After a week of sprints, go-slows, crashes and medium mountains the Tour de France pushes into the Pyrenees on Friday with three back-to-back stages that will define the race ahead of the first rest day in Andorra.
BMC Racing have had a mixed first-week, taking a memorable stage and the race lead with Greg Van Avermaet and seeing Tejay van Garderen remain close to his GC rivals. Richie Porte’s 1:45 time loss on stage 2 due to a late puncture remains the team’s only blemish.
Stage 7 to Lac de Payolle is the first stage in the Pyrenees and on paper, at least, is the easiest day in the range. The Col d’Aspin in the only significant ascent and the drop down into Lac de Payolle is relative easy. Both Porte and van Garderen are aware that their focus must not drop, especially with the GC definitions still earlier in infancy.
"A break could win or we could see Movistar make another hard tempo like they did yesterday," van Garderen said at the finish of stage 6 in Montauban.
"There’s any number of possibilities. We just have to be prepared for anything. The Andorra stage is a brutal one."
- Tour de France: Cavendish wins stage 6 in Montauban
- Tour de France stage 6 highlights - Video
- Tour de France stage 6 finish line quotes
- Kittel feels Cavendish played it smarter in Montauban sprint
- Tour de France: Froome primed for Pyrenean showdown
- Tour de France: Contador says Friday is an important test
The Andorra stage is the final trilogy of Pyrenean encounters and will see the peloton drag themselves over four categorised climbs before the final ascent to Andorre Arcalis. Coming just before the first rest-day in the race, and given that it is the first true summit finish, it could be the most important day of the entire race.
"The stage to Andorra is one of the hardest in the Tour this year," Porte said.
"We just have to evaluate that on the day and in the moment and see what's possible."
According to Porte, the heat could be a major feature with the mercury already in the 30s.
"I had a good block of training in recently in Monaco with heatwave conditions. So I feel quite acclimatised but it can feel like altitude when you're climbing and it's that hot," he said.
Before Porte and van Garderen even reach Andorra they must navigate through the first two days in the mountains. Van Garderen has stressed that he and his Australian teammate are still co-leaders but that sentiment will be stretched over the coming days as one will naturally prove to be stronger than the other.