If the previous stage to La Pierre St Martin and next stage to Plateau de Beille are all about the punchlines, this stage is more of a rambling tale, a journey, rather than a destination.
The stage crosses two of the Tour’s most venerable mountains – the Col d’Aspin and Col du Tourmalet – before a comparatively gentle finish up the hill to Cauterets. The Aspin and Tourmalet were the second and third high mountain cols ever used in the Tour, when they followed the Col du Peyresourde in a stage from Luchon to Bayonne in 1910. Owing to the fact that there is essentially one road running east-west through the Pyrenees and these two climbs form part of it, they have both appeared many times on the race route.
The stage finishes in Cauterets, at the top of a third category climb. In 1989 and 1995, the stages here didn’t finish in the town, but further up into the hills at the local ski stations of La Cambasque and Crêtes du Lys. The Tour riders will be thankful the 2015 organisers have brought the finish back down into the town.
If any mountain stage is going to finish with a successful escape, it’s this one. The GC contenders will be absorbing the lessons of, and recovering from, the previous day’s efforts at La Pierre St Martin, while simultaneously contemplating, and saving themselves for, the next stage to Plateau de Beille. They’ll probably take their eyes off today’s stage to the extent that any fireworks will be saved for the final third category climb and drag to the line, well behind whichever riders have survived from the early break.
Often, the winner from a long break will be the best sprinter, the luckiest guy, or the most astute tactician, but the winner today will be the best climber. Interestingly, the break will probably build its lead early in the day on the rolling roads of the first 105 kilometres, but the Col d’Aspin and Col du Tourmalet should ensure that the strongest climber in the break rises to the top well clear of his rivals. There’s potential for a chase in the descent and valley road, but with the third category climb to the finish, the best climbers will be confident. If any GC action happens at all, it’ll be on the final climb, and in the last three kilometres of the stage, after the top. The road still drags up here, so we should be treated to a painful slow-motion sprint to the line, with potential for gaps.
Greg LeMond's view
“I don’t envisage this stage causing major damage. A lot of guys will have an eye on Plateau de Beille the next day, knowing how hard that finish is. Having said that, in 2014 I didn’t think a whole lot would happen at Hautacam and I turned out to be wrong. This is a hard way to go up the Tourmalet and an incredibly fast descent down the other side. It could also be quite slippy - at least it was when I went down here last year. There’s not much recovery at all before the last climb so a group or riders who go over the Tourmalet summit with a decent gap could win the stage.”
Stats & Facts
- The halfway point of the Tour comes in this stage, about five kilometres on from the base of the Col du Tourmalet. 1,679.15km gone, 1,679.15km to go.
- The Tourmalet has been tackled by the Tour more times than any other climb in the race’s history – 83 times in 101 races before this year.
- The first rider over the Tourmalet rarely wins the stage. Before Thomas Voeckler managed this in 2012, the previous rider to do so was Richard Virenque in 1995
0km Start Pau 12:05
48.5km Cat 3 climb Côte de Loucrup 13:17
56.5km Sprint Pouzac 13:28
61.5km Cat 3 climb Côte de Bagnères de Bigorre 13:37
74.5km Cat 3 climb Côte de Mauvezin 13:57
117km Cat 1 climb Col d’Aspin 15:15
147km HC climb Col du Tourmalet 16:19
184.5km Cat 3 climb Côte de Cauterets 17:11
188km Finish Cauterets 17:17
The text in this preview first appeared in the July edition of ProCycling magazine