A wide-open stage, writes Jack Houghton, which could go the way of a Yellow Jersey contender or a breakaway
"Whilst there may be a temptation for one of the GC contenders to try something, it's just as likely that this stage will be ridden conservatively, with riders saving themselves for what is to come..."
What's the stage like?
It's the proper mountains now. Welcome to the Pyrenees.
An opening 130km which climbs steadily - with a Category 4 ascent on route - to the foot of the first of two, Category 1 behemoths. First up is the 13.2km climb up the Col de Peyresourde, with an average gradient of over 7%. Next is the Hourquette d'Ancizan, representing another 10km of climbing at nearly 8%, before a long descent into the finish at Bagneres-De-Bigorre.
A note of caution, though. It might be a mountain stage, but that doesn't mean the Yellow Jersey contenders are all going to spring into action. This is the first of four days in the Pyrenees, with a time trial tomorrow, and whilst there may be a temptation for one of the GC contenders to try something, it's just as likely that this stage will be ridden conservatively, with riders saving themselves for what is to come.
If there is temptation, it comes in the form of the bonus seconds available at the summit of the last climb. A rider topping-out first would pick up eight seconds, with the hope of maintaining an advantage to pick up more seconds at the finish: much like Julian Alaphilippe did on the (albeit lower-altitude) Stage 3.
It's worth noting, though, that the last two finishes into Bagneres-De-Bigorre, in 2008 and 2013, featured breakaway or solo winners. So, don't be surprised if the main contenders are happy to let some buccaneering riders have their time in the limelight before more significant stages to come.
Who are the favourites?
The market is likely to be open here, with large fluctuations in odds as differing opinions come into line with each other, so on no stage is the message below - that odds are correct at the time of writing - so relevant. Expect Julian Alaphilippe and Thibaut Pinot to vie for favouritism, though, at around [12.00].
The case for Alaphilippe is obvious: he tried something similar before (successfully), he seems to want to attack whenever he can, and he seems to have the climbing and descending ability needed here. The main drawback for Alaphilippe is that everyone will be watching him, and the big GC teams - perhaps happy to give him some freedom up to this point - will now be becoming increasingly nervous that he is a genuine Yellow Jersey contender.
As for Pinot, he will be motivated by the disaster of Stage 11, and likely time losses on the time trial of Stage 13 to come, but whether his descending is up to what is required here is debatable. He's more likely to seek redemption on a summit finish.
Who are the most likely outsiders?
Given the will-it-be-a-GC-contender-or-will-it-be-a-breakaway nature of this stage, a list of outsiders could extend to 10 riders and still miss the winner, but possible contenders include Michael Woods, Thomas de Gendt, Rui Costa, Tim Wellens, Warren Barguil, and even teammates Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal. The Team Ineos pairing are expected to ride a defensive stage, but could easily capitalise on the surprise and confusion it would cause if one or the other were to make a bid for glory on the Hourquette d'Ancizan.
Slightly favoured, though, is Vincenzo Nibali at around [22.00]. He is now over 14 minutes down in the overall classification and can begin work on his stated aim at the start of this Tour of targeting the King of the Mountains jersey and individual stage wins. The peloton will be happy to let him go.
What effect will the stage have on the overall markets?
It's unlikely that any of the stages over the coming days will prove decisive in the contest for the Yellow Jersey. More likely is that we'll see a slow whittling away of pretenders and ill-suited wannabees. What will become clearer after this stage is whether anyone else - like Nibali - has serious designs on the Mountains Classification.
*Odds correct at the time of writing
Back Vincenzo Nibali @ [22.00]