The Tour organisers have nothing if not a twisted sense of humour. With three days in the Pyrenees already under the peloton’s wheels (and a rest day at altitude in Andorra, which will be a busman’s training camp for many of the contenders), ASO kick off this first post-Pyrenees stage with what can only be described as a whacking great Pyrenee.
This is arguably the toughest start to any stage in the whole of the 2016 Tour – the riders will head straight out of Andorra via the 2,408m Port d’Envalira, a 22.6km climb, albeit followed by 60km of mainly downhill roads. Coming the day after the rest day, there’ll be some stinging legs in the peloton before things settle down.
The Tour heads back north, towards cassoulet country, and heads through the Ariège to Revel. The local Tour-hosting committee like to add a Giro d’Italia-style finishing loop to their stage finish – in 2016, as with 2005 and 2010, the last two occasions the Tour came by, the riders come through the town, then embark on a 12km lap incorporating the tough Côte de St-Ferréol. It’s less than 2km long but while the 2005 stage was contested by a break, in 2010, it was enough for Alexandre Vinokourov to break away, and leave the sprinters isolated enough from their teams that he could maintain his lead to the finish.
It can’t be assumed that the same thing will happen in 2016, however – sprinting, and especially the sprinters, have evolved since then. The new breed of climbing sprinters – Sagan, Matthews and Degenkolb – will probably have identified this stage as a target, especially if the dominant bunch finishers like Kittel and Greipel can’t make it over the St-Ferréol.
Stephen Roche: The day after the rest day is unpredictable. Not recovering well after one was my biggest nightmare. You don’t know what’s happened to the legs and you never know how you’re going to be going. The big climb straight from the gun creates an element of suspense. Assuming everyone’s okay, there’ll be an interesting finale. It’s a finish for the punchy riders such as Julian Alaphilippe, the type of guys who can digest these small, late climbs well.