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Tour de France: Stages 13-15

Gearing up for the Tour’s final week
Larysa Pachulski, 6:32pm, Mon. Jul. 15, 2013
This Tour de France has seen plenty of new riding talent emerge, both from individual riders and the teams. Stage 13, however, seemed like a blast from the past and perhaps a cautionary warning to the curve balls of the Tour.

Around the 56km mark, team Omega-Pharma Quickstep spread panic when it revived an old tactic: launching a team-wide acceleration in order to close the gap between their riders and those breaking away ahead of them. A sudden acceleration like this not only closes the gap between the virtual stage winners and the leading team but also usually splits the peloton into several smaller groups who then have to work harder to accelerate back up to the main group. Essentially, Omega-Pharma Quickstep created a new peloton and left everyone, including team leaders and sprinters, behind.

The damaging effects of this strategy were felt by everyone. The breakaway riders were caught, and Mark Cavendish (Omega-Pharma Quickstep) got his stage victory. More importantly though, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), who started the day in second place overall, suffered a punctured tire, and despite having multiple team members fall back to help him, never managed to make it back to the second peloton.

By the end of the stage, Valverde had lost enough time to be permanently out of contention for the yellow jersey for this year. And just when Chris Froome seemed untouchable, Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) – perhaps because of his veteran experience – realized what team Omega-Pharma Quickstep was doing when it made its attack, and accelerated with them to stay in their lead group. He gained time on Froome and moved himself up the ranks to be third place overall by the end of the day.

It was a day for the breakaway on stage 14. The riders broke away early and worked hard to distance themselves from the peloton on this hilly stage. The day’s focus was on Matteo Trentin (Omega-Pharma Quickstep), a member of Cavendish’s lead out train, but on a day when no sprint was expected, first-time Tour rider, Trentin, was permitted to break away from the team and prove himself.

He proved to be tactically bright, waiting for the exact right moment to break away from the other riders in his lead group. Turns out that he’s not a bad sprinter either, as he raced away from his peers to win the stage for himself and for his team, OPQ’s 4th stage win this Tour. Cavendish beware: Trentin could be a future threat!

Team Omega-Pharma Quickstep may be the best overall team in this year’s Tour, but don’t discount Chris Froome’s supporting cast in team Sky. Despite losses to the team (Vasili Kiryienka and Edvald Boasson Hagen have both withdrawn) remaining teammates Richie Porte and Peter Kennaugh led Froome up the fan-anticipated, rider-dreaded Mont Ventoux in the longest stage of this year’s Tour, stage 15.

The day ultimately belonged to Froome, who put forth the most work, climbing up the infamous mountain with legs yet unseen this year. Not only did Froome win the stage on Ventoux, he essentially eliminated all of his competition at the same time! The only other rider aside from Eddy Merckx to win a stage while wearing the winning colors, Froome put time between himself and the second place overall rider Bauke Mollema (Belkin Pro Cycling), dropped Contador who finished the stage third, banished veteran GC contenders Cadel Evans (BMC) and Andy Schleck (RadioShack Leopard) by whole minutes, and kept young Nairo Quintana (Movistar) at bay as the two riders fought to climb to the top of Ventoux.

It begs the question of what the last week of the Tour 2013 will bring. Can anyone knock down Chris Froome?

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