One week to Paris, a rest day tomorrow and only 158km for today, things look easy, no? Except time is running out for several teams to shine in this race. Liquigas, Lotto-Belisol and Sky have monopolised the race so far with three stage races each and the arithmetic means many teams will leave the race empty-handed.
Consequently many will want to make the breakaway in the hope the move stays away, all whilst Orica-Greenedge want to bring any escape back so they can set-up Matthew Goss for an elusive stage win.
- Km 107.0 – Côte de Lahitte-Toupière2.1 kilometre-long climb at 5.3% – category 4
- Km 123.5 – Côte de Simacourbe1.9 kilometre-long climb at 6.3% – category 3
- Km 129.0 – Côte de Monassut-Audiracq1.5 kilometre-long climb at 5.4% – category 4
The Route: in two words scenic yet awkward. The race traverses the gentle Gers area with its rolling hills, the roads rise and fall but there’s nothing too technical. Instead it’s a route lined with sleepy villages, fields of sunflowers and goose farms. It gets hillier towards the end but a well-placed sprinter should not have to worry before the race reaches Pau, the Pyrenean city that has been visited by the Tour more often than anywhere else. But those rolling hills do roll and there’s almost 2,500 vertical metres of climbing today.
The Intermediate Sprint: completely straight and flat.
The Finish: a flat urban finish into Pau with its wide roads. A few twists and turns in town but there are no real obstacles.
The Race: time is running out for teams to win a stage so expect a furious start with many riders and teams wanting to be in the breakaway. The stage is short meaning the pace should be intense until the elastic finally snaps, either figuratively or when Wiggins pulls down his shorts for a pee, the sign of a patron indicating it’s time to stop chasing.
Orica-Greenedge are still trying for the stage win but there’s only two more possible sprint stages to come, with Stage 18 far from being a sprint and Stage 20 in Paris could be a parade where Bradley Wiggins leads out Mark Cavendish. Playing Armchair Directeur Sportif I think they could put a rider into the breakaway. Yes it’s a wagon less for the sprint train later but the rider could sit tight and save his legs for the finish, insurance against André Greipel overtaking Matthew Goss in the sprint. A bunch sprint seems likely and the Australian team has several fast finishers.
Weather: 23°C (73°F) and a mild breeze, the weather won’t be tactically significant.
TV: all day live coverage from start to finish. The first hour could be the best part of the stage for viewers so tune in at 1.40pm.
Local Rider: Pierrick Fédrigo’s training routes overlap today’s stage. The FDJ-BigMat rider has a big engine but remains an unpolished diamond despite a long career. A keen hunter, he picked up a parasite two years ago which ruined his 2011 season.
Local Food: sauce béarnaise is one of the fundamentals of French cooking involving clarified butter, eggs and herbs. It’s named after the region but apparently comes from the court of a king in the past.
Do: eat local. The race arrives in Pau for the rest day and coincidentally the Astana team ends up in the same hotel, the Novotel as they stayed in 2010 when Contador, then an Astana rider, claimed he ate his rogue steak imported from a Spanish butcher.
Don’t: get bored with Pau. The unmissable city of the Pyrenees, it has featured in the Tour more often than any other place in France. In reality it is nothing special, although it’s a student town and more lively than most places in the area. On a good day there are scenic views of the Pyrenees and the town is also home to motor-racing, look carefully and when the bunch rolls out on Wednesday and you’ll see the painted kerbs and crash barriers.