decide this one. Thy might just hang on, but more than likely they will drop off.

The final Hors Catégorie climb to the ski station comes after the first category climbs up Col de la Core and Col d'Agnes and the second caregory climbs of the Col de Portet d'Aspet and Col de Latrapee

Looking at the names of the previous winners here Marco Pantani (1998), Lance Armstong (2002 and 2004) and Alberto Contador (2007) shows how tough this climb is. Indeed on each of those occasions the winner here went on to win the Tour. Of course in 2004 when Lance Armstrong won here there was a certain French man in yellow, who hung on against the odds to keep it for one more day. Lance may be gone, but he is back and once more in the Maillot Jaune. Thomas Voeckler did a stirling job on Wednesday to defend his lead, but he'll have to do it all over again today.

Only in the final 2 kilometres of the 15.8km climb up 1255m does the gradient fall below 7% but there are three sections where the average is above 9%. The maximum gradient on the climb is 10.8%. This is the sort of point that one of the classification leaders might try their luck over the others. The second such section may well be used to thin down the field with the second potentially the one to make a break in this last of the Pyrénées stages.

Will we see the Schlecks carry on with their one-two counter punching? Will we see Alberto Contador left again and losing even more times, or will he launch an attack to get back some of the time he needs? As for Samuel Sanchez who won on Wednesday. If he attacks again he may well be able to get some more of the time back. He is still over 2 minutes down on Fränk Schleck.

Here is that final ascent.

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