This year's Tour de France has been dominated by bunch sprints with the opening time trial in Dusseldorf and the finishing climb on stage 5 offering the only respite.
Stage 8 changes all that. The climb near the finish at Station des Rousses ensures that the bunch sprinters will call a ceasefire, and breakaway specialist Simon Clarke is expecting a major fight in the opening phase of the stage.
"The opportunities start now," the Australian told Cyclingnews at the end of stage 7.
"I think that everyone is still feeling pretty fresh, and the first week hasn't been too arduous. We've had favourable winds and terrain. There's been so much at stake for these sprinters and they want to make it a sprint every day that they can.
"But stage 8 is going to be a war. It's the first sniff really for the breakaway riders and it's still not even guaranteed that you're going to stay away. There's more chance though."
Cannondale-Drapac have been in a number of breaks during the race but the strongest move so far came on stage 5 when Philippe Gilbert and Edvald Boasson Hagen were involved. That day BMC Racing dragged the bunch along and made sure that the move was snuffed out before the final climb. A similar scenario on stage 8 is unlikely. BMC Racing paid for that effort and unless someone like Arnaud Demare sneaks away in order to pick up points in the green jersey competition, it's likely that the sprinters will sit up.
In 2010, when the race last finished at Station des Rousses, Sylvain Chavanel won from the break and although the Frenchman is past his best, riders of his characteristics are likely to decide the stage honours. Stephen Cummings has made no secret of is desire to make the break, but in Greg Van Avermaet, Thomas Voeckler - also in the 2010 break – Thomas de Gendt, Warren Barguil, Robert Gesink and George Bennett, Tony Gallopin, Diego Ulissi, and Gianluca Brambilla there is no shortage of willing parties.
"We've got quite a few guys that you've not seen much of yet; Pierre Rolland, Alberto Bettiol, and myself. A lot of us have been saving ourselves so the team has a few guys up their sleeve. The tricky part is getting in the breakaway."
Riding for Rigoberto
Cannondale are aiming to match or better their performance from the Giro d'Italia, where Rolland won a stage and Davide Formolo cracked the top ten. Rolland will be on the hunt for stages and Rigoberto Uran is fighting for a GC result. The Colombian sits 11th overall, 1:01 off yellow after a strong ride on stage 5.
"Rigoberto has been going well all year. We've been looking after him and this course is going to be so hard that by being there at the front you're going to be in the mix for GC," team director sportif, Tom Southam, told Cyclingnews.
"We're going to try and be protagonists. As much as Rigo is a great GC option we're here to win, like we did at the Giro. We won a stage there and Formolo finished tenth."
Andrew Talansky is not out of the frame completely for a top ten ride but according to Southam the American came into the race recovering from illness. His job – in the short term at least – will be to support Uran on the climbs for as long as possible.
"Andrew still has a lot to race here for," Southam said.
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Daniel Benson is the Editor in Chief at both Cyclingnews.com and BikePerfect.com. Based in the UK, he has worked within cycling for almost 15 years, and he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he has reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he runs the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.
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