Before I get into the details on stage 13, let’s recap what happened on Thursday, the first true mountain stage in the Pyrénées. If you recall, the race route was relatively unchallenging until two category 1 climbs (super-steep and difficult) in the last 50 kms. As we expected, a group of 40 riders broke away from the peloton, managing to stay out in front until the first climb.
Slowly but surely, legs exploded and riders dropped off the back: sprinters first. The group thinned out to a triumvirate that worked together to ascend the second peak. Simon Yates, Gregor Mühlberger, and Pello Bilbao. They reached the summit together and began the nerve-wracking descent toward the finish.
As they came within 2 kilometers of the line, they slowed down, each one loath to give the others a free ride from which they would launch past him to victory. Cycling fans have seen this before and it usually ends up with the riders getting caught just shy of the finish.
But today was different because Simon Yates is a skilled track cyclist.
Think about the velodrome races at the Olympics, in which cyclists compete mano-a mano on the track, trying to psych each other out before lunging to the line. Well, Thursday’s race looked like that. Yates sat patiently behind Bilbao and Mühlberger, waiting for the perfect moment to jump. His only risk? Would he have enough speed after a long day of climbing to outlast the other guys?
Here’s a video of the finish so you can see for yourself. I was impressed!
What to Expect from Friday’s Stage
Stage 13 is an individual time trial. Each competitor races alone against the clock, hoping to have the fastest time at the end of the day. Just like climbing or sprinting, time-trial riding is a skill honed to perfection by a small group of riders.
In general, the skinny climbers are pretty bad at this event, and the sprinters are slightly better. The best practitioners are those who specialize in the time trial. I’d describe them as well-oiled machines who can churn a big gear over a long period of time, despite extreme discomfort and exhaustion.
Sounds like fun, right?
A bit of palace intrigue surrounds the stage as Rohan Dennis, former world champion in this event, mysteriously dropped out of the Tour during stage 12. No injury or illness; in fact, his team directors seemed not to know he had withdrawn. Even hours later there was no official explanation of what happened. Stay tuned; looks like a story there.
In the meantime, expect Tony Martin of Jumbo-Visma to set the tone, with most of the Ineos riders acquitting themselves well. While the time trial is hardly the most exciting race to watch, it has enormous consequences for the overall classification (yellow jersey competition.)
Anyone harboring serious aspirations of standing on the podium in Paris must kill it in the time trial. Period. Maybe Alaphilippe has the chops to ride a great race and stay in yellow. Most of the pundits are predicting he will lose it to defending champion Geraint Thomas. I’d like to see him keep it.
Tour de France by the Glass Recommendation
We’re still down in the southwest corner of France, near the Spanish border. Lucky for us there are many wines to explore in this region. Today we’ll dive into the wines of Madiran and Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, two classifications that apply to the same area but one is for red wines and the other for white wines.
Madiran – Red Wines
Madiran’s wines are based on a grape called Tannat, and they can be quite tannic and intense. But if you’re a fan of Cabernet Sauvignon and the big reds of Napa Valley, this should be an interesting stretch for you.
On a side note, Tannat has found a receptive home in the New World – Uruguay. Winemakers there are producing some very interesting specimens that are well worth searching out. Give it a try with a grilled rib-eye! Click here for more wine-pairing ideas from Madiran.
Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh – White Wines
Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh is made from a blend of local grapes (Courbu, Petit Courbu, Gros Manseng, and Petit Manseng,) and can be either sweet or dry. It is similar in style to the wines of Jurançon, which are perhaps better known here in the US. Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh whites tend toward the aromatic, giving off scents of citrus, tropical fruit, white peaches, and apricots. The more complex versions may also exhibit enticing floral aromas, similar to Viognier, the White Queen of the Northern Rhône.
Enjoy the time trial on Friday, especially the unique wines from this special part of France. I’ll be back tomorrow with some ideas for Saturday’s stage. Hint: we’re back on the steep mountain paths again!