Tour de France 2018: Stage 14: Valverde the tentative choice on wide-open day

Alejandro Valverde Tour de France
Alejandro Valverde combines a number of strnegths that can see him win Stage 14
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It is difficult to be certain about Stage 14, writes Jack Houghton, where any number of riders could excel, and in-play might be the best way...

"A very open stage, and perhaps one to watch and bet in-play on, rather than committing to too early; however, I will be having a small interest in Alejandro Valverde at around [20.00]…"

What's the stage like?

It's an odd one and very hard to predict.

Although only having three categorised climbs, the route ramps up significantly after the first 70km, climbing around 1,000m in the next 50km. Things then undulate towards the finish until a sting in the tail: a 3km ascent of Croix Neuve with an average gradient of 10%, but with some sections topping 18%.

It's not a summit finish, though. A mile remains after cresting Croix Neuve, with 1km downhill and then a 500m finishing straight along the Mende landing strip.

When announcing the route, organisers billed it as a day for the puncheurs, but given that a similar stage ending here in 2015 was won by Steve Cummings, who was latching on to a break-away of two climbers, Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet, it's hard to see it as being that straightforward.

Who are the favourites?

Julian Alaphilippe is heading the market at around [4.50]. It's fair enough that he's favourite, I suppose, as he will almost certainly be in an early break-away in an attempt to pick up the early King of the Mountain points, but he's likely to be challenged in whatever group forms around him, and those are short odds to be taking on a stage where a case can be made for so many other riders.

Who are the most likely outsiders?

One of the riders who may join Alaphilippe in a break-away is Thomas De Gendt ([32.00]). I had an interest in De Gendt at the start of the Tour for the King of the Mountains but, despite competing for points in that competition on Stage 13, it looks like it is not his priority. Whether his involvement in the break-away there was a signal of his intentions on this stage remains to be seen, but he would be a worthy adversary for Alaphilippe if they went head-to-head.

But then, it's conceivable that a puncheur of the likes of Sagan, Gilbert or Van Avermaet could win, if they were able to survive the early climbs that gets them to the final effort. If they did, they would be hard to beat.

But then, a General Classification rider could go for this - think Quintana, Thomas, Landa, Dumoulin or Martin - provided they committed to an effort early enough. I've even played through a scenario where Froome attacks midway through the stage (much like he did on Stage 19 of the Giro, which was, albeit, a very different profile to this) to silence all doubters whilst stoking further protesters.

It's a very open stage, and perhaps one to watch and bet in-play on, rather than committing to too early; however, I will be having a small interest in Alejandro Valverde at around [20.00]. He combines the talents of climber and puncheur and will be given the freedom to roam now that he is out of GC contention.

What effect will the stage have on the overall markets?

Not a whole lot on the Points competition, where it will be more of the Peter Sagan same, but the battle for the polka-dot jersey will likely evolve as rider determine their priorities: go for King of the Mountains, or focus on a stage win?

More interesting will be the impact of Stage 14 on the Yellow Jersey competition. It's worth remembering that Froome took seconds on all of his main rivals except Quintana in that 2015 stage, and it's likely that this renewal will see some further shuffling in that competition.

*Odds quoted are correct at the time of writing

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