Peyragudes was the backdrop for a scene in the 1997 Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies, but tomorrow (and its three climbs) is the least of the peloton's worries as they contemplate a long day in the saddle and a summit finish today.
Pau's 'Gateway to the Pyrenees' tag certainly applies today. But rather than heading straight for the mountain range, half of Tour de France stage 12 is a teaser before the real action begins.
Tarbes, which hosted a Tour finish in 2009 (another Fédrigo win to add to his two in Pau), is the biggest early waypoint as the race crosses the Adour valley. Then there's a crescendo of climbs which increase in difficulty: a cat-four, then a two, a one and an HC - the Port de Balès. Finally, the Peyresourde and Peyragudes climbs close the stage, providing a fearsome finish to the longest Pyrenean stage of the Tour
The second-category Col de Menté is sandwiched between the early foothills and the formidable closing trio. The mountain has featured 18 times and is famous for the events of 1971. It was on the stormy descent of the Menté that Luis Ocaña crashed out of the race. Until then, he had been on track to break Eddy Merckx's Tour-winning streak, having led at one point by seven minutes.
Peyragudes returns as a finish for the second time. The stage carries a similar look to 2012's finale, with the Balès, Peyresourde and Peyragudes trio. Peyragudes is also famous for the only real suspense of the 2012 Tour – should Chris Froome have carried the acceleration which dropped his team leader and yellow jersey Bradley Wiggins? His wife Michelle, on Twitter, suggested yes, but he contented himself with a passive-aggressive-looking freewheel and ostentatious glance back for his faltering team-mate.
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Phil Anderson says
"In all my years as a racer, commentator and small business operator at Le Tour, I have never quite seen a course quite like it. It's not shaking up the race per say, possibly a route for organiser, ASO's commercial reasons more than anything else, but a day in the Alps followed by the Pyrenees, then back to the Alps. As a rider, I would hate it; so much time in the bus rather than resting the legs up in the closest hotel recovering. At the pointy end of the race, the favourites will be so wrapped up in cotton wool by the teams that the spectators will not see them other than fleeting glimpses on the road, whisked to media and then the bus.
"The riders have been resting and transferring but some do it better than others, so today's stage, a long way from the Alps will see the GC contenders being vigilant, conserving their efforts. It is is not the most challenging stage other than that the intersection off Port de Bales to the final climb of Peyresourde which reduces the final climb to 10km.
"There will be a breakaway, dependent on losses in Stage 9. The battle for lesser podium places will take place on the Peyresourde with lesser GC contenders desperate to regain lost time will try and regain some dignity and battle it out for line honours."