Stage 8: Dole - Station des Rousses
This is the hardest stage of the 2017 Tour de France so far (though <sideways look to camera> wait until the riders see what is coming up tomorrow). The hilly-to-mountainous terrain/narrow roads combination throughout today's stage makes it real racing territory, though with eight consecutive days' racing in the peloton's legs and one of the hardest days of the whole Tour looming tomorrow, it's possible the GC riders will call a truce, let a decent-sized break go up the road, from which Steve Cummings (or similar) wins and Tony Gallopin (or similar) takes the yellow jersey for a day.
There are two pinch points during the stage: the third-category Col de la Joux and the second-category Côte de Viry, but the real crux is the first-category Montée de la Combe de Laisia les Molunes, which starts 23km before the finish and lasts 11.7km. It's a choppy, staccato climb whose steepest section comes at the very top and at 12km in length it will find some riders out.
But the climb isn't the whole story. After the top, it eases gently down for six kilometres then kicks up again for another three kilometres of climbing, the first of which is pretty steep. It's likely to have more of an effect on the break, which should go all the way today with a good advantage – it's either a chance for the less strong climbers to come back and compete for the stage win, or an opportunity for the tactically bold to make the difference. The GC riders will probably calculate that the effort that would go into attacking over the top is too much of a risk when weighed up against the potential gains, which are small. That said, anybody who gets dropped on the climb probably a) won't come back and b) won't win the Tour.
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