Mont Ventoux looms omninously on the horizon this evening at the close of Tour de France's 14th stage in Lyon. It will make or break some overall contenders and could strengthen Chris Froome's lead.
"I've seen it, and I'm glad I did because it's a tough climb," Sky's Froome said in the media mix zone today in Lyon. "I'm focused on just keeping the yellow jersey, but I'd like to also add to this advantage that I have tomorrow."
If Froome looks south this evening, he won't see Ventoux, but as the race approaches from Givors tomorrow it will rear its head. The route shoots dead south for 222 kilometres before the final 20.8 kilometres to the summit.
Froome will recognise it. In May, with Richie Porte and other team members, Froome reconnoitred the Giant of Provence. As with Ax 3 Domaines, this tiny pimple on the Terra may hold the key to Froome's eventual Tour win.
His rivals, like Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) in 10th overall, will be racing to upset Froome's lead.
"The harder the climbs, the more they suit Joaquím," Katusha sports director, Valero Piva told CW. "He likes climbs with gradients above 10%. Clearly this climb could go well for him. He doesn't like the long climbs based on rhythm. This is a climb that has steep gradients; I don't think a team that will be able set a rhythm from the base to the top."
The climb kicks the most in the first 15 kilometres, until the Chalet Reynard. Afterwards the road is exposed next to the lunar-like landscape. From Chalet Reynard, the heat, wind and altitude only add to the riders' misery.
"Joaquím wants to win it," added Piva, "but anyone that fancies winning the Tour de France will have to show themselves on Ventoux."
Part of the problem is that tomorrow's stage is too easy. The riders race a few small hills, but are unable to warm their legs up on a proper pass before facing Mont Ventoux.
The mixture, combining with a week of mostly flat racing, could be costly.
"It's the only climb of the day pretty much and no one knows how the bunch will be at the base of Ventoux, it could be like up Ax 3 Domaines [with many losing time]," Saxo-Tinkoff's DS, Philippe Mauduit told Cycling Weekly.
His team captain, Alberto Contador sits third overall and trails Froome by 2-45 minutes. Bauke Mollema (Belkin) is 2-28 back in second.
"Some leaders will probably lose a lot of time because it will be the first hard time after a full week on the flat," added Mauduit. "I just hope we'll see the opposite of what we saw in Ax 3 Domaines, with Alberto losing time."
The length, the longest stage of the race at 242.5km, could also take its toll.
"Some guys will find their legs don't work the way they used to or the way they expect them to, and just the pure fatigue from a long stage will be important too," Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), sixth overall said.
"There's not so much you can do about it if you have a bad day. You can try to be 100% and try to recover, but if you have bad legs you have bad legs."
Having bad legs on Mont Ventoux is a frightening thought as the GC favourites tuck themselves into bed this evening.
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