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Le Tour 2019 stage 15: Limoux - Foix Prat d'Albis 185 km

After today's first MTF, we got some answers - Pinot looking as strong as he ever has, Thomas showing signs of weakness, Quintana out of podium and top-5 contention, Fuglsang not living up to the (arguably unreasonable) heights, Bardet out of any GC contention, and so much more - but last, but not the least, Alaphilippe still hanging on to yellow, and actually widening his lead to 2nd place!

The losers of today might at first hand contemplate a desperate attack tomorrow - a medium-length mountain stage, starting in Limoux with climbs of rather shorter lengths than today, but approximately the same inclines - bear in mind, that the last third of Mur de Péguère is crazy steep with an average of 12,2% (quick calculation) with sections of 16% and 18%. Before Péguère, the riders must crest Col de Montségur and Col de Lers en route to the MTF Prat d'Albis through Foix. A rather long stage with multiple challenges might cause riders to think twice before attacking all out from afar.


It all starts in Limoux, still a newbie town in the Tour. The race has visited Limoux only twice before tomorrow - in 2011 and 2012, both times as host for the start. In 2011 a flat stage, which Mark Cavendish won during Voeckler's maillot jaune run, and in 2012 a mountain stage resembling the profile of this years stage 12 (but funny enough contained Péguère and Lers!) in which L.L. Sanchez won from the breakaway. The town is mostly recognized by its carnival, the Carnival of Limoux...


...which happens every weekend on a time span of 3 months, from January to March. It is pure folklore, and not about parading for anything/something! Simply tradition that has been taken place since 1604.



From Limoux towards Foix, the first challenge is Col des Tougnets, an uncategorized climb, which presents a good opportunity for a break to get away. At the 45 km mark, bystanders can enjoy the karst spring of Fontestorbes - the geology of karst springs is better left to others, who can understand and explain it better than I!


Anyway, le Col de Montségur (cat. 2) starts approx. 10 kms after - 6,8 km long at an incline 6%.


After that a long stretch follows, which is rather flat until the intermediate point sprint at the 93,5 km mark (91,5 kms to go), where the road goes slightly, but steadily uphill. It is also here, that the cave of Niaux (Grotte de Niaux) is located. The system of caves is more than 14 kms long, and in this cave system numerous wall paintings from the Paleolithic period can be found...



...The style of these are typical of the Magdelanian period, dating from 17.000 to 12.000 years ago - it is also the time, in which the Magdelanian Girl (also found in France) is presumed to have lived, but that's another (fascinating, though) story.

Anyway, the uphill/false flat continues on until the 108,5 km mark (76,5 km to go), where the first of three cat. 1 climbs, here the Port de Lers; 11,3 km at an average of 7%...


...is to be overcome be the riders. It was introduced to the Tour in 1995 as a cat. 2 climb on stage 14; the Pirate Marco Pantani was the first to reach the summit and eventually win that stage 2'31'' in front of Laurent Madouas, the father of FDJ-talent Valentin Madouas. Latest was in 2015, where Kwiatkowski was first at the top in stage 12, which finished on a rainy Plateau de Beille with status quo between the GC challengers.

Afterwards the Mur de Péguère, another cat. 1 climb is on the menu - and a difficult one to stomach:


A tale of three mini-climbs; the first third makes a rather soft start, the middle third is challenging, and the last third is very steep, with the top of the head calculated average of 12,2% with Vuelta-like sections of 16% and 18%!

It has been visited twice, in 2012 and 2017, both in stages that finished in Foix.

After a long descent, the MTF awaits - in this case the Prat d'Albis, which is 11,8 kms of hurt at an incline of 6,9%.


Foix has been visited by the Tour a couple of times, all in this century - last time was the explosive stage in 2017, where Contador launched a long range attack with Landa, who (time wise) threatened Froome.

Would we see him betray Froome and go for glory, which he was denied in 2015 by Astana and a faltering Aru? He didn't, but Froome himself named "Landani" as a threat to the GC win after the stage - Landa himself said that he had the legs to win, but not the status, after being declared as team leader by the Spanish press - he didn't rule out his own chances, but affirmed his loyalty to his captain and his team - which his actions proved, perhaps with the Peyragudes stage being the exception. By some named a new Richie Porte (in terms of sharing the lack of luck), he eventually finished 4th in the 2017 Tour, 1 second behind Romain Bardet.

Regarding the stage, Quintana and Barguil caught up with them on the Mur de Péguère, and the very same flying polka-dot Warren Barguil won the sprint for the stage:


While Contador has opted for the commentary box with the occasional ride on the back of a TV-motorcycle, three of those who were in for the win that day are still in the Tour peloton on their road bikes, and those three might fancy their chances today - even though their objectives might be different.

The stage winner of the last visit in Foix, Warren Barguil hasn't reached that level since he left Sunweb to join his present Breton team, Arkea-Samsic. A win in the French nationals RR and a 10th place in the stage Ewan won, has shown that he might be back on track - and if he is, this stage might present itself as a decent opportunity to take collect points to the polka dots and even a stage win, if the favorites decide to either take it easy after Tourmalet today, or if the maillot jaune wants to deny his competitors the bonus seconds at the top of the Péguère, which is the penultimate climb. Today has confirmed my suspicion, that he might be able to play a substantial role tomorrow and the rest of the Tour as a stage hunter or perhaps embarking on a polka-dot campaign!

