Tour de France: Stage 8

Up and downs in the Pyrenees

The high mountains begin with a very intriguing stage that trundles towards the Pyrenees with hardly a moment to concern even the poorest climber but packs a real punch in its final quarter in the shape of two of what the Tour likes to call its '21st-century climbs'. The key action should begin when the race reaches the steepest ramps of the Col de Pailhères, the 'roof' of this year's race at 2,001m. Averaging 8 per cent, it's tough but potentially made more so because it appears with no foothills to warm up on, so anyone off the pace on the Pailhères could end up having a very bad day indeed. From the summit, there are only 28km to the finish of which 20km are a fast descent. At the foot in Ax-les-Thermes there's no chance to make up lost ground as the road heads quickly onto the final climb, made famous by Carlos Sastre's dummy-sucking win in 2003. Again, the average is about 8 per cent. With only 8km to the summit, the main action is likely as soon as the GC contenders hit the climb.

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