'There's no point worrying about the time cut' - sprinters battle through the mountains

With two 146km mountain stages before Paris, the Tour de France sprinters are facing a race against time to avoid the cut

The gruppetto at the Tour de France (Dan Gould)

The Tour de France sprinters say that it is going to be tough to survive the final two mountain days in the Alps and to arrive in Paris for the sprint on Sunday.

The whirling of turbo trainers filled the air before the short and explosive 146-kilometre stage 19 to the Le Bettex summit finish on Mont Blanc. Not only the classification men, but the sprinters were warming their legs for the stage ahead.

Saturday's stage 20 appears just as tricky. The 20th stage, 146.5 kilomtres, starts with a Col des Aravis.

"Today and tomorrow are going to be tough," Daniel McLay (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) told Cycling Weekly on Friday. "There's no point being too worried about it [time cut] you can only do what you can do. It's going to be difficult.

"Today, it's just doing the first climb fast enough that you just get back to the group when the break goes and they sit up. After that trying not to be dropped before the gruppetto. It's easier said than done for me at the moment."

John Degenkolb was worried at the start in Albertville. The German winner of last year’s Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix went to his team staff immediately after stepping off the bus to find out what percentage the organiser would use to day to calculate the time cut.

"The most important thing is that you don't blow up in the beginning and try to follow the best guys," Degenkolb said.

"Do your own speed. If you are dropped, you're dropped. But you are still with a group of other guys with the same level, and you have to try to hope that they are stopping in front for a pee break and you can come back.

"For us, if you are around 80kg, it's 300 watts, maybe 350 if we are in trouble. We are basically losing one minute for every kilometre. That's how we calculate it. All the kilometres where you are going uphill, we lose one minute each kilometre, so in the descent we have to make time up and take a lot of risks."

The Col de Joux Plane - stage 20's monster climb

André Greipel's lead-out man, Greg Henderson said: "The problem is what they do with these short stages – they're 145 kilometres so your time cut's not that long because the stage is so short.

"Yeah [it worries me], for me to go out and train on this today would be beautiful, I'd enjoy it, but the simple fact I've got to do it in a certain time, you're not sure if you're fast enough."

Henderson looked over to the Orica-BikeExchange bus and added, "That makes you nervous when you see a whole team warming up."

Only one big sprinter-type, Bernhard Eisel, appeared to be relaxed in the Savoie valley. He leaned against the Dimension Data team bus, drank an espresso and chatted away to waiting journalists and team staff. As he said, the Tour has become much less busier for him since Mark Cavendish left.

"I'd say the Tour de France has the fairest time delay," Eisel said. "Still, if you have a bad day or a crash, you manage to make it through. If you don't make it, then it is better you go home. In other races, the delay's like an hour and you can walk home!

"Some people come back to the gruppetto to have an easy day and then make our lives hard. There are always arguments, it's just natural. If someone is having a bad day and we are going too fast or if someone is low on blood sugar and needs a snicker. Cavendish was never in danger this year, just on the Tourmalet. It's not our favourite climb."

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Gregor Brown

Gregor Brown is an experienced cycling journalist, based in Florence, Italy. He has covered races all over the world for over a decade - following the Giro, Tour de France, and every major race since 2006. His love of cycling began with freestyle and BMX, before the 1998 Tour de France led him to a deep appreciation of the road racing season.