Castres to Ax 3 Domaines (195km)
Saturday, July 6 5:35 A.M. EDT – 10:44 A.M. EDT
Live Coverage sponsored by Clif Bar
The Tour enters the Pyrénées this weekend and stage 8 is the first of two big mountain stages. The last week has been very hectic and we have already seen a couple of the GC riders caught up in crashes. Jurgen van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) had to abandon after his crash in stage 5, and in the last couple of days Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), Bauke Mollema (Belkin), Jakob Fulgsang (Astana), and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) have each hit the deck. Quintana is one of the outsiders for the general classification but the Colombian super climber has now crashed three days in a row and hurt both knees. It will be interesting to see how he copes with the climbs this the weekend.
The first 140 kilometers of the stage are more or less flat and a breakaway will be able to get a big gap before reaching the first climb. Col de Pailhères is the first hors categorie climb of this year’s Tour de France and it will make a big selection in the peloton. The 15.3km towards the top have an average gradient of eight percent and sections of over 10 percent near the top. Sky will most likely set a high pace on the climb and this will make a breakaway’s chances of succeeding very slim.
There are still 30km to the finish from the top of Col de Pailhères and after a long descent the riders face the final climb of the day. Ax 3 Domaines is only 7.8km long, but it has an average gradient of 8.2 percent. This Cat. 1 climb is very steep in the beginning and a strong team could really blow the front group apart early on.
From the top of Ax 3 Domaines, there are still 1.5km of flat before reaching the line. This means that if the big favorites aren’t able to drop each other, we could end up with sprint, despite the steep gradients. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Rodríguez are both very fast on the line and should they arrive in front, the two Spaniards will be difficult to beat.
Entering the Pyrénées also means entering Basque territory. Euskaltel-Euskadi will have the home field advantage and the orange-clad climbers will be eager to attack. Samuel Sanchez was third the last time the Tour finished on Ax 3 Domaines, and with a little luck, Euskaltel can improve on that performance Saturday afternoon. —MIKKEL CONDÉ
The first mountain test
After eight days of racing, the riders head into the Pyrénées. Where will the contenders be placed before taking on the very difficult Col de Pailhères, the first key test of the 100th Tour? No one can say for sure, even though it’s a good bet there will already be some decent gaps between them going into this stage. We could see Sky’s Chris Froome and Richie Porte finish 1-2 at the summit of Ax 3 Domaines. But we will have to wait and see. In any case, Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) and his Spanish compatriots will be ready. They are heading into their terrain.