This is a classic ‘transition’ stage. The definition is sometimes stretched to describe any hilly stage that is neither mountainous nor flat, but the true definition is of a stage which lies between France’s two main mountain ranges, the Pyrenees and the Alps.
There are four transition stages this year – here, Mende, Valence and Gap. Mende and Gap have significant climbs near the finishes, which will impose a more logical shape on the race, and could even turn into GC days, but this and Valence are unpredictable, rolling, lumpy days where breaks, once gone, may never be seen again.
The route rolls gently through the first half of the stage, then gets noticeably hilly thereafter. It’s the first half-chance for a sprint since Fougères, one week previously, although it’s more the kind of terrain on which Peter Sagan has turned the green jersey competition into a one-man show in the last three Tours. Sagan spends the flat days coming third or fourth behind the pure sprinters, conceding a few points here and there. Then he gets them all back and more when he wins stages like this, while other sprinters are nowhere.
Of the four transition stages in the 2015 Tour, this is the most finely balanced. A break today does have a good chance of success, but it might also be possible for the sprinters’ teams to control things enough to bring it to a bunch dash, even if the lumpy terrain might force some of the bigger sprinters out of the back. There are only three categorised climbs – a cat three and a cat four, but they are concentrated deep in the second half of the stage, and there’s another drag up towards the end, which tops out just 10 kilometres from the finish. It’s not just that the sprinters will have to work hard to cross these climbs within shouting distance of the front of the race, it’s that they have to get enough team-mates over to cover breaks, chase escapees and impose some kind of discipline on the final run-in.
There was a similar stage in 2010, which started in Rodez (today’s finishing town) and went to Revel over similar terrain, which was won in a solo breakaway by Alexandre Vinokourov, over a final climb. For the final few miles, sprinters Mark Cavendish and Alessandro Petacchi were in a group 20 seconds behind. But they had no team-mates left to pull back Vinokourov, and though they got over the climb, they didn’t get the sprint they wanted because they were isolated. Today’s stage probably favours a break, too, but the terrain is just uncomplicated enough that the sprinters teams might fancy it. It should be an entertaining clash.
Robert Millar's View
“Out of the Pyrenean frying-pan and into the Tarn fire. We basically did the same route back in 84 and my overriding memory of that day was of legs hurting and my feet burning. It's warm in the mountains but at least you cool down on the descents. Going inland from Toulouse it just gets hot, then hotter and as Rodez approaches stiflingly uncomfortable. Perfect stage for a breakaway and until one gets away no-one will be happy, though with the last 60km being of the up and down, in and out, melted tar variety it's hard to say if it's better to be in the front or hiding at the back.”
Stats & Facts
- Rodez hosts a Tour stage finish for the second time. The first was in 1984, when Pierre-Henri Menthéour won.
- After 106 kilometres, halfway between the villages of Mousquette and Mouzieys-Teulet, the Tour reaches the 2,000km mark for 2015.
- The last 10 Tours have seen 32 transition stages (between the two main mountain ranges). These have seen 16 bunch sprints and 16 successful breakaways.
0km Start Muret 12:20
92.5km Sprint Laboutarie 14:49
131km Cat 3 climb Cote de St Cirgue 15:43
156.5km Cat 4 climb Côte de la Pomparie 16:18
167km Cat 4 climb Côte de la Selve 16:33
198.5km Finish Rodez 17:17
The text in this preview first appeared in the July edition of ProCycling magazine