Tuesday, 19 July 2011
2011 Tour de France: Stage 16 Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux
Today's stage that takes the race up into the Alps holds some potential threats to Mark Cavendish's lead in the points jersey. Essentially it is a long uphill climb from the Rhône Valley initially past the vineyards of the southern Côtes du Rhône past the little town of Nyons, which is famous for olive oil, and then up into the foothills of the Alps. Just before the finish in Gap there is the one categorised climb of the day – the Col de Manse a Cat 2 which goes up 9.5k at an average of 5.2%.
The danger for Mark comes if either Philippe Gilbert or José Joaquín Rojas are well placed on the climb and gain points at the finish as it is unlikely that Mark can hang in on such a climb. The ideal for Mark is that a fair sized bunch gets away early on. Providing there isn't anyone who is a threat to the favourites in the escape they will probably be let go allowing the leading contenders and their teams to conserve energy for the three Alpine stages to come. HTC will have to ensure that neither Gilbert or Rojas get into the escape. As Gilbert is no longer a threat overall – 20 min down – it would only be HTC who would be interested in chasing him down – similarly for Rojas.
The weather could play a role today. Météo France forecasts heavy, stormy rain and cold temperatures on the climb and the finish at Gap, while the Tour's own forecast has some rain earlier in the day but a dry but cool finish in Gap. Hopefully it will be dry for the descent and finish into Gap as the descent is dangerous. It was here in 2004 that Joseph Beloki crashed and effectively ended his career. It is possible that Thomas Voeckler might be tempted to try an attack on the Col de Manse and gain a little bit of time on his rivals as he can descend well.