Tour de France heads to Andorra for queen stage

Stage 15 is the queen stage of the 2021 Tour de France, the highest point reached on this year's race coming over the top of the Port d’Envalira enroute to a finish in Andorra La Vella.

A 191.3 kilometres long stage looms ahead of the riders, with key Pyreneean climbs set to test the legs of the general classification contenders as they scrap for spots in the top ten and see if race leader Tadej Pogačar shows signs of weakness. The climbs are long and steady, but the real killer is likely to be the combination of altitude and the final climb of the Col de Beixalis before the descent into Andorra La Vella.

The Course

Travelling from Céret to Andorra la Vella, Stage 15 tackles four climbs, including three category 1 ascents before a downhill finish in the capital of Andorra. The first 19 kilometres are uphill at shallow gradients, but it will probably be the spot where the early break is formed rather than the all-out battle for over 80 kilometres seen on Stage 14. 

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The intermediate sprint point comes with 66 kilometres raced, on a gradually increasing slope that eventually becomes the first categorised climb of the day.

Stage 15, Tour de France profile
Stage 15 Tour de France profile Source: ASO


 

King of the Mountain points are up for grabs at kilometre 86.3 atop the Montee de Mont Louis, but the ascent continues until ski resort Font-Romeu, nearly nine kilometres further up the road.

The riders descend into the valley, but hit the foot of a new climb soon, the solid category 2 climb of the Col de Puymorens. It's approximately 19 kilometres long, but the gradients are shallow, especially on the early slopes. The last 5.8 kilometres are the categorised section and go up at an average of 4.6%.

The climb combos almost immediately into the next one after just a short descent, with the riders then climbing to the highest point of this year's Tour de France 2,408 metres above sea level.  The Port d’Envalira is the climb, a 10.7-kilometre ascent with an average gradient of 5.9%, that will see the peloton traverse into Andorra. The first rider at the summit wins the Souvenir Henri Desgrange, pocketing an extra €5,000 for their efforts. 

A 19 kilometres descent from that points leads into the decisive climb of the day. The Collada de Beixalis is 6.4 kilometres long and the average gradient sits at 8.5%. The first half contains the hardest sections, featuring steep pinches of up to 15% gradient.

Col de Beixalis, Tour de France
Col de Beixalis profile, Tour de France Stage 15 Source: ASO


From the summit, the race drops straight down into Andorra la Vella, a city that many overseas professional riders call home, including Aussie stage winner Ben O'Connor

The Tactics

As Stage 14 showed, there are a lot of teams that are are very keen to see breakaways succeed, and not many that will want to bring the race back together. UAE Team Emirates will keep an eye on things, but they've not looked to drag things back together for Pogačar to take stage wins, they're very much focused on the battle for yellow.

So with the carrot of the breakaway likely being the method the race will be won, the question is whether we'll see a battle all the way to the first categorised climb to make the move that sticks. After a day where the break took over 80 kilometres to form, it seems unlikley that they'll have the same energy to repeat the feat, or the will. With the climbs and the altitude, it's already going to be a select few riders that can take the victory, and maybe only one or two per team who the others will be looking to support. 

It should be another fun tactical battle to watch though, so tuning in early on the SKODA Tour Tracker is going to be worth it.

Stage 15, Tour de France route
Stage 15, Tour de France route Source: ASO


The Contenders

The big-name climbers are the ones that should be looked at to take the win, but in particular ones that handle altitude well. It's not a universal trait, Alejandro Valverde for all his legendary successes has thrived in the thin air 2,000 metres above sea level even at the peak of his career, and regularly riders are found out in the trying conditions.

Riders born at altitude have an advantage, the rider that won last year's Tour de France queen stage to the Col de la Loze was Miguel Angel Lopez, who was born at 2,858 metres above sea level in Pesca, Colombia. 

 

You can watch all the action from Stage 15 of the Tour de France on SBS and SBS OnDemand from 2030 AEST, with the action kicking in on the SKODA Tour Tracker app at the earlier time of 2010 AEST.


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5 min read
Published 11 July 2021 at 4:19am
By SBS Cycling Central
Source: SBS