The race heads into the Pyrenees but as with past stages this year, a visit to the mountains doesn’t always mean a decisive stage even if it includes some steep slopes. This is still a very hard day that should offer action instead of siesta.
But the final climb, as hard as it might be, is still some way from the finish. Expect big crowds on this tiny road.
- Km 30.0 – Col du Portel (601 m)5.3 kilometre-long climb at 6.3% – category 2
- Km 126.5 – Port de Lers (1 517 m)11.4 kilometre-long climb at 7% – category 1
- Km 152.5 – Mur de Péguère (1 375 m)9.3 kilometre-long climb at 7.9% – category 1
The Route: the Pyrenees have distinct foothills that progress from rolling bumps to full-size mountains and today’s route doesn’t venture too close to the highest peaks, sticking to the more rounded climbs. The first col is an easy warm up, just 6% for 5km and ideal for a breakaway to cut loose from the bunch. Then there’s no real descent and the race heads west with the peaks on the horizon.
As a rule anything over 10km long and 7% gradient is highly selective… but it’s up to the riders. The Port de Lers meets the criteria of a hard climb but the riders might be thinking of the next climb instead. In fact the race passes two cols, the Caougnous and the Four, but they don’t count.
The Mur de Péguère is being used for the first time. It was on the route in 1973 but the riders refused to use it, staging a strike because the road was in a mess. In fact it’s not as scary as it sounds. The label of mur or “wall” is an invention of the Tour, it is in reality a mountain pass, a proper col and designed for cars to drive over. And if it is steep, I think the 18% label might apply brielfly on the inside of a hairpin bend because steepest parts are more ramps of 12-14% with maybe a bit more at times. Still, the last 3.5km are 12% and it’s narrow, the Tour rarely takes roads this small and steep so the atmosphere is going to be great, more so since the road has been packed with camping cars for days. If the climb is tricky, the descent is much easier.
The Finish: there’s a descent and then a loop. The race could have gone straight into Foix but arrives in town and then heads out along the Ariège valley before crossing a bridge and coming back up the other side of the valley against the direction of the river meaning a slight gradient. Into town and the final kilometre has a right hook with 400m to go.
The Race: yes the race goes to the Pyrenees but I suspect this is a day for the breakaway specialists, much in the same format as Stage 10 with the Grand Colombier and Thomas Voeckler. The final moments are easier but still, Voeckler is an obvious pick and the winner will be someone capable of surviving the tough climbs. If a big move goes early in the day, expect the climbs to thin this out.
Another scenario would see the main riders battling on the climbs and coming to the finish together for what the French call “an explanation” amongst the big names but this seems less likely. Attacking on the climbs is possible but the long run into the finish, including an “easy” descent off the Péguère means it’ll be hard to make it stick.
Weather: a cool day with sunshine and clouds and a top temperature of 20°C (68°F) which might not sound good but it’s been miserable in the last few days here. There’s a 20km/h breeze coming from the west, meaning a headwind for the early part of the stage before a tailwind for the latter part.
TV: as usual, 2.00pm start with the finish expected between 5.00-5.30pm.
Local Food: the day starts in Limoux, home of Blanquette de Limoux, a sparkling white wine that’s a budget version of champagne. The cold winters mean people need to preserve food and the confit de canard or duck leg preserved in fat is both a practical idea and a gourmet’s delight.
Do: stay in the area. The Ariège area is a scenic and peaceful place. It’s known terrible violence under the Cathares but today it’s home to hippy communes and markets selling local produce.
Don’t: …take the train. There’s a level crossing with 6km to go and let’s hope the gates don’t close when the race comes.