• "Hey Peter, do you know if there's a train to Le Lioran?" (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
You're probably too young to remember but Le Tour has come to this ski resort in the Massif Central before, albeit 41 years ago.
Cycling Central
6 Jul 2016 - 3:50 PM 

The year was 1975 and at 260 kilometres it was the longest leg of the race. Belgian Michel Pollentier (best known for winning the 1977 Giro and, more infamously, using a condom full of urine to 'pass' a doping control at the 1978 Tour after he won the stage to Alpe d'Huez and took the maillot jaune - he was subsequently thrown out) won the mammoth stage to what was then known as Super Lioran, following an interminable nine hours in the saddle. It was also the day before overnight leader Eddy Merckx was assaulted en route to the Puy de Dôme, punched in the kidney by an overzealous spectator who would do anything to prevent The Cannibal from winning a record sixth title. Frenchman Bernard Thévenet took over the race lead, and would later claim his first of two overall titles.

At 216km this midweek mountain test isn't quite as arduous but with six categorised climbs it isn't far off. More than likely, we'll see a race within a race; the undulating terrain from Limoges provides grounds for an early escape, while the sextet of climbs in the final 70 kilometres will see the GC teams marking each other as the remnants of the break test each other's mettle. Local rider and leader of AG2R La Mondiale, Romain Bardet, who knows the roads like his mum's cooking, is quoted in the official Tour guide as saying the Pas de Peyrol, the highest in the Massif Central, and Col du Perthus are more difficult than the final climb to Le Lioran, “but at the end of a stage that’s 216km, I think the Tour’s standings will take on a very intriguing look for the first time.”

Mountain passes & hills

Km 16.5 - Côte de Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat: 1.7 kilometre-long climb at 5.2% - category 4
Km 142.5 - Côte du Puy Saint-Mary: 6.8 kilometre-long climb at 3.9% - category 3
Km 173.5 - Col de Neronne: 7.1 kilometre-long climb at 3% - category 3
Km 185.0 - Pas de Peyrol (Puy Mary) (1,589 m): 5.4 kilometre-long climb at 8.1% - category 2
Km 201.5 - Col du Perthus (1,309 m): 4.4 kilometre-long climb at 7.9% - category 2
Km 213.5 - Col de Font de Cère: 3.3 kilometre-long climb at 5.8% - category 3

Veteran cycling journalist Gilles Le Roc’h, writing for the official Tour guide, says the stage is reminiscent of the ninth stage of the 2011 race.

Featuring no less than eight categorised climbs, it too traversed the Peyrol followed by the Perthus and Col de Cère; was of similar length (208km); and, like today, contained few kilometres of flat. Five riders comprised the day’s escape - Juan Antonio Flecha, Johnny Hoogerland, Sandy Casar, Thomas Voeckler and Luis Leon Sanchez - who broke free on the very first climb. Back in the peloton, a crash on the perilous descent of the Peyrol saw the abandons of Jurgen Van den Broeck, Fredrik Willems, Alexandre Vinokourov and Dave Zabriskie; the ensuing mayhem consequently saw the aforementioned quintet amass a sizeable eight-minute advantage, and Voeckler, less than a minute down on overnight leader Thor Hushovd, understood that if he played his cards right, yellow was his for the taking.

What the breakaway did not count on, however, was a French TV car performing an unnecessarily dangerous overtaking maneuvre, which in one fell swoop took out Flecha and Hoogerland. (Incredibly, the battered and badly bruised pair managed to get back on their machines and not just finish the stage, but make it to Paris.) At the finish in Saint-Flour, Sanchez would take the stage ahead of Voeckler, the new maillot jaune. Few expected Tommy V to hold it as long as the 10 days he enjoyed in 2004 but they were wrong: his idiosyncratic wagging tongue and dogged style would see him not just match that feat, but better it by finishing fourth overall, where Cadel Evans was inaugurated as the first Australian winner of the world’s greatest bike race.

Today and Friday's stage to the Lac de Payolle are indisputably the toughest tests of the opening week. Predicts Bardet, who compares today to the eighth stage of the 2014 Tour to Gérardmer in the Vosges mountain range (won by his team-mate Blel Kadri), only harder: “The stage will give a clear sight of the race’s hierarchy because there will be time gaps. The finale will be played out in a small group. We’re unlikely to see 40 riders in the lead group at the finish.”

The 600-odd residents of Le Lioran are likely to see things run amok in their normally peaceful playground.

Christian Prudhomme, Tour de France race director, says...

“Before the serious business starts, the climbers will be able to seek inspiration in the conquering spirit of Raymond Poulidor while going through Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat. They will then have to show themselves in the series of climbs on the menu with the Pas de Peyrol and the Col du Perthus, followed by the climb heading to Le Lioran. A battle between downhillers is to be expected in the final moments.”

What they say...

Chris Froome (Team Sky)

"It will be similar to stage two but harder, more selective. There will probably be a few tired legs out there - even though these days have been relatively easy, they've still been 250km stages.

"I think it's a bit too early to see a real GC battle but it's definitely somewhere where there will be time gaps. It won't be a bunch sprint. Maybe it's a stage for someone like (Julian) Alaphilippe, (Alejandro) Valverde or Dan Martin."

Richie Porte (BMC Racing)

"We have done the recon on tomorrow's stage and there are a couple of nasty climbs in there. But also the run-in is a nasty, technical downhill, so that could play a part in it too. There's a bit of a kick to the finish, so, for sure, the last 40 kilometres are really going to trim the field a little bit. Which is a good thing; it won't be so hectic as it has been."

Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing)

"I'm really excited to head to the hills and get the GC sorted out a bit more. I think it will be a little less nervous and we'll get a sense of who's going well and who's not. Richie and I did the recon (of stage 5) together and it's a tricky stage. It's not going to be as hard as the Pyrenees but it will shake things up. You're not going to see Sagan and Cavendish up there."

Weather: Plenty of sunshine throughout the stage. Seasonal temperatures around 26°C in the valleys and 20°C at the top of mountain passes. Light north-westerly wind.

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