Studying Le Tour: Punishing Peyragudes

The 2017 Tour de France has a monster mountain test on offer in stage 12 when the race finishes on Peyragudes in the Pyrenees.

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At last, the Tour de France reaches the Pyrénées in stage 12. After two more sprint stages in the days prior, we’ll probably be eager for some excitement. The climb to Peyragudes, where they filmed a scene in the James Bond flick “Tomorrow Never Dies,” might be the antidote to flat-stage boredom. Will the GC riders go on the attack, or will they keep their cool ahead of the potentially explosive stage 13? Can a breakaway last through this marathon in the mountains?

Peyragudes by the numbers: 2.4 kilometers at 8.4 percent gradient. Riders will face a 16-percent ramp about two-thirds of the way up.

Previous Tour stages: 2012, stage 17.

What history can teach us: Notably, this is only the second time the Tour has finished in this Pyrenean ski enclave. The 2012 race featured a very similar profile to stage 12 of the 2017 race. However, in 2012, they rode Col de Menté before Col des Ares. The stage was also 71km shorter.

With all of that aside, one thing seems certain. The hors categorie Port de Balès, which comes before the Peyresourde/Peyragudes one-two punch, might actually be the decisive climb. In 2012, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) made his stage-winning move out of the breakaway on the 11.7km, 7.7-percent climb. As is often the case in the Tour, a long day in the mountains can favor an opportunistic breakaway. Unfortunately, after crashing in stage 1, the Spaniard won’t have a chance to defend his title as king of Peyragudes.

As for the GC battle, things remained mostly status-quo behind Valverde. The stage came late in the race, and the peloton was likely quite tired. No one could challenge the yellow jersey holder, Bradley Wiggins. Well, actually, his Sky teammate Chris Froome could have attacked. He didn’t. Instead, Froome played the loyal teammate. He finished second, a tantalizing 19 seconds behind Valverde.

What will we see this year? Stages 10 and 11 will surely be days for the sprinters or a lucky breakaway. Barring incident (no sure bet in this Tour so far), the GC will be tightly knotted when they set out from Pau on Thursday. A breakaway could stick, but at 214.5km, this stage is a beast. It seems unlikely that an early move will last over all six categorized climbs.

I have a hunch that Froome will want a shot at redemption after nearly winning on the Cat. 2 Peyragudes in his breakthrough 2012 Tour. Port de Balès seems like a fine place for Froome to launch his first major offensive of the 2017 Tour de France. It’s got a tough midsection with one kilometer that averages 10.2 percent. Froome might also be inspired by memories of last year’s Tour when he attacked over the top of the Peyresourde and rode a daring descent to victory.

On the other hand, if Fabio Aru (Astana) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) can follow Froome over the Peyresourde, modestly steep at 7.8 percent, that final 2.4km climb would be a perfect opportunity to attack.