The Tour’s decisive stages start with a tough test that begins easily enough but has two tasty peaks to spice up the closing kilometres. The Port de Pailhères didn’t feature before 2003 but has become a Tour favourite.
It ramps up severely over a series of hairpins towards the summit, from where there’s a rapid descent into Ax-les-Thermes to the foot of the final climb. Ax-3 Domaines isn’t long and not overly difficult but the main contenders’ speed here should result in some significant time gaps.
Procycling’s favourite to win:
The stage will bring back good memories for Cervélo’s Carlos Sastre, who famously whipped his daughter’s dummy out of his back pocket when he claimed his debut Tour stage win at this ski station in 2003. Lance Armstrong struggled that day, particularly on the Pailhères where Jan Ullrich almost cracked him, but he held on to win what was the centenary Tour. If the Texan is to add another title to his long list, he’ll need to win or at the very least be finishing with the yellow jersey on stages like this, a feat that was beyond him last year when he noted that he was missing his ‘top end’ climbing speed that has once served him so well.