Leader Chris Froome and his Tour de France rivals will have a measure of respite as the peloton heads back to its homeland on Tuesday — but not before a testing climb.
The 197km 10th stage from Andorra to Revel begins with a long climb — the Port d’Envalira is 22.6km long and crests the highest point on the Tour this year at 2,408-metres.
Coming as it does immediately following a rest day can prove a banana skin for many as there will be no time on Tuesday for riders to ease themselves back into racing tempo.
The climb itself, while not consistently steep, is long and it was there in 1964 that French great Jacques Anquetil came a cropper while his close rival Raymond Poulidor thrived.
It was the closest the eternally popular Poulidor ever came to winning the Tour that year, but Anquetil won a subsequent time-trial and triumphed in Paris, winning his fifth and final Tour.
While some might welcome the rest day, for many riders it’s an added complication.
Some riders’ bodies cope less well with the change in intensity that a rest day obliges and can take a day to get back into the groove.
It means it’s a great day for a breakaway as those feeling strong will take the opportunity to attack, while others dropped on the initial climb will face a mad dash on the descent of the Port d’Envalira to latch back onto the peloton.
Thereafter the terrain is mildly bumpy with a short climb ending just 7km from the finish in Revel.
Depending who makes it into the breakaway, the stage could turn into a battle between the escapees trying to stay away and the sprinters’ teams looking to reel them in.
– ‘Only get harder’ –
The first nine days produced little in terms of fireworks from the overall contenders and the next two days are unlikely to either.
But that will simply be the calm before the storm because on Thursday the 12th stage finishes with a climb up the epic Mont Ventoux — on Bastille Day no less — followed by a 37km individual time-trial the next day.
“The race is going to get harder now,” said Australian Richie Porte, who is 14th on the overall standings but was climbing well in the Pyrenees.
“This race is so unpredictable, it doesn’t really bare thinking about it.”
One of the surprises so far in this year’s Tour has been the form of Briton Adam Yates and Ireland’s Dan Martin, sitting second and third in the standings behind Froome.
Martin’s previous best Tour finish was 33rd while Yates managed 49th last year.
But Martin was third at the Criterium de Dauphine, the pre-Tour warm-up stage race that Froome won.
“When we came into the race, I didn’t have any expectations. I knew I was in good condition from the Criterium du Dauphine, where I was climbing with the best,” said Martin.
Yates came into the Tour expecting to go for a stage victory, but he’s rapidly reassessing his objectives.
“I’d like to win a stage but as long as I have options on GC (general classification), I’ll follow that goal,” he said. – Agence France-Presse