Tour de France 2022, stage 14
Start location: Saint-Étienne
Finish location: Mende
Start time: 11.15 BST
Finish time (approx): 17.05 BST
Before he became famous as the author of Treasure Island and Kidnapped, Robert Louis Stevenson achieved low-level renown with his 1879 work Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes. Stevenson researched his travelogue, which chronicled his north-to-south journey between Le Monastier in the Haute-Loire and Saint-Jean-du-Gard in the Parc National des Cévennes, very diligently. His travelling companion for the 12-day journey was an intransigent and wilful donkey called Modestine, and Stevenson faithfully recorded the stubborn beast’s reluctant progress. To this day, the GR70 walking route, the Chémin de Stevenson, tracks the same route.
The cyclists of the 2022 Tour de France will trace a similar journey on stage 14 of the race, though starting a little further north than Stevenson and finishing in Mende, which Stevenson passed on day seven of his odyssey. However, they will take a lot less time, though by this point in the Tour there will still be tired legs and a few reluctant passengers. Early on, Stevenson recounted being brought close to tears by Modestine’s refusal to budge; perhaps some team directors will experience similar situations with tired riders.
Stage 14 is one of the toughest stages of the Tour, and there will be a lot of riders who are not looking forward to it. The showcase climb is the final one, the short but very very steep ascent to the airfield above the Massif Central town of Mende, the Côte de la Croix Neuve. The climb has two kilometres which average almost 11 per cent, though it descends a little then flattens out in the final kilometre. It was the setting for one of the Tour’s most famous ambushes, the Laurent Jalabert and ONCE team’s assault on Miguel Indurain in the 1995 race, an event which is commemorated in the climb’s other name, the Montée Laurent Jalabert. The race has been a regular visitor in the last decade, stopping here in 2010, 2015 and 2018, and for British cycling fans, the 2015 victory by Steve Cummings, in which he mugged French favourites Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot in the final kilometre, is a fond memory.
But the stage is more than just its final three or four kilometres. The roads of the Massif Central are heavy, grippy and energy-sapping. And before the peloton even gets to Mende, they’ll face a lot of climbing: rolling hills for the first third of the 192.5km stage, then more significant climbs through most of the second half. In terms of classified hills, there are only four cat-threes and the cat-two at the finish, but it’s the climbing between the climbs that will really wear down the bunch.
Tour de France 2022 stage 14 map and profile
This stage is one with barely a flat metre of road in sight, yet, somewhat comically, it finishes on the pan flat landing strip of Mende Airport. Of the five classified climbs in the day, the first is the Côte de Saint-Juste Malmont which lasts for 7.7 kilometres at 3.9% average gradient.
The peloton then passes from climb to climb throughout the rolling day, the hardest of which is the last: the Côte de la Croix Neuve, a 3 kilometre climb at 10.2% with ramps up to 18% gradient. They will crest the last Côte of the day with 1.5 kilometres to go before a one kilometre descent leads onto a flat 500 metre run-in to the line. This stage perfect breakaway terrain, but is tough enough that it could put some GC contenders in difficulty if they aren't having a good day. There have been barely any easy days in Tour de France so far, so we can be prepared for the unexpected in stage 14 to Mende.
Tour de France 2022 stage 14 predictions and contenders
This route is especially challenging from the start, and the terrain means a breakaway is likely to succeed. If they don't, then there are some fast men who could make it over the tough climbs and still contest a sprint on the flat finish, namely Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange-Jayco).
However, we'd place our bets on a break getting to the finish and there are a variety of riders who could make it. One rider who has been especially strong so far this Tour is stage 10 winner Magnus Cort of EF Education-EasyPost. He can sprint strongly after a day on undulating terrain, so this could be a stage for him. Second on the same stage was Nick Schultz (Team BikeExchange) who is another rider who will enjoy the steep gradients of the Côte de Saint-Juste Malmont if he makes it into the winning move.
Matej Mohorič (Bahrain-Victorious) has been uncharacteristically quiet so far this race and is usually a rider who will favour a tough day in the break. Perhaps stage 14 could be the chance the Slovenian rider needs to make his big move. Dylan Teuns is another option for Bahrain-Victorious. Lennard Kämna from BORA-hansgrohe has a good opportunity today, too, he's a rider who can excel on steep gradients and has had a few days without challenging for the breakaway.