Given what transpired yesterday, this final Pyrénéan leg will put more than one nail in the coffin for GC aspirants that fail to deliver: “This stage is undoubtedly the most difficult of the Tour de France, with 4,960 metres of vertical gain,” affirms technical director Thierry Gouvenou.
Combined, the mountains alone comprise 53.4 kilometres of ascending, or almost 30 percent of the entire stage and 20 percent more than the day previous. A cycling sadist's wet dream, you might say. And at 2,240 metres above sea level, the day finishes at one of the highest summit finishes in Tour history; certainly, the highest this year.
Mountain passes & hills
Km 19.0 - Port de la Bonaigua (2,072m): 13.7 kilometre-long climb at 6.1% - category 1
Km 87.5 - Port del Cantò (1,721m): 19 kilometre-long climb at 5.4% - category 1
Km 143.0 - Côte de la Comella (1,347m): 4.2 kilometre-long climb at 8.2% - category 2
Km 157.0 - Col de Beixalis (1,796m): 6.4 kilometre-long climb at 8.5% - category 1
Km 184.5 - Andorre Arcalis (2,240m): 10.1 kilometre-long climb at 7.2% - category HC
La Grande Boucle first visited the Principality of Andorra on 4 July 1964 when Spaniard Julio Jiménez won solo and Jacques Anquetil won his fifth title, the first of now four (thanks for nuttin', Lance!) men to do so. Back then, the race was a touch over 4,500km and had just the one rest day, also in Andorra (which happens to be the location for the first jour de repos tomorrow).
However it was not till 1993 that the road to Arcalis was introduced as a summit finish - the gargantuan 231.5km stage containing no less than eight passes won by Colombian Oliverio Rincón. And, memorably for this scribe, its inclusion in 1997 coincided with the first real-life taste of the Tour for yours truly - albeit as a wide-eyed spectator with little idea Jan 'Der Kaiser' Ullrich was so juiced he could've run an EPO-only Boost outlet from the Team Telekom bus. That year, the German took yellow in Andorra and held it to Paris, and despite his confession in June 2013 and what we now know about him, unlike Armstrong, Der Jan got to keep his trophy for the pool room.
It has been seven years since we last came to this ski resort in one of the smallest sovereign nations in Europe and where men fish for brown trout in the summertime, and where Brice Feillu, part of an all-day escape on the longest stage, won the first high mountain étape of the 2009 edition, the Frenchman's first and last stage victory at Le Tour. In fact Feillu, now 30 and in his ninth year as a pro, has been searching for his second victory ever since! (And he’s riding this year’s Tour for the Fortuneo-Vital Concept team, dossard #214.)
As was the case the preceding two days, we are likely to see a race within a race. Significantly, Andorra was the scene where Chris Froome lost all hope of a Tour-Vuelta double when a crash early into the eleventh stage saw him fracture his foot. A testament to his toughness, he managed to finish what Movistar general manager Eusebio Unzué described as "the toughest Vuelta stage in more than 30 years", won by his now team-mate Mikel Landa (riding for Astana) and one of his most important domestiques when it comes to his quest to win a third Tour title.
“Could this be a good day for one of the favourites to launch a major attack?” asks Gouvenou, somewhat rhetorically. “Perhaps. But with such a long way still to go to Paris, I can assure you there will still be twists.”
Christian Prudhomme, Tour de France race director, says...
“The five climbs of the day are scattered between the Spanish and Andorran territories. In the final 50 kilometres, one will have to cope with the explosive climb to the Côte de la Comella, then the rather irregular one to Beixalis that left rather bad memories to Christopher Froome on the last Vuelta, and finally the long climb to Arcalis.”
What they say...
Chris Froome (Team Sky)
"Looking ahead, we do have some really hard mountain-top finishes to come and I imagine those are going to be a lot more selective."
Daniel Martin (Etixx-Quick-Step)
"What matters is that I am in fine form, a reward of the hard training I’ve done on the climbs before the Tour. I am happy with the way things are going for me in the GC, and hopefully a win is just around the corner.”
Richie Porte (BMC Racing)
"On the back of the last two days, (today) is possibly going to be the hardest stage of the Tour. If Tejay and I are up there, and Froome or Quintana are isolated, we'll see what we can do."
Weather: Warm and mainly sunny with temperatures around 28°C in the first part of the stage. Becoming unsettled at the end of the stage in the Pyrenees, with thundery showers likely and decreasing temperatures.