• The elastic band will be broken today... But where and when? (Getty) (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
186.5 kilometres and barely a metre of flat... C'est la vie in the third week of Le Tour.
23 Jul 2015 - 4:10 PM  UPDATED 23 Jul 2015 - 4:12 PM

A parcours eerily reminiscent of the ninth stage of the 2013 Tour from Saint-Girons to Bagnères-de-Bigorre, where, after their imperious performance to Ax-3-Domaines the day previous, Movistar and Garmin ambushed Team Sky, isolating the entire British-based coterie with the exception of maillot jaune of Chris Froome, Thursday's stage is certain to unfold one of two ways.

First is another surprise attack on the team of the maillot jaune by a coalition of the willing: Going early on the Col Bayard and placing constant pressure throughout, leaving no option but for some (perhaps all) of Team Sky's coterie to eventually relent - then capitalising on said moment and twisting the knife on the Col du Glandon and, with its summit exactly ten kilometres from the finish, the Lacets de Montvernier.

However this being the third week of the race and given what lies ahead - back-to-back mountain stages Friday and Saturday to La Toussuire and L'Alpe d'Huez, respectively - a more likely - and, for race leader Chris Froome, far safer and less stressful - scenario is a breakaway of strongmen to form, similar to that on yesterday's stage to Pra Loup. They too would skip away on the Bayard and, posing no threat to the yellow jersey, enjoy the necessary freedom to roam free in the Rhône-Alpes. Also in the mix would be team-mates of Froome, Quintana, Nibali and Contador, who would place themselves on standby.

"Stage victory could be decided on the eighteen bends of Montvernier, set to enter the legend of the Tour de France." - Christian Prudhomme, Directeur du Tour de France

A third though rather unlikely scenario is a combination of the above: escape artists mixed with those high on GC.

Competing interests and an understandable unwillingness by those in the peloton to let such a move go - particularly if some in the bunch are potential podium placegetters - suggest otherwise.

Five years ago, however, the last time the Tour came to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, first and second on GC did indeed finish with stage winner Sandy Casar in a seven-man lead group. Though it was only the preternatural climbing strength of Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck, not part of the original breakaway but who made the junction with just a kilometre remaining, that allowed an otherwise rare as hen's teeth sequence of events to occur.

Christian Prudhomme, Directeur du Tour de France, says:

"1815-2015: the Route Napoléon will next year celebrate the 200th anniversary of the '100 days'. The peloton, however, might not be in a festive mood when leaving Gap, going up to the Col Bayard before further battling it out on the Col du Glandon. Stage victory could be decided on the eighteen bends of Montvernier, set to enter the legend of the Tour de France."

Matt White, Orica-GreenEDGE head sports director, says:

"This day and the next, they're solid days - really solid days at the office. Again, they'll be a lot of movement (on the leaderboard). It's pretty hard to predict how a day is going to go a month out and we don't know who's done what the first sixteen, seventeen days, but this whole last block in the Alps is hard; really hard.

"The Col du Glandon and climbs like it, they're long climbs and a lot of the bunch will just be in survival mode. Sure, they'll be teams with guys that are desperate to try and get down the road and be in that break that maybe has a chance of winning - but then (again) they'll be a lot of guys that are just surviving. It's a very, very tough tail end to the Tour... all those stages from seventeen to twenty are really, really hard.

"And if you look at what's happened in the first nine days... Everything you do in those three weeks of racing just catches up with you - and I think it's going to catch up with a lot of people in the tail end this year..."

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