This is one of those stages where you're sure what's going to happen, and, at the same time, you're not sure...
Well, the first rest day often does strange things to the body. All of a sudden, after nine days' full throttle, mind tells body it can have the day off. But don't go to sleep now, ol' boy, because from today till next Monday it's back to race mode before another day of rest, then five more days of 'balls to the wall', to borrow a colourful quote from Orica-GreenEDGE sporting director Matt White. Only then, after 3,344 kilometres, one comes to a grinding halt in sweet Paree. How each individual's system reacts… Therein lies the uncertainty.
What is far more assured, however, is that the 15.3 kilometre never-before-used finishing climb of La Pierre-Saint-Martin that rises 1,610 metres above sea level, normally a family skiing resort but today the finishing scene for the tenth stage of the world's biggest bike race, will pay witness to the opening act in the Showdown at the Pyreanean Corral.
Those a little longer in the tooth may not be completely unfamiliar with this rather irregular ascent situated in the Arette in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques.
On Stage 16 of the 2007 Tour and the stage after the second rest day when the entire Astana outfit was withdrawn after Alexandre Vinokourov failed a blood test - surprise, surprise! - Mauricio Soler, who was in a ding-dong battle with erstwhile race leader Michael Rasmussen for the mountains jersey, broke free on the day's first climb. The Colombian was joined by Carlos Sastre, who was lying fifth on GC at the time, and en route to the finish atop the Col d'Aubisque, the pair traversed the backside of the Pierre St Martin.
Second in the maillot à pois at the start of the day, Colombian Soler took the outright lead in the competition and was only caught by the lead group 11km from the finish. Rasmussen broke free on the Aubisque to claim the stage, and, with a 3'10 buffer to second-placed Alberto Contador, the race, too - or so one thought, since the only obstacle that remained was a 55.5km individual time trial on the penultimate day...
The chicken-legged Dane would never make it to the next stage.
The evening of 25 July, following the sixteenth stage, the entire Cofidis team withdrew after their rider Cristian Moreni was arrested by French police after testing positive for synthetic testosterone. Then, later that night, an even bigger scandal broke, when Rasmussen's Rabobank team withdrew the maillot jaune from the Tour de France, after he was alleged to have lied as to his whereabouts during a three-week training session in Mexico, where he was unavailable for UCI doping controls.
Problem was, former pro and RAI TV commentator, Davide Cassani, saw Rasmussen training in the Dolomites when his schedule indicated he was in Mexico… Six years later, at a press conference on 31 January 2013, Rasmussen admitted that he had used performance-enhancing drugs and methods, including EPO, growth hormones, insulin, testosterone, DHEA, IGF-1, cortisone and blood doping for most of his professional career.
Second in the final time trial - though retrospectively elevated to first, after Levi Leipheimer admitted to doping for much of his career including the 2007 Tour - Cadel Evans almost stole the race lead from de facto leader Contador, but fell an agonising 23 seconds short. The Spaniard would win the first of two Tours before running into doping issues of his own three years later, while karma would see Evans reach his apotheosis four years on at the 2011 Tour.
Christian Prudhomme, Directeur du Tour de France, says:
"After a well-deserved rest day, the change of scenery will be especially contrasted. The finish will be decided on a newcoming site, at La Pierre-Saint-Martin in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques area. The final ascent is demanding: the favourites of the Tour will be on the first lines, especially before the Col de Soudet where the climb is the steepest."
Matt White, Orica-GreenEDGE head sports director, says:
"This is the first test of who's got climbing legs - real climbing legs. I think the difference between the first day in the Pyrénées and other days I've seen (in past Tours) is that it's a pretty flat stage; it's only one climb to the finish.
"Still, it's a day for GC riders. So, no matter what happens - they'll be a break, of course - each rider will have to figure out how to best get up the climb themselves. In the past, the big GC guys have tried to make an impression on the first big mountain stage - this year won't be any different. The GC teams will make sure the big guys battle it out for the win."