Things you don’t see in cycling any more: 1) Spare inner tubes around the shoulders; 2) Downtube shifters; 3) Day-long solo breaks at the Tour de France.
The last time Limoges hosted a Tour stage finish, in 2000, the winner was Frenchman Christophe Agnolutto. It was also the last time we have seen a successful day-long solo break in the Tour (we’re not including solo attacks from breaks). You could argue that there’s more chance of seeing the return of downtube shifters than of another successful solo break. With the Tour being so big now, solo breaks are less common. The last long solo break was Bradley Wiggins’s unsuccessful attempt on stage 6 in 2007, though Bretagne rider Pierre-Luc Périchon had half a stage away on his own early last year.
Although the second half of today’s stage tips up slightly, reaching 452m in altitude as the Tour starts to skirt the Massif Central, it’s another stage for the sprinters, one of the last for some time. With the first mountains hoving into view on stage 5, Limoges marks a break between the opening phase of the Tour and the race proper for the yellow jersey, which will start at Le Lioran in 24 hours’ time. It’s apt, because Limoges itself is a border town between north and south, sitting exactly on an ancient crescent-shaped line which separated the two old language groups of France, the Oïl and the Oc.
Another rarity in the Tour: stages as long as this. The number of stages longer than 230km has dwindled from six, in 1991, through three in 2000, to one in this year’s Tour. It’s a long day in the saddle but despite the more mountainous terrain to come, the riders will be glad that the two longest stages of the whole Tour are already done.
Stephen Roche: It’s still early, meaning lots of fresh legs and this is not an uncomplicated stage, and that means a nervous peloton. A couple of factors are in play. The main competitions aren’t locked down yet, so there are still opportunities to wear jerseys, and it’s flat and open with exposed roads in that neck of the woods so there’s always the chance of crosswinds. Having said that, I can’t see past this being a day for one of the sprinters. They’ll not let a break get too far ahead.