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Week 2 of the 2016 Tour de France

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

The highlight of week 2 will be the climb up legendary Mont Ventoux. The ascent of the so-called “Bald Mountain” is rated HC, “hors categorie,” or beyond categorization, which means it is one of the most grueling climbs in road racing. It will be the sixteenth Tour de France climb of the mountain since 1951, and the tenth time a stage will finish at the top. British cyclist Tom Simpson died of heat exhaustion while climbing Mont Ventoux during the 1967 Tour de France. 

Otherwise, the second week favors sprinters and riders who do well in rolling terrain with climbs that are not too demanding. Stage 10 is one such race. It begins in Andorra with a long Category 1 climb that will probably be the scene of several breakaway attempts. If a sprinter has managed to stay with the peloton to the top, his team may want to chase down any breakaway group to give its man a shot at a stage win.

The relatively flat Stage 11, from Carcassonne to Montpelier, will be one of the last chances for sprinters to win a stage. Two Category 4 climbs will not intimidate the likes of Britain’s Mark Cavendish or Marcel Kittel of Germany, so there should be plenty of excitement at the finish.

In Stage 12, the 15.7-kilometer ascent of Mont Ventoux, at an average gradient of 8.8%, will be complicated by the high winds that almost always swirl around the top. And since the next stage is the race’s first time trial, serious Tour title contenders will not want to leave too much energy on the mountain. Good French climbers like Romain Bardet or Thibaut Pinot will almost certainly try to take a prestigious stage win on Bastille Day, the French national holiday, and make up for France’s loss in the finals of Euro 2016.

Stage 13, a 37.5-kilometer time trial over rolling terrain, should be a tough test for legs weary from the previous day’s climb. Look for Germany’s Tony Martin to be among the leaders. And could there be a final Tour stage win for 35-year-old Swiss Fabian Cancellara, who is retiring at the end of this year? Sprinters will be taking it easy, saving their legs for Stage 14, which is another flat stage and the last chance, before Paris, for them to take a stage win.

Saturday’s Stage 15 is demanding and tricky to predict, with two ascents of the fearsome Grand Colombier from different sides, one climb rated HC, the other Category 1.  Riders may be tempted to get a jump on Froome here, but with four difficult Alpine mountain stages, including a time trial, scheduled in the final week, title challengers may want to conserve their energy and allow an ambitious climber down in the standings to win a stage.

With such a difficult final week coming up, it’s hard to see how anything will be decided in the second week. But it’s useful to remember that in winning the 2015 Tour de France title, Team Sky’s Chris Froome took control of the race in Stage 10, on Bastille Day, with a blistering climb to the finish line, and was never again seriously challenged.