20 July 2015

Plaza Leads Breakaway to Stage Win!

There were two races in today's Stage 16.  The breakaway set a blistering pace and won the stage.  The peloton, which had all the general classification leaders, was content to concede the stage and jostle for position during the final descent.  It turned out that we were nearly perfect on the peloton, but, alas, we were too slow on the winner.

After 80 minutes of uphill racing, the average speed was a whopping 52.7 kph (32.7 mph).  A 15 kph (9.5 mph) tailwind played a big part in the early pace.  The weather was nearly perfect with warm temperatures (31 C or 88 F) and blue skies.

Peter Sagan was pure joy to behold today.  He is incredibly skillful on a bike and he got yet another second place today after catching all but one challenger in the various breakaway attacks.  And Sagan did it all without any team help!  The screen capture I grabbed below is Sagan getting 20 points for winning the intermediate sprint (click on the image for a larger view).
The first in the breakaway group to crest Col de Cabre was Belgian Serge Pauwels (click on the image for a larger view).
Sagan was in that breakaway group, and then he showed his skill on the subsequent descent (click on the image for a larger view).
As the main part of the Alps came into view, helicopters got some amazing scenery shots (click on the image for a larger view).
Who wouldn't want to visit the Alps?!?  The first rider to reach the top of Col de Manse was Spaniard Rubén Plaza (click on the image for a larger view).
Plaza made a great attack on the climb and left Sagan too far behind.  What was great about the breakaway reaching the peak of the final climb is that they were roughly 20 minutes ahead of the peloton!  Sagan fought hard during the final lightening-quick descent, but Plaza took the stage by half a minute over Sagan (click on the image for a larger view).
Below is a comparison between Plaza's time and our prediction.
  • Stage 16:  4h 30' 10" (actual), 4h 47' 26" (prediction), 17' 16" slow (6.39% error)
We were slow by about the same percentage we were slow yesterday.  Now comes the interesting part.  The last breakaway rider came in 23rd, nearly nine minutes after Plaza.  Last year's winner, Vincenzo Nibali, executed a nice attack on the final climb and was the first of the peloton to cross the finish line.  His time?  Nibali finished in 4h 47' 54", less than half a minute off our prediction!  That is why I noted at the beginning of this post that we were almost perfect on the peloton; but that's not what we're after with each stage.  Below is Plaza's breakneck average speed.
  • Stage 16:  12.40 m/s (44.64 kph or 27.74 mph)
Let that speed sink in for a moment.  That is for a 201-km (125-mi) medium-mountain stage!  Those riders in the breakaway went for the stage win, and they got it!

Chris Froome fought well on the final descent and made sure he would hold on to his prized yellow jersey.  His Team Sky mate, Thomas Geraint, suffered what looked like a devastating crash on the treacherous final descent, but Geraint admirably got back on his bike and proceeded to hold on to his 6th overall place in the general classification.

Cyclists will stay in Gap for a rest day tomorrow.  They will need all the rest they can get as four daunting mountain stages in the Alps await them.  I will get our Stage 17 prediction posted tomorrow.

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