Tour de France 2022, stage 15
Start location: Rodez
Finish location: Carcassonne
Start time: 12.05 BST
Finish time (approx): 16.39 BST
The Cathars were a movement of Christian Dualists who sprang up in the 1100s in southern France and spent the next 200 years being persecuted back into non-existence by the Catholic church. The Cathars believed that that nothing exists without its opposite, and that is what maintains balance: the logical conclusion, in their theology, was that there were two Gods, one good, one evil. It’s something the peloton might consider during the 15th stage of the 2022 Tour de France which travels south from Rodez on the edge of the Massif Central and finishes in the ancient Cathar stronghold of Carcassone: there can be no break on a flattish stage of the Tour without its philosophical opposite: the chase by the sprinters’ teams.
It would be best to approach this stage with the open-mindedness of the dualists. It has been almost perfectly designed for it not to be clear whether it’s a day for the break or a day for the sprinters. If the weather were cooler, if the peloton weren’t so exhausted from two weeks of very aggressive racing, if it were 30 or 40km shorter, if the course were ever so slightly flatter, it would be a nailed-on bunch sprint. If this stage were in week one, the sprinters’ teams would easily control it. However, the circumstances make it more complicated, and it may be that the three or four teams left with sprinters who can be reasonably confident of winning a bunch kick will find it difficult to control the stage.
The stage involves a net loss in altitude of over 500m, but for all the downhill riding that entails, the terrain is relentlessly bumpy, even if there are only two third-category climbs all day. The last one, the Côte des Cammazes, tops out with 48km to go, which would normally be enough time for dropped sprinters to chase back on. However, ASO have cheekily located the day’s bonus sprint at the start of the climb, even if the green jersey competition is almost a done deal. And it may be that if the break is too large or too high quality, and the sprinters’ teams can’t control things, the fastmen will have to wait until Cahors…? Paris…? for their first opportunity since stage three in Denmark.
Depending on who you ask, the walled city of Carcassone is either the finest example of mediaeval fortification and a brilliant transformation of what was a ruin, or an ersatz imitation built to entertain tourists. The author Neil Lands, in his book The French Pyrenees, wrote, “It has been much restored but it looks right and feels right. The sense of the past is overwhelming.” However, Ralph Dutton and Lord Halden, in their early 20th century travelogue The Land of France, had a somewhat more sceptical opinion. “The first sight of the Cité is, indeed, magnificent. But closer inspection reveals all too clearly… a hard, neat and absolutely soulless replica of a mediaeval fortified town.”
Is it one, or the other? Will this be a sprint or a day for the break? The Cathars would have appreciated the duality of these questions.
Tour de France 2022 stage 15 map and profile
On paper stage 15 looks like it won't cause too much trouble for the peloton, but this deep into the Tour and with the consistent rises and falls here, anything is possible.
There's two category climbs on the 200km route to Carcassonne, though neither are particularly positioned to aid the breakaway in either getting clear early or dropping sprinters later on. The first is over 64km from the start and the second is 48km from the finish. This should be a bunch sprint if any teams have the will and firepower, to keep it all together, with a fairly straight forward run into Carcassonne to finish off the day.
Tour de France 2022 stage 15 predictions and contenders
The 2022 Tour de France has been one of unpredictability; well more than usual anyway.
The sprinters who came may be ruing their decision thanks to the lack of bunch finishes so far. If a breakaway escapes on stage 15 they could end up having waited from stage three all the way until stage 19 in Cahors.
With such lack of action from the fastmen, predicting a winner is a difficult task. Dylan Groenewegen, with a team perhaps buoyed by Michael Matthews' stage 14 win, could be one to watch. BikeExchange-Jayco may have waited too long to try and pull back the break on stage 13, but were clearly confident in a sprinter who has navigated well the gruelling mountain stages so far.
Jasper Philipsen likewise came through the Alps looking less fazed than some of the other sprinters and was clearly keen on his Alpecin-Deceuninck team trying to keep things together for a bunch finish on stage 13.
They'd tried to do that alongside Lotto-Soudal and Caleb Ewan, though that fell apart after the Belgian team's bizarre team crash took out the Aussie sprinter and left him languishing off the back of the bunch. Ewan will be desperate to get something from what has been a miserable Tour de France so far, but it remains to be seen how badly he's been affected by the crash on stage 13.
Fabio Jakobsen and his Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl team have had a hard time since the race left Denmark, having failed to make too much of an impression on the race since then. The Dutchman has looked to be struggling through the mountain stages, but has the backing of a strong team if he feels like he has the condition to sprint on stage 15.
Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies) is another rider whose form is unknown, particularly as he's struggled to hold on to the bunch in recent stages at points he used to glide through.
It's of course hard to look past the current green jersey Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) as the leading contender if it finishes as bunch sprint. The Belgian has continued to look imperious no matter what the terrain and while his team won't work to keep the breakaway in reach, he'll almost certainly participate in the final gallop to the line should it all stay together.
Rouleur predicts: We're going to say this one actually will stay together and we'll see a sprint finish. Without sounding like we're repeating ourselves, it's a Wout van Aert win day again we think.