A very similar stage to Rodez happened two years back on the thirteenth leg of the race, when a six-strong early breakaway appeared set to contest the spoils. After some 200 kilometres’ rolling terrain its three surviving members - Thomas De Gendt, Wilco Kelderman and Cyril Gautier - were in sight of the line, yet the end saw Greg Van Avermaet sneak through to claim his first Tour de France stage victory ahead of Peter Sagan, sparking a winning streak that continues to this day.
Since 17 July 2015, the 32-year-old Belgian has won the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (twice); another Tour stage (last year, in Le Lioran), also wearing the maillot jaune for a good few days; the Olympic road race in Rio; the E3 Harelbeke; Gent Wevelgem; and for a Spring Classics specialist like he, his crowning achievement, triumphant at this year’s Paris-Roubaix. Following a plethora of seconds to the extroverted Slovakian world champion, talk about getting the monkey of your back...
With his team’s number one priority, which was of course a Tour-winning priority, up in smoke after the premature departure of Richie Porte a week ago, GVA will no doubt be given the green light to go for a third stage victory and, should he accomplish that, save BMC Racing’s so far forgettable Grande Boucle.
Mountain passes & hills
Km 131.0 - Côte du viaduc du Viaur: 2.3 kilometre-long climb at 7% - category 3
Km 145.0 - Côte de Centrès: 2.3 kilometre-long climb at 7.7% - category 3
In the absence of Sagan, Van Avermaet may be the outstanding favourite but Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates), Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) and Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie), winner of the eighth stage at Station des Rousses, who lives nearby in Albi, are also distinct possibilities. Though perhaps as much or more than anyone, this is a stage for Team Sunweb’s Michael Matthews.
In Bergerac, the 26-year-old Canberran let his frustration be known to all including himself when he howled then weeped as his bête noire in the battle for green, Marcel Kittel, claimed the fourth of his five victories to date. Matthews has never been a pure sprinter, and this year’s Tour is a delight for them, offering up to nine opportunities, so he should not be so hard on himself. However today in Rodez, Kittel will whittle, such is the ferocity of the finale.
It’s also worth noting that on the day everything changed for Van Avermaet in 2015, the groupe maillot jaune contained just 11 men. So this is not just a stage for the puncheurs and baroudeurs; this is a stage the Tour contenders need to remain vigilant throughout before another tricky transitional traverse Sunday.
La Planche des Belles Filles, Peyragudes - defending champ Chris Froome’s rivals have smelled and tasted blood on these ascents, and the steep kicker to the Côte de Saint-Pierre - 570 metres long but with an average gradient of 9.6 per cent - may well be another finale where the sharks come a-circling. For the likes of maillot jaune Fabio Aru, Romain Bardet and Daniel Martin, this stage and the time gains on offer could also be theirs.
Christian Prudhomme, Tour de France race director, says:
“The countryside of the southwest, whether it's in Tarn or Aveyron offers outstanding viewpoints. Sweet to the eyes are the aerial shots of the countless little valleys that, however, are tough on the legs of the riders on solid ground. The stage will be demanding. In these conditions, the Côte Saint-Pierre will offer a splendid launchpad to a puncheur.”
Finish line: Avenue de Saint-Pierre, at the end of a 50m finishing straight and of a top of a climb of 570m at 9.6%. Width: 5.50m.
Weather: 26°C and mostly sunny at start, 0% precipitation, 39% humidity, wind 13km/h NW; 25°C and sunny at finish, 0% precipitation, 41% humidity, wind 20km/h NW.