Stage 13 almost feels like a missed opportunity given the Pyrenees but clearly the race organisers don’t want to fix the overall classification with three consecutive summit finishes. Thinking about it, I agree as yesterday gave a glimpse of how the favourites are riding relative to each other but a tentative one. Anything can happen. Back to today and the stage should be about a breakaway whilst the favourites watch each other.
Pau and Lourdes are classic stops in the Pyrenees. Pau is a town rich in history but with a young student population and has several cols in riding distance. Lourdes is a strange place, a town reputedly with more hotel beds than inhabitants, it literally trades on its reputation as a place of religious pilgrimage, a frontier town between the sacred and the profane.
The first climb is the Côte de Cuqueron, 1.5 km at a steep 8.1%. A good place for a breakaway if one hasn’t already gone away. The Côte de Belai is steeper but shorter, 1 km at 8.4%. They’re both in the foothills of the Pyrenees and the weather should allow scenic views of the high mountains, at least for the TV cameras rather than the riders.
Then its onwards and upwards to the intermediate sprint, a straightforward sprint that will see the sprinters scrap for whatever points they can knowing they’re probably not going to be in contention with the Col d’Aubisque looming.
The Col d’Aubisque from the west is the harder side and it’s long and almost as difficult as the Tourmalet. It starts off gently before proper Pyrenean gradients of 8,9 and 10% appear. A total of 16.4km at 7.1%, this is a climb where if a breakaway reaches the foot together things should be very different at the top.
The descent off the top is short before a final rise up to the Col du Soulor and then technical descent that favours the experienced, the skilled or simply the risk-taking rider. But in time this stops and the rest of the descent towards Lourdes is more obvious. The final 13km to the finish are flat and the finish itself is flat and without many obstacles, with a final bend and then 800m towards the line where breakaway riders will try to outmanoeuvre each other.
Overall the favourites should mark each other up the final climb but a few GC contenders who have lost time might fancy exploiting the marking but this should be a day for a breakaway. Whether it stays away depends, we could even see Omega-Pharma Lotto try to set up Gilbert for the finish in order to grab some points. But this looks like a day for someone like Luis Leon Sanchez, Sandy Casar, David Millar or David Moncoutié but take your pick from a longer list of riders.
Weather: sunny and warm, with temperates ranging from 12°C (54°F) at altitude to 26°C (79°F) at the finish.