The 183km comes after two uphill finishes in Rodez and Mende and for the sprinters will fear like a welcome rain shower after two days in the French canicule. They will have to fight for a chance of success but they know it is the last stage with a flat finale before the final sage in Paris on Sunday July 26. All the other stages climb high and deep into the Alps, with lots of climbing before the finishes in Pra-Loup, Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, La Toussuire and L’Alpe d’Huez.
Cavendish tried to save his strength and energy in the Pyrenees during the stages across the south of France. He finished 147th, alongside his loyal leadout man Mark Renshaw in Mende, 17:14 behind fellow Briton Steve Cummings.
“I hope tomorrow’s a sprint finish but you never know, maybe Tinkoff will go full gas on the category two climb but it’s a long way from the finish. Whatever, it’s the same for everybody,” Cavendish told Cyclingnews, referring to Tinkoff-Saxo’s daily aggression as they fight to help Peter Sagan score points for the green jersey completion and the Col de l’Escrinet that comes 56km from the finish of the stage.
Sunday’s stage begins in Mende and the riders face a climb out of the small town and probably an aggressive first hour of racing as riders try to get into the breakaway of the day. The 1223-metre Col de Bez and the Col de la Croix de Bauzon after 70km will also hurt but the stage route then drops into valley at Jaujac. The Col de l’Escrinet is 7.9km long and climbs at 5.8%. Tinkoff-Saxo could drive the pace to spit out the sprinters, with a pursuit match and chase likely to last all the way to the finish in Valence.
Cavendish has been enjoying daily ice-baths to help cool his body after racing in the high temperatures and also help limit the damage to his muscles. He is hoping to be at his best for the expected sprint in Valance.
“It’s something we have at Etixx-QuickStep every night, to cool down. It helps” he explained. “There’s a lot of tired legs [in the peloton]. I’m tired. It’s not easy, you know, it was a hard first week. There’s a reason why the Classics are one-day races. To have them back to back is hard. I’m not the only one who is tired, so I’m not the one complaining. Everyone is tired.”
“The weather doesn’t help. These are not your normal transitional stages. Normally we go along the Riviera in the south; this year were going straight into the Massif Central.”