Leaving the Alps behind for another year will be a pleasure for most of the Tour de France peloton, but some will still be looking hungrily towards the race’s 18th stage on Thursday.
The 196km ride from Le Bourg d’Oisans in the Alps to the football stadium of French football side Saint Etienne to the east of the Massif Central will be no walk in the park.
But after a tough three days in the mountains, with the potentially race-deciding time trial over 53km on Saturday, most of those still in contention for the yellow jersey are unlikely to engage in battle.
It could be the day when yellow jersey contenders Bernhard Kohl, Frank Schleck, Cadel Evans, Denis Menchov, and Christian Vande Velde give the green light to the teammates who have been fighting to keep them at the front for over two weeks.
“A breakaway will probably go early and the peloton are likely to let them go,” said Frenchman Cyril Dessel, who claimed his first victory on the race when he won the 16th stage from Cuneo in Italy to Jausiers on Wednesday. “But whoever wins this stage will be a deserved winner. It’s not an easy stage by any means.”
Heading out of the Alps the peloton will ride steadily downwards towards the first climb of the day, a category three ascent at Parmenie which, compared to the previous days’ challenges, will be all too easy.
Whether it’s a breakaway in front, or a bunched peloton, the category two-rated climb over the Croix de Montvieux, at the 163km mark, will test everyone’s legs.
“It’s not as difficult as some of the big climbs, but some riders will be forced to ride on the small chainring,” added Dessel, who has plenty of local knowledge as he lives in the nearby Forez region.
The descent of the Montvieux leads to a category four-rated clmb which, coming only 8km from the finish line, will be certain to host ambitious attacks.
© BikeRadar & AFP 2008