Tour de France 2013: Stage 8 preview
Tour de France 2013 in association with Castelli Cafe
Tour de France 2013 stage eight
Saturday, July 6
To Ax 3 Domaines
Stage type High mountains
IMPACT ON THE RACE
Yellow jersey 4/5
Green jersey 1/5
Polka-dot jersey 3/5
WHERE ARE WE?
We start the day in Castres, and then the race heads into the Pyrenees with the stage finishing 1,360 metres above sea level at the ski resort of Ax-3 Domaines, which sits above the spa town of Ax-les-Thermes on the Plateau de Bonascre.
WHAT'S ON THE ROUTE?
The opening 130 kilometres or so will be a lovely rolling jaunt through the Tarn and Ariège departements. The next bit is the least pleasant - a slowly ramping, twisting drag up to the base of the Col de Pailhéres that adds significantly to the difficulty of the climb to follow.
The Col itself, at 15 kilometres long and with an average gradient of eight per cent, is one of the hardest in the Tour. It sweeps upwards in a series of sections, through the forest, then onto a steep, open landscape with dramatic views down, where the road zig-zags upwards in steep concertina hairpins. Over the top, there's a brief dip and climb, before the long descent to Ax-les-Thermes.
Then, the final climb to the ski station begins almost immediately. The climb itself is only half the length of Alpe d'Huez but that only adds to its intensity. The final kilometre flattens out considerably, meaning that there are only six kilometres in which to make a difference. It might not sound like much, but Sky did a demolition job on the rest of the field at La Planche des Belles Filleson, a climb of similar length, last year.
WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN?
This stage is a classic example of what Tour riders know as the changement de rythme - the (often painful) process of switching from rolling along in a nice, big gear at a good speed to crawling uphill in a granny gear. Even for the world's strongest riders, it's a shock to the system and it often makes the first mountain stage of a Grand Tour unpredictable and difficult to control.
The early break will go, as early breaks always do, but the real action is going to be condensed into the final two climbs that constitute 45 of the hardest kilometres the Tour has to offer. We'll have had tantalising glimpses of who's climbing well and who's not in the Corsican stages - but, really, the Tour starts today.
It's early in the race, but the Pailhères is hard enough to make a real difference on. And, with the steep descent slingshotting the riders straight up the final 20-minute climb, it's a great opportunity to grab time from rivals.
PORT DE PAILHERES
Start: Usson les Bains
Altitude gain: 1,207m
Average gradient: 8.1%
Altitude gain: 650m
Average gradient: 8.2%
Tour de France 2013: Coverage index