The start is near the foot of Mont Ventoux in Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux, which means St Paul Three Castles. Tourist brochures feature lavender fields, vineyards and the views towards Ventoux. It certainly is a pleasant place… except for the vast nuclear power station on the edge of town. With its four reactors, the plant produces 6% of France’s electricity and one day the town will be renamed St Paul Quatre Réacteurs.
Look at the profile and it’s uphill all day. But it is not severe, the pace should be high as a breakaway tries to go clear near the start. The race follows the river Eygues up a gorge with predictably impressive scenery. The intermediate sprint is tricky with a couple of roundabouts on the way in and some speed bumps, before the final kick to the line with an uphill of around 4%.
The Col de Manse is the main obstacle of the day and comes in two parts: the climb and the descent. The climb is steady and on a wide road, some six or seven metres wide and with a few bends but long straight portions. The gradient is good for an attack but it’s not the ideal terrain for a rider to ambush his rivals. If someone gets away it’s likely to be by brute force than by surprise.
Then comes the descent. Factually the riders will descend the Col de Manse for a moment and then join turn right onto the descent of the Col de Rochette. This is perhaps infamous as the scene of Joseba Beloki’s crash, memorable for Lance Armstrong’s offroad excursion. It’s a very tricky descent, much narrower than the climb that preceded it. Riders will be aware, more so since they managed the descent without incident last year when Sérgio Paulinho of Radioshack took the stage.
Overall the stage could be a day for a breakaway. I can’t see Europcar wanting to chase if there’s no threat up the road and HTC-Highroad won’t want to work too hard given the Col de Manse isn’t for Cavendish. If there’s a move away the final climb should see riders jostling for the win because whoever gets over the top of the last climb first can – if they are fearless – win the stage.
Weather: rain showers, some heavy with temperatures ranging from 13°C to 18°C (55°F-64°F). This is very unseasonal, normally you’d expect the temperatures, in Celsius, to be double: 26°C-36°C are more the norm for this time of year.
The only bonus is that the tarmac isn’t melting. It’s common for this to happen in the summer heat when the tarmac temperature can reach 80°C and riders go into a corner to discover portions of the road are like treacle.