Publishing editor of RIDE Cycling Review and the Australian version of the official Tour guide, Rob Arnold, writes of this point in the race: “The nerves of the opening days have been quelled and a pecking order established. The rhythm of the race is set and we’ll know who is free to roam a little. But don’t think it’s a standard day just because there are no major mountain passes. This is undulating and it could be punishing.”
Mountain passes & hills
Km 62.0 - Col des Estaques: 2 kilometre-long climb at 6% - category 3
Km 71.5 - Côte d'Aubin: 1.3 kilometre-long climb at 5.4% - category 4
Km 149.0 - Côte de Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val: 3.2 kilometre-long climb at 5.1% - category 3
‘Could’ is the operative word here; even Thierry Gouvenou, the man who constructed the parcours, calls it a ‘kind of puzzle’: “On paper, it throws up no obvious strategic concerns; but we have designed it with the idea that the riders will need to be watchful. From the start the route is torturous, following rolling roads that continue to feature without let-up. As a result of attacks by the baroudeurs and the ambitions of the candidates for the green jersey, this could turn out to be a tense and tight day.”
In any case, a lumpy profile with little let-up makes today ideal for an escape, as Jacky ‘Monsieur échappée’ Durand thought in 1998 when the Tour first came to Montauban. Nine days into the 'Tour du Dopage', the Festina team exited the race - "We made the decision to leave the Tour de France in the interest of cycling" said a tearful though hypocritical Richard Virenque - while Jan Ullrich (on EPO, naturally) had taken the maillot jaune after a resounding victory in the previous day's individual time trial, and looked set to win a second title: "I was not expecting to take the jersey so early in the Tour. I'm glad. It shows the (hard) work paid off." So had the HGH injections and blood transfusions.
Six categorised climbs were peppered on a stage of 189 kilometres, and it took 74km before Durand and five others found the right move. Durand, already a two-time stage winner, was riled after his non-selection the year previous (understandably so, given he was 15 kilograms overweight that spring; "I had a winter a little like Ullrich. I had become very heavy," he said, in a statement of the bleeding obvious), and attempted to show his worth with a series of seemingly futile attacks that quickly became his trademark.
This was the one that got away, however, and 'Doudou' (meaning teddy bear), as he was nicknamed, showed his alter ego in Montauban, outsprinting Andrea Tafi and Fabio Sacchi. "I attacked every day since the start of the Tour... I knew my chance would come. It hurt me a lot last year (not to be selected) and I'm not the kind of rider to sit on a defeat. I think I deserved to be here this year, didn't I?" The last statement is questionable; his name was on the list of doping tests published by the French Senate in July 2013, collected during the '98 Tour and found positive for EPO when retested in 2004.
Naturally, Durand continued to attack and would also win the prix de la combativité that year and the next, also becoming the lanterne rouge for finishing last on GC in 1999. Two years later, in an interview with L'Equipe, he explained of the way he rode: "I'm not a revolutionary of any sort, but on the bike, I've always refused to come out of a mould. It astonishes me that most riders are followers, even sheep. A lot of them, the only people who know they're in the Tour are their directeurs sportifs. I couldn't do the job like that. They finish the Tour without having attacked once, maybe the whole of the season, even the whole of their career. I'd rather finish shattered and last, having attacked a hundred times, than finish 25th without having tried."
Jens Voigt took the breakaway specialist mantle when Durand retired, becoming even more popular than his predecessor. But since the German retired two years ago cycling hasn't found a worthy replacement, though Dimension Data’s Steve Cummings is making a good run for President of Club Breakaway.
Is today the day we discover the next Mister 'Shut Up Legs'?
Christian Prudhomme, Tour de France race director, says...
“While leaving the areas of Cantal and Aveyron, the numerous painful hills should give a few options to breakaway candidates. But the horizon should then be far clearer for the sprinters who will find in Montauban a perfect terrain for an exciting explanation.”
Weather: Warm and sunny weather throughout the stage. Temperatures ranging from 25°C at the start to 32°C at the end. Light northwesterly wind.