ASO has developed a taste for jamming a short mountain stage into the last week. They reckon it encourages the best of the peloton to race from the dropped flag. And who's to argue after the exceptional 110km race to L'Alpe d'Huez in 2011, won by Pierre Rolland? Or last year's 125km stage to Annecy-Semnoz, where Nairo Quintana won by dropping Chris Froome and Joaquim Rodríguez?
This year, it a vicious 124.5km stage between Saint-Gaudens and the summit at Pla d'Adet. Climbs and non-technical descents of the Col du Portillon, Col de Peyresourde and the Col de Val Louron-Azet (all cat 1) precede the final HC ascent to Pla d'Adet, which starts off with plenty of double digit gradient before slackening off a little in the middle and final. It'll be a hectic stage where the risks and the rewards are at their greatest.
Directeurs sportifs will have migraines trying to manage the race but ultimately it'll be a battle of brawn among the slight-built climbers and GC contenders. With a trip over the border into Spain, it will please the likes of Alberto Contador but spare a thought for the sprinters – despite 50km of flat roads, a short, fast, hilly stage means they'll spend plenty of time on the rivet to make the cut.
Jean-Christophe Péraud says... "Find a TV and don't leave it – this is sure to be a great race! Anything could happen today and attacks will fly off the front all day. My main goal is the GC so I'm going to keep quiet rather than break away. I hope to finish in the same time as the leaders."
In 1974, 38-year-old Raymond Poulidor became the first rider to win a stage finishing at Pla d'Adet – a 209km ride that covered five major climbs including the Col du Portillon and the Peyresourde. In the process he beat his arch rival, Eddy Merckx, who came fifth. The ride lasted almost eight hours. Last year a plaque commemorating the stage was unveiled and 'Pou Pou' was there to recount his story.