Tadej Podacar is best on current form, writes Jack Houghton, but Romain Bardet and Guillaume Martin are also looking strong.
"In his earlier years, Bardet targeted days like this one, attacking on any final climb before a descent, and along with Podacar, he is the most likely winner here.
What's the stage like?
The second day in the Pyrenees meanders around the mountain range. It is less brutal than the first, but in some ways the climbs provide more interesting tests.
A quick double-header of Category 1 and 3 ascents comes midway through the stage, and although the average gradients aren't overwhelming, there are some steep sections towards the end. Any riders eyeing a long-range attack might view these as their opportunity to get away.
If a breakaway is held within reach by the Yellow Jersey contenders, the final climb up the Category 1 Col de Marie Blanque will be pivotal. More bonus seconds are available at the top, before an 18km descent into Laruns: where Primoz Roglic won a stage in 2018.
It's another in-between stage, with enough to tantalise both Yellow Jersey contenders and breakaway hopefuls, whilst being perfect for neither. The day will likely pivot on whether there is a GC contender who fancies an attack on that final climb, knowing they should be able to sustain any advantage on the downhill finish. Given that the rest day comes next, the high-profile names may be more willing to commit.
Who are the favourites?
Tadej Podacar ([11.00]) was the most impressive of the General Classification riders on Stage 8, riding aggressively to claw back 40 of the seconds he lost on his disastrous Stage 7. Had the breakaway not been allowed such an easy lead, Podacar would have won the stage. Assuming he isn't feeling any ill effects after his efforts, Podacar's intent will no doubt be to recuperate more seconds here. He's a worthy favourite, and should be higher in the market than Julian Alaphilippe, who is very skinny at around [5.60].
Of the other Yellow Jersey hopefuls, Primoz Roglic ([13.00]), Nairo Quintana ([50.00]), Romain Bardet ([80.00]) and Guillaume Martin ([80.00]) looked most at ease on Stage 8, first with the searching pace set by Wout Van Aert on the Port de Bales, and then on the final ascent after Podacar's attack.
Of those riders, though, it seems that Roglic and Quintana are more interested in saving their big efforts until later in the Tour. If Podacar faces competition, then, it will likely be from Bardet and Martin. In his earlier years, Bardet targeted days like this one, attacking on any final climb before a descent, and along with Podacar, he is the most likely winner here.
Who are the most likely outsiders?
It sometimes feels as if Thomas De Gendt ([40.00]) and Alessandro De Marchi (50.00) are like randy teenagers in a religious sect that preaches pre-marriage celibacy: you know that at some point they will attempt a breakaway, you're just not sure when. It would be no surprise to see them making a bid here on Stage 9, but then they might wait until later in the Tour, when a more fatigued peloton will stand less chance of re-indoctrinating them into the ways of the group.
If looking for a big-priced speculative bet on a breakaway contender, then Davide Formolo ([34.00]) is more interesting. He won a stage at the Dauphine and this parcours might offer his best chance of a repeat at the Tour.
What effect will the stage have on the overall markets?
This Tour has offered few certainties, but there is perhaps one here: this stage won't be pivotal in the Green Jersey competition. Peter Sagan might fancy flogging himself to get over the first two categorised climbs with a lead group, but he is more likely to accept that this isn't a stage for extending his lead.
Benoit Cosnefroy surprised a few - including me - by being aggressive on the bigger climbs of Stage 8, and will likely be keen to take maximum points on at least the first three climbs here. He is now joined at the head of the King of the Mountains competition by his teammate, Nans Peters, so it will be interesting to see how team pecking-orders are decided. With so many points still to gain in the high mountains, this is a competition to watch for the time being.
As for the Yellow Jersey, it's likely to be another day of fireworks.
*Odds correct at the time of writing
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Back Romain Bardet @ [80.00]
Back Guillaume Martin @ [80.00]