Stage 11: Albi-Toulouse
Date: July 17, 2019
Distance: 167 km
Stage type: Flat
Tour boss Christian Prudhomme and his deputy Thierry Gouvenou have decided against a big mountain test the day after the rest day and opted instead for what may be the most straightforward stage of the race bar the final day. With just two categorised climbs, a third-cat and a fourth-cat, in the first half of the course, this stage is clearly intended as a comparatively gentle return to action, a chance to get for the riders to get their legs re-accustomed to race pace before the four big tests that lie immediately ahead in the Pyrenees.
It should follow the now well-established template for a sprint, with a small break being allowed to slip away in the opening kilometres, establish a lead of three to four minutes, before inexorably being reeled in by the faster-moving peloton, setting up the inevitable full field sprint. Yet, the wind could be a complicating factor.
Although it shouldn't cause disruption to this well-plotted scenario on the roads of the Tarn, when the riders reach Gaillac and begin the final approach to Toulouse the countryside is far more open and the wind is a regular visitor, even in the height of summer, as jittery passengers who have just landed at the city's airport will often testify. If it is blowy to the point where echelons could form, this stage could spring an unwanted surprise on sprinters and even GC contenders who find themselves too far back in the pack when a split occurs.
It's 11 years since the Tour last raced into Toulouse. In 2008 Mark Cavendish took his second stage win of that race in an unseasonal downpour. Having added another 28 to close in on Eddy Merckx's record of 34, the Briton has slipped down the sprint hierarchy since being affected by the Epstein-Barr virus two years ago. Will Toulouse see him bounce back? Or will sprinting's young guns grab a last chance to go for it before the mountains arrive?
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