Quintana and Landa are now team mates, even though the air between them might be as filled with rivalry and competition as it was in 2017. They are both on the back foot, having lost time in the team time trial and in Landa's case, in the crosswinds stage because of a puncture after he was on the right side of split...will Movistar finally walk the walk, put INEOS under real pressure with a long range attack by one, while the other waits to pounce in case that attack is reeled in? Or won't they risk losing the prestigious team classification? Time will tell…

...and now, a few hours later, Nairo has fallen - Landa however, did hang on until the very end. It may very well be the end of the captaincy, which Landa has a stronger claim on now. Will he try to take his revenge tomorrow? Seems unlikely at the moment, but when riding with rage as Pinot arguably did today, anything can happen! Landa might also see an opportunity to get higher up on the standings, being 11th at + 6'14'' - though he might opt to hang on as he did today, while others falter, as Fuglsang, Porte and Mas among others, did.

Weather at the finish line:


*thunderstorms/showers possible - the temperature in the town of Foix is estimated to be 32 degrees - so it might be a hot day overall, which suit some riders and hamper others!

General classification on the eve of stage 15:

2. Geraint THOMAS (INEOS) + 2'02''
3. Steven KRUIJSWIJK (JUMBO) + 2'14''
4. Egan BERNAL (INEOS) + 3'00''
5. Emanuel BUCHMANN (Bora) + 3'12''
6. Thibaut PINOT (FDJ) st.
7. Rigoberto URAN (EF1) + 4'24''
8. Jakob FUGLSANG (Astana) + 5'22''
9. Alejandro VALVERDE (Movistar) + 5'27''
10. Enric MAS (DQS) + 5'38''

Green jersey competition on the eve of stage 15:

1. Peter SAGAN (Bora) 284
2. Sonny COLBRELLI (Merida) 191
3. Elia VIVIANI (DQS) 184
4. Michael MATTHEWS (Sunweb) 167
5. Caleb EWAN (Lotto) 148

Polka-dot jersey competition on the eve of stage 15:

1. Tim WELLENS (Lotto) 64
2. Thibaut PINOT (FDJ) 42
3. Thomas DE GENDT (Lotto) 37
4. Julian ALAPHILIPPE (DQS) 33
5. Giulio CICCONE (Trek) 30

Youth classification on the eve of stage 15:

2. Enric MAS (DQS) + 2'38''
3. David GAUDU (FDJ) + 8'00''
4. Laurens DE PLUS (Jumbo) + 31'56''
Perhaps FDJ wants to make the race hard. It is hard to predict what will happen to Thomas und Alaphilippe.
Thomas doesn't seem so strong and Alaphilippe normally fades after a lot of hard days, but he was really strong today. If Pinot wants to win the Tour, he needs to race all the mountains pretty hard. You have to challenge Alaphilippe on the hills before the last one. Then there is a chance, that he will fade.
Riders like Uran, Landa, Quintana and Porte have to attack, but I don't know if they are strong enough tomorrow.
Today set the stage tomorrow the real fighting will start. No more waiting for the final kilometer, they can't give Alaphilippe any more room and if Thomas is as weak as he was today Kruijswijk and Pinot have to drop him much earlier. This is a golden opportunity for the two to win a race they usually shouldn't be able to win. They better use it.

Edit: Also I have really positive memories of that 2017 Foix stage. One of the very few tdf mountain stages I really enjoyed in the last years.
This is a pretty good stage, and probably the best for long range attacks. Nice to see a new MTF and Prat d'Albis looks good for at least proper racing on final climb with the steepest gradients near the bottom.
And some teams need to attack properly tomorrow. Movistar should send a couple of riders up front and Landa should attack on Peguere. Perhaps Bernal can join him too.
Bernal to win this stage his shape seems ok, hope Ala can stay close though. FDJ or Jumbo need to hammer it on Mur, and then go all out for the first 6 kms on Albis. Hope Movistar light it up again as it works for the race but not them haha
I was going to say that Movistar, Jumbo and FDJ smell blood, but Movistar leaders are already too far. It is up to the other two. FDJ only had one strong domestique. It could be just up to Jumbo with a help of Movistar going for the stage.

There is no excuse tomorrow. Now everyone is exposed.
I’d still be very leery to give Ineos too much of a free ride. Assuming Thomas is out of the picture, Bernal looked quite strong today. Pretty crazy for a guy planning on peaking for the Giro to be this strong in July at 21 years of age!
If the DS's of FDJ and Jumbo have even a slightest amount of common sense left, they will form a temporary alliance to keep the pace high over all the earlier climbs. Neither of them have enough manpower to do that alone, but both have the most to gain from it. Trying to capitalise on Thomas' seemingly subpar form and putting Alaphilippe's questionable recovering abilities under pressure is an absolute must for both of those teams.

Unless the balance of power changes completely overnight, they can even afford to create a situation, where only the leaders are left by the time they reach the last climb. Although having one-two doms to keep the tempo up during the first half of Prat d'Albis would likely be preferable option when the goal is to maximise gains over possibly ailing rivals. Having only the leaders left could easily lead to a prolonged session of looking at each other unless someone is clearly the strongest.
leave alliances aside, gentlemen. they used to dwell in 70's and everyone for himself nowadays. I'm quite sceptical. it is probably going to be another draw with almost nothing happening until last few kms and pinot and alaphilippe sprinting out for the stage victory.