It’s the biggest stage of the Pyrenees but – whisper it – it’s not that hard. Yes the first climb up the Col de Marie Blanque has sections at 13% but it’s short. Yes the Soulor is a long climb and of course the Tourmalet is hard.
But look again at the profile and note the gaps in between the climbs. The race does not scream downhill and then tear up the next col. Instead the terrain is rolling with plenty of time to recover in between. Surely no GC candidate will attack early, the odds are against them. They’d fade in the valley roads with a team chasing behind them. And even the two early climbs won’t tire the legs too much because there’s plenty of time to recover.
So all comes down to the Tourmalet and this should be where the differences are made. But the time gaps won’t be huge, it is the highest pass in the Pyrenees but only tops out at 2115m, compared to 2700m in the Alps.
If Andy Schleck wants to take back time, he will have to attack early on the Tourmalet. Personally I don’t think he can do it and that inside, he’ll be please with second place so long as he can hold off Menchov and Sanchez.
As for the stage itself, expect another fast start. With the sprinter’s dreaming of Bordeaux and Paris, plus only a time trial stage to come, Thursday is the last chance for 90% of the field to win a race. Here’s a list of the teams who have yet to win a stage, the ones who will be under pressure to send a man, or two, up the road:
Clearly some of the above teams have GC interests to defend. But several will be keen to have a man up the road for a bid at winning the stage to “save the furniture” as they say in French, meaning to save their race.