When the peloton line up for this stage before the second rest day, it will be in a municipality barely 18 months old, established 1 January last year via the merger of the former communes of Laissac and Sévérac-l'Église.
Not that it will concern them. But the route to Le Puy-en-Velay will.
Those who have done their June altitude training camps in Tenerife, Livigno, Bogotá, Boulder or elsewhere will benefit greatly, for two-thirds of the stage is above 1,000 metres’ altitude. Remember how, on a route that stayed above 1,500 metres for half the day and often went above 2,000 metres, Alejandro Valverde got caught out on the queen stage of the 2016 Giro d’Italia from Alpago to Corvara? Had he not lost the time he did to stage winner Esteban Chaves and overall winner Vincenzo Nibali, all else being equal, he would’ve won the race. (He still finished a creditable third.)
That was the fourteenth stage of the Giro. We’re one day further into proceedings at the Tour and while not nearly as high, it’s worth comparing.
Mountain passes & hills
Km 28.5 - Montée de Naves d'Aubrac (1 058 m): 8.9 kilometre-long climb at 6.4% - category 1
Km 43.5 - Côte de Vieurals: 3.3 kilometre-long climb at 5.9% - category 3
Km 158.0 - Col de Peyra Taillade (1 190 m): 8.3 kilometre-long climb at 7.4% - category 1
Km 176.5 - Côte de Saint-Vidal: 1.9 kilometre-long climb at 6.8% - category 4
Out of the six climbs on the menu that day at the Giro the denouement was on the last, the second-category Passo Valparola in the Dolomites, before riders descended 20km and Chaves led home the front group of four into Corvara. 189 kilometres long and at medium altitude, Sunday’s stage is 20km shorter and nowhere near as taxing on paper - but the penultimate ascent of the Cat. 1 Col de Peyra Taillade, its summit 31.5km from the finish, presents a similar obstacle to the Valparola.
Eight-and-a-half kilometres at 7.4 percent may not sound too severe on its own. However, combine the accumulated fatigue of the past fortnight, a long day at medium altitude, and the classement général on a knife’s edge, and the story of the stage and its associated protagonists may well be different from one you initially suspect. “Taking 20 seconds is enormous,” Team Sky’s Chris Froome, who, after Saturday’s stage to Rodez, reprised his leadership status and demoted maillot jaune incumbent Fabio Aru, said, “it's the same as Peyragudes. Every second counts. It's a fight for every second this year."
At the start in Laissac-Severac L'Eglise, eight magnificent men, separated by exactly 142 seconds, stand a chance of winning this 104th Tour a week out from today.
Where we will be in Le Puy-en-Velay?
Christian Prudhomme, Tour de France race director, says:
“Hard to tell in what state or shape the peloton will be at the end of this stage. It won't be mountains but the journey through the Aubrac Plateau will be covered at an altitude of over 1,000 metres for around 50 kilometres. Further away, the climb up to the Col de Peyra Taillade has gradients of 14 percent in some places. And that could certainly offer surprises when comes the time for a verdict in Le Puy-en-Velay.”
Finish line: Boulevard du Breuil, at the end of a 1.3km finishing straight (300m by line of sight). Width: 6.50m.
Weather: 27°C and mostly sunny at start, 0% precipitation, 35% humidity, wind 9km/h NE; 25°C and mostly sunny at finish, 0% precipitation, 40% humidity, wind 15km/h NE.