STAGE EIGHT: Andorra-La-Vielle – Saint-Girons

Saturday, July 11



DISTANCE: 176.5km



WHAT’S THE COURSE LIKE?

The second of three stages in the Pyrenees does not offer the overall contenders much opportunity to take the race to each other. That’s not to say it isn’t a difficult route, but the summit of the final climb, the Col d’Agnès, comes 44 kilometres from the finish.



The climbing starts immediately, with the Port d’Envalira, a 23-kilometre long first-category climb, with an average gradient of 5.1 per cent. The Col de Port (second-category) comes after 102 kilometres, before the first-category Agnès.



Out of the principality of Andorra and back into France we go, crossing the stunning Ariège region.



Stage eight map and profile>>



Estimated finish time – 16.09 BST



WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN?

A break will most likely go clear on the Port d’Envalira, and if there are significant numbers, like yesterday’s nine, it will have a chance of sticking to the end.



Having said that, they will have to race hard on the first climb to get away. There will be plenty of people keen to keep it all together on the Envalira. The climbers, with their eyes on the king of the mountains competition, for a start, will hope to contest the points at the top.



It may be tempting to think Cérvelo would also be interested in keeping it together on the climb. After the descent there are two intermediate sprints in the valley, at Luzenac and Tarascon-sur-Ariège. With six, four and two points on offer to the first three over the line, those points would be helpful for Thor Hushovd’s bid for the green jersey. Howevver, Cérvelo must also think of Carlos Sastre and probably won’t work when there’s so little to gain.



The route is not conducive to an attack by one of the favourites. The top of the Col d’Agnès is too far from the finish for any heroics.



However, anyone suffering on the climb, or losing ground on the descent, will be in danger, so it’s a day to stay vigilant and hold the nerve.



MEN TO WATCH

Rinaldo Nocentini –  The Italian has a six-second lead over Alberto Contador overall. All eyes will be on him, but there’s no reason to think he will lose the jersey today. He’s finished on the podium at Paris-Nice and is a good enough climber to



Brice Feillu – Yesterday’s stage winner at Arcalis is in the polka-dot jersey but has just a three-point lead over to other Frenchmen – Christophe Riblon and Christophe Kern – and six points advantage over Egoi Martinez of Spain.



Lance Armstrong – Visibly smarting after Alberto Contador’s attack at the end of the stage, it will be interesting to see his facial expressions today. He’s not going to gain anything today. And surely he won’t attack, although stranger things have happened.



Alberto Contador – He was smiling on Friday afternoon. Will he still have reason to smile at the end of today?



CW’S TIP TO WIN

We could stick a pin in the start list, there’s about as much chance of picking the winner. However, we predict a group will go clear, with the best-placed around four or five minutes down overall. Step forward, Mikel Astarloza of Euskaltel. Today’s your day. If not him, somebody else.



WHO’S WEARING THE JERSEYS?

Yellow – Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R)

Green – Mark Cavendish (Columbia)

Polka-dot – Brice Feillu (Agritubel)

White – Tony Martin (Columbia)