After two consecutive sprint stages, the battle for the yellow jersey moves centre stage this weekend at the Tour de France with back-to-back days in the Jura mountains.
Chris Froome leads his Sky teammate Geraint Thomas by 12 seconds but with Fabio Aru, Daniel Martin, Richie Porte, Simon Yates and Romain Bardet all within 50 seconds, the overall standings are set for a significant shake-up over the next two days.
Stage 8 from Dole to Station de Rousses acts as a warm-up before the first brutal day of climbing in this year's race between Nantua and Chambery, with the hors-categorie Mont du Chat featuring prominently, cresting with 25km to go.
Froome, who moved into the maillot jaune on stage 5, knows that none of his principal rivals can be given the same room that Aru was afforded on La Planche des Belles Filles and will know first hand that the Astana rider can be a threat having been dropped by the Italian on the Mont du Chat at the Critérium du Dauphiné last month.
"In terms of my rivals certainly Fabio Aru is threatening. Looking at the GC he's my closest rival at this point but I certainly wouldn't say that he's more of a threat than Richie," Froome said after stage 7 when he was asked if he wanted to change his pre-race prediction that Porte was the main opposition to a fourth Tour title.
"I think that the GC is still too close at the moment. At the moment the biggest threat is Fabio Aru, he's only 14 seconds down. Having said that it's still very close in the top 10 and this weekend we'll see where everyone is at in the mountains, especially on Sunday's stage."
Stage 8 is unlikely to see the GC battle fully ignite. The consensus among a number of the top 15 contenders is that some of the less threatening riders – those between 10th and 20th overall – might be afforded some room on the final climb but that the real podium contenders will watch each other until the finish. The stage is well-suited to a breakaway, and Sylvain Chavanel won on the same climb – from a breakaway of course – back in 2010. A repeat win for the Frenchman is unlikely, but there is no shortage of breakaway specialists in this year's race.
Sunday's stage features seven categorised climbs in the space of 181.5 kilometres and rain is expected. Alberto Contador has already said it's going to be the hardest day of the Tour de France and with the Mont du Chat and it's technical descent, and major gaps could be opened up.
"It's going to be an important block. Certainly, Sunday's stage is going to be very decisive," Froome said. "It's going to be a lot of climbing and we'll see a lot more damage than we saw in the Dauphiné. Having said that I think that there are tougher stages back-to-back later in the race. For example the Telegraphe stage and the Izoard stage.
"I'm grateful that I've seen the climb and I know what I'm up against," he said in relation to the Mont du Chat.
"It's going to be a much tougher day than the one in the Dauphiné, with all the climbs that come before it. I think that Sunday's stage is going to be a lot more decisive than tomorrow."
In the last few days much has been made of Team Sky's workload. They have been in yellow since the opening time trial but their efforts on the front of the peloton have been limited. The sprinters' trains make up a sizeable portion of the peloton, and BMC rode on the front during stage 5 in a bid to set up Porte for victory.
"The team having had the jersey from day one has been a dream scenario for us. It's been an amazing experience so far. Thankfully we've not had to do a whole lot of riding on the front in terms of controlling breaks due to the sprint stages that we've had. On the one climbing stage that we had BMC went on the offensive. Relatively speaking the guys are still quite fresh. That's been a blessing for us."
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