The 2014 Tour de France has left the flat roads of Northern France behind it and entered the first mountainous stages in the Vosges. The peloton will face six climbs on its way to Mulhouse, including the first category one slope, the Markstein.
The stage profile suits itself for early fireworks and a long break, but don't expect the top contenders for the general classification to show much of themselves on Sunday. The first week of the Tour was a rough one, and riders will want to conserve as much energy as possible ahead of the stages in the Alps.
Date: Sunday 13 July
Distance: 170 km
Profile: Mountain (Medium)
TV Info and Live Stream: NBCSN (for U.S. viewers) and ITV4 (for U.K. viewers) will be broadcasting every stage of the 2014 Tour de France, with mobile coverage available via NBC Sports' Live Extra and the ITV Player app.
|3||Richie Porte||Team Sky||1:58|
|4||Michal Kwiatkowski||Omega Pharma-Quick Step||+2:26|
|10||Jurgen Van Den Broeck||Lotto Belisol||+3:02|
|7||Greg van Avermaet||BMC Racing||60|
|3||Sylvain Chavanel||I AM Cycling||6|
The pack will depart from Saturday's finishing point at Gerardmer, turning west into the heart of the Vosges. The race profile, courtesy of Le Gruppetto:
The opening climb, the Col de la Schlucht, will set the pace early, giving the less-heralded riders a chance to ride in the spotlight for a while. The next three hills will serve as a warm-up for Le Markstein, the biggest challenge the peloton has faced so far in the 2014 Tour.
Two short climbs will bring the riders to the edge of the Vosges, with the descent to Cernay setting up a flat finale that should allow a larger top group to organise itself before the finish line in Mulhouse.
Saturday's finale suited itself perfectly for the first real climbing fireworks of the Tour—Sunday's stage will do the exact opposite.
The early parts of the stage will serve as an opportunity for breaks, with the contenders and their teammates likely doing little work until the foot of Le Markstein. It won't offer a chance for big movement on the leaderboard, however, with 40 kilometers still to go from the summit.
AFPgraphics shared this beautiful image of Sunday's stage:
Alberto Contador launched his first attack on Vincenzo Nibali on Saturday, and the Italian race leader had little difficulty in dealing with it, despite the climb being tailor-made for the explosive Spaniard, as he told Sky Sports' Matt Westby:
The last climb suited him more than me. It was very difficult and explosive. I quickly understood what he wanted to do since he put his team at work. He attacked me but I was going well. We expected him to do so any time. He is ready to gain time wherever he can. He went strongly. I tried to handle the situation the best way I could. I tried to control until the very end and resisted all of his attacks.
The rest of the riders for the general classification quickly lost ground on the duo, and the likes of Alejandro Valverde and Richie Porte will want to aim for the longer climbs in the Alps and Pyrenees rather than risk anything at this stage.
The flat finale makes it nearly impossible to try anything early if you're battling for the general classification, and it opens the door for other riders to take advantage of the peloton's inaction.
With the top riders looking at each other, no one will bat an eye if a small group opens up a five-minute gap ahead of Le Markstein. The two most likely scenarios are that either such a group survives until the finale, or a break in the peloton sees the top riders arrive at Mulhouse together.
The sprint teams won't be helping out in the chase, giving the advantage to the first scenarios. Plenty of riders will also be looking at Monday's stage toward La Planche des Belles Filles, and with that course looking very daunting, choose to lay low on Sunday.
Could we see an unheralded rider win a prime mountain stage for the second day in a row? The stage looks set, and expect a small group of early attackers to survive until Mulhouse, where the victory will go to the rider with the most juice left.