The first week of racing is done and things change with the race heading into the Massif Central area of France. You can see this from the profile alone, the long upward slope and the new altitudes, it doesn’t look like anywhere all day dips below 350 metres above sea level. The lowest point in the day is higher than any point reached so far during the last seven days.
Things go steady until the first climb of the day in Evaux Les Bains but until then the route still twists and turns on smaller routes départementales with rougher, more granular road. If there’s going to be a breakaway it could take some time for this to form, the first hour might be a fast one.
If today is a hilly day day even the intermediate sprint is uphill for 1,600 metres. It’ll favour Rojas more than Cavendish but all the same for the sprinters this is their finish line, they’re not going to contest the finish later. This is true for Thor Hushovd too, it would take a miracle – this is sport, you never know – but I suspect he’ll sit up and the race for the yellow jersey is on.
After Km 118km the Côte du Rocher des Trois Tourtes (“the rock of three pies”) is a climb of 1.3 km at 4.6%, no big deal. But next the Col de la Croix Saint-Robert climb is 6.2 km at 6.2%, the length means it will be hard and it’s a second category time, this alone awards five points compared to the four points held by jersey-wearer Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil). We’re most likely to see a breakaway roll through and riders will scrap for the jersey.
The final is up and down and the Côte du Faux with 6km to go has in the past been a categorised climb and winds up through woodland. Then comes a final ramp to the small ski-station of Super-Besse with 1.5 km at 7.6% so don’t get ideas of big mountains, this is a small climb and it’s one long ramp upwards. It’s still steep enough for the climbers and if the results have been anything to go by so far, expect Philippe Gilbert and Cadel Evans to be present, with Alberto Contador and maybe even Edwald Boasson Hagen there. In fact most of the GC contenders should be there and one of the tests is to see who isn’t because if a rider gets dropped on the final climb, their chances in the Pyrenees could be slim. Note the finish line comes after a flat portion that’s 180 metres long.
Weather: a light tailwind to help a breakaway get away and rainshowers with the thermometer maxxing at 22°C (72°F).
Viewing: if you’ve seen big farms and impressive displays in the middle of fields, they’ll be a lot less of this today. Look for the small farms and modest dwellings, this part of France has the country’s lowest population density.