Stage 12: Toulouse – Bagnères-de-Bigorre
Date: July 18, 2019
Distance: 209.5 km
Stage type: Mountain
This is the first of four crucial stages for the riders still in the contest for the yellow jersey. It is, as is often said, one of those days where the race can't be won but could certainly be lost if a contender suffers un jour sans, a day when the resources in a rider's legs don't match the strength of his ambition.
The route rises gently for the first three hours, during which the breakaway will endeavour to build an advantage that allows its members to decide the day's honours between them. The peloton may be happy for them to do so, especially with the time trial to follow the next day. But the organisers have offered a little reward for any GC favourites who do ride aggressively by locating a point-bonus at the summit of the final ascent, the Hourquette d'Ancizan.
Between the spa towns of Luchon and Bagnères-de-Bigorre, there are two first-category ascents, commencing with the very familiar Peyresourde. The fast descent from its summit leads quickly onto the final test, the seldom-used and beautiful Hourquette d'Ancizan, which is consistently steep over its opening four kilometres, the gradient easing in its second half.
Once again, if the break has been reeled in, the opportunity is there for someone, perhaps one of the weaker time triallists, to gain eight seconds here and press on down what is initially a fast descent towards Bagnères-de-Bigorre, where 10, six and four seconds will go to the first three across the line. It would be a brave move, especially as the gradient over much of the final 20km won't offer substantial help, and it will be interesting to see whether any team leader is minded to take this gamble. Christian Prudhomme will be a very happy race boss if they do.