The second-category climb up Mende waiting at the sharp end of Saturday’s 14th stage could deliver a surprise at the Tour de France.
The 192.5km course from Saint-Etienne to Mende almost certainly will deliver another breakaway group, with some GC sparks possibly flying on the final climb.
The Tour hits the end of two weeks of racing with another challenging stage, where heat, wind, and a rollercoaster profile will keep the tension high all day long.
Côte de la Croixe Neuve is short but steep
The start city of Saint-Etienne is long associated with the Tour, and will host a stage start for the 27th time.
The route features four third-category climbs sprinkling along the road, but there’s barely a flat section all day. Two climbs in the opening 40km will set up the breakaway.
Two more third-category climbs in the back end of the stage will bring the race to the base of the day’s main event at the Côte de la Croixe Neuve, first used in 1995 when Laurent Jalabert won in its debut.
The climb is now named in honor of the ex-pro, and Saturday will see the Tour’s sixth arrival to the finish line on an air strip waiting at the top of the steep ridge.
The final climb is steep enough to cause problems for anyone not having a great day. At 3km at 10.2 percent, the short but steep wall can see some fractures open up among the stage-hunters as well as the GC field.
Omar Fraile won out of a group of nearly 30 riders at Mende the last time the Tour stopped there in 2018, when he beat Julian Alaphilippe and Jasper Stuyven.
That year, Primož Roglič jumped out of the GC group to gain eight seconds on the main GC rivals, while some riders like Mikel Landa lost 30 seconds on the explosive climb.
Warm temperatures and a tailwind
Warm temperatures will continue, with highs in the upper 80s at the start of the stage, and pushing into the high 90s by the afternoon. There will be steady tail/crosswinds all day of 10 to 15kph, with gusts up to 30kph.
“I do not know the climb, but I have looked at it online with some maps,” Pogačar said. “It looks like a nice climb and the legs are feeling good.”
With time running out Pogačar will certainly try something. The pressure will be on Jumbo-Visma to protect Vingegaard and keep the pace high.