Take It From Carol: Tour de France Stage 12

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In a Tour that continues to defy the expected, to the mountains we go.....

The Pyrenees. Today is a tale of two races. The first 130 km (80 miles) is a gradual, steady slog slightly uphill to an intermediate sprint. Green jersey contenders (Sagan, Matthews) will join the early breakaway (which should be fairly large) to go for the points. Sagan will go to solidify his lock on a 7th green jersey win and Matthews of Sunweb to grab a bit of glory in a frustrating Tour thus far and, perhaps, to give Sagan a little competition.

The last 80 km holds two Category 1 climbs with fast descents. However, with the critical individual time trial tomorrow and tougher days of climbing after (hello Tourmalet), don’t expect any big moves from the field. Today is a good day for the breakaway to succeed as the GC plays defense.

What might ignite the field a bit: it’s a big gamble as no one in the GC wants to trash their legs prior to the time trial, but there are bonus points (the priceless reward of seconds off your overall time). Bonuses are offered at the summit of Hourquette d'Ancizan and again at the finish line.

What we would have to see to make the bonus points enough: riders with too much potential in the breakaway so it becomes necessary to reel it in (which, again, means extra work for the men who don’t want to expend the energy).

Why it might happen: several GC contenders got caught in the crosswinds unawares and lost chunks of time unexpectedly. And, a few GC hopefuls expect to lose time in the individual time trial so those bonus seconds might be their best hope. If these riders go in the breakaway and launch attacks, then the GC contenders will have to respond. (This is a day I always want to see Quintana DO SOMETHING...not a good time trialists and a mountain goat).

Why it might not: In addition to the main reason (time trial on the horizon), the finishing terrain (5 km downhill) doesn’t assist time gaps at the finish. If the field isn’t shredded, why expend valuable energy? Also, one has to ask: who is incentivized to control the breakaway? The most dominant team, Ineos, has no incentive to go on the offensive. Their men, Thomas and Bernal, are well positioned and solid time trialists. Their best play is to spare their legs and not take too many risks. Will they manage attacks? Of course. Will they keep a close watch on all rivals? Of course. Will they allow rivals to drop them? Not likely. Ineos doesn’t race for Stage wins. They race for the top of the podium in Paris. It makes them keenly aware and frustratingly disciplined.

But in a Tour where anything (and everything) has happened...I guess we just have to watch.

PS. Personally, I hope the old man Valverde (Movistar) is allowed to fight for himself and the Stage win today.