As soon as one sees the inclusion of the 2,408 metre-high Port d’Envalira, the highest climb of this year’s Tour, it is only natural to assume this will be a day for the GC men. After all, it was on this very climb in the 1964 Tour - and the day after a rest day in Andorra, no less - that Jacques Anquetil was pushed to the brink of defeat by Raymond Poulidor.
Despite a parcours of some 4,500 kilometres that year’s race contained just the one jour de repos, scheduled after 13 days in the saddle. Riders’ bodies can react quite differently the stage after a rest day, though the variation can be mitigated by continuing to follow the routine of days previous, keeping the engine idling rather than switching it off completely. Anquetil, however, the defending champion, rather than go for a light spin then rest up, decided to channel 'Hoges' and throw a prawn on the barbie, likely accompanied by a beverage or three.
Like today, on 6 July 1964 the ascent of the Port d’Envalira was placed at the start of the 186km fourteenth stage from Andorra. It seemed the group containing ‘Poupou’ decided to give it a nudge; that or Maître Jacques had too many prawns. By the summit Anquetil was four minutes behind and in panic mode; Raphaël Géminiani, his sports director at Saint-Raphaël, handed him a bidon filled with champagne and told him to scull it.
Plunging down the mist-shrouded descent à la Christopher Froome (though not quite like him) and using only the headlights of the vehicles in front for guidance, the four-time winner eventually made contact with Poulidor 100 kilometres from the finish in Toulouse, the latter encountering his own misfortune courtesy of a puncture then a crash. Belgian Edward Sels, who led the race for the first two days, notched the third of his quartet of stage victories. Of course, the Anquetil-Poulidor rivalry reached its zenith six days later en route to the Puy de Dôme; “a battle of wills and legs so intense that at times they banged elbows”, says the entry in Wikipedia. Thanks to his superior time trial skills (he was also known as 'Monsieur Chrono', Anquetil would claim his fifth and final title, the first man to do so.
Yet those were different days; given the way things stand with the top 13 riders within a minute-and-a-half of each other and the formidable difficulties ahead, it is highly unlikely the Port d’Envalira will play as significant a role this year, at least in terms of the classement général. Besides, today we finish in Revel and as the Tour's official roadbook tells us, “The nine visits of the Tour de France to Revel since 1966 have always seen an adventurous rider triumph, from Rudi Altig to Alexandre Vinokourov, not forgetting the likes of Joachim Agostinho, Charly Mottet or Erik Dekker.”
Mountain passes & hills
Km 24.0 - Port d'Envalira (2,408m) Souvenir Henri Desgrange: 22.6 kilometre-long climb at 5.5% - category 1
Km 190.0 - Côte de Saint-Ferréol: 1.8 kilometre-long climb at 6.6% - category 3
So, then: go early on the Envalira and establish a decent gap with riders that do not threaten the maillot jaune - or wait (translation: hope) for the escape to die and the sprinters’ teams to ensure peloton groupé before l'arrivée in Revel?
Mai non, Monsieur Prudhomme's words says it all: should any baroudeur have designs on this stage, one must go hard and go early on the 22.6 kilometre ascent up the Envalira and take with them a good working group; reach the Souvenir Henri Desgrange with a sizeable advantage - then press on for the next three-and-a-half hours till the foot of the punchy Côte de Saint-Ferréol. Its KOM a tantalising seven kilometres from the finish, the 1.8km Saint-Ferréol becomes a perfect springboard for a stage-, if not career-defining, move. (So long as the sprinters’ teams aren’t interested, of course.)
We've now told you what's going to happen. It's up to you to guess who will be in it, and by day's end, who will win it.
Christian Prudhomme, Tour de France race director, says...
“Not any kind of rider will be able to take off early and shine on this stage made for spectacular attacks. Only the most determined and solid men will manage to seize their chance when leaving Andorra to immediately take on the climb to the Port d'Envalira. And once in Revel, the final hill leading to the finish line seems made for the most volatile puncheurs.”
Weather: The start will be under mixed skies with a chance of showers over Andorra in the afternoon. Descending into the plain, we will find a northwest wind (gusts around 45 km/h) and passages of showers. Temperatures will range between 11°C in the Pyrenees at 2400m and 23°C at the finish line.