Guessing the winners in the medium mountain stages of the Tour de France has no real-world hook to hang one’s guess on. One is left groping against a flat surface like a sleepwalker in a phone box. It depends. There are things it depends upon though, so I will try to help you out, and in an ideal world, this will put you in mind of a few bets that will lose you a great deal of money.
Our office has been involved in the road.cc online fantasy league for the Tour de France, and I’m taking it much too seriously. Here I am in second place in the Bloomsbury League (feel free to join for the next big race, the Vuelta a España in August, or the Tour of Britain in September) and I’m gnashing in vain at the heels of lackadaisical Tour-expert Kirsty in the yellow jumper spot. A few things have become clear. The time trial is pretty predictable. Expect the same top ten of Stage 11 to contest the same places in a similar order on Wednesday’s Stage 17. That is:
- Tony Martin
- Chris Froome
- Thomas De Gendt
- Richie Porte
- Michał Kwiatkowski
- Svein Tuft
- Sylvain Chavanel
- Jérémy Roy
- Tom Dumoulin
- Jonathan Castroviejo
A few of the top GC riders may also agonise their way into this top 10 (Valverde, Mollema, Ten Dam, Kreuziger and Contador) as they have the most to gain. But this also depends on the madness of the medium mountains on Tuesday’s Stage 16.
Flat stages are also an eye-rolling doddle to pick, if I may oversimplify sweepingly. Each team’s best sprinters will be kept in the peloton by their faithful colleagues and then released near the end. Things get shaky in the timing and organisation of the lead-outs, and the difference in ability is more marginal among sprinters than time-triallists (due to the distance of the final effort), throwing exact places into a blender, but betting on the likes of Kittel, Cavendish, Greipel and Sagan for the last race, Stage 21 on 21 July, would be far from insane. Sprinters can decide the medium mountains too, but quelle surprise, it depends.
The true mountain stages, especially those with a summit finish, again favour a particular flavour of rider. On Sunday’s mountain ascent, it was a surprise to no one that Froome and Quintana showed their superiority (Froome aided by colossal mountain pullers Kennaugh and Porte), with Nieve, Rodríguez, Kreuziger, Contador, Fugslang, Mollema and Ten Dam not too far behind. You’ll see a similar cast lolloping up the Alps in Stages 18, 19 and 20. These hulking pedal-metronomes can break away from the mortals in the medium mountains too, their uphill pace sucking the wind out of the sprinters before the final downhill.
And this is what kills me about Tuesday’s Stage 16, a bunch of different riders could be in the top 10. There is no medium-mountain expert as such, and there is even a degree of luck involved. Sure it helps to be a bit of an all-rounder, and quick on the downhills, but in a way, being out of contention, being a bit useless so far, is the most useful quality. I think officially it’s a mountain (as opposed to medium mountain) stage, but it’s the mediumiest of non-mediums you’ll find: with only 168km, no climb above Category 2, and only two of those, quite a long gentle climb to recuperate over before the high gradients of the final mountain, and the last 10km is all downhill. There are as I see it, three possible scenarios (and therefore likely a fourth, which is what will actually happen):
- Scenario 1. Any breakaway leading group is hauled in before the final summit by the peloton, which is likely to contain a few hardier sprinters and their teams. Sagan is the favourite for this very reason, being hardy sprinter incarnate.
- Scenario 2, and I believe a very likely one. A small group of riders that threaten no one in terms of the GC or points competition will be allowed to break from the peloton and streak ahead. This is their moment in the papers. The peloton will threaten to pull them in, but if they hang in over the final climb, no one will get them on the long downhill home. Picking this group requires a random number generator. Navardauskas and Niemiec may show some of their Giro form and rise from the pack like meerkats. Or expect one of the heretofore meek French to take a crack. I say go all-in on [throws dart at Tour de France wall chart] Vichot? Voeckler? Gilbert?
- Scenario 3. The mountain men dominate. Their teams set too vicious a pace on the ascents and break up the peloton. One or all of Quintana, Froome, Porte, Contador, etc., lead over the final hill and remain un-catch-up-able on the bobsled to the finish.
I don’t know. There is still a lot of GC/points to contest and a lot of riders need whatever advantage they can wring from this race. The odds online put Chavanel as second favourite behind Sagan. Go with that.