The riders continue heading south and get their first taste of the Pyrenées with a stage that has the Category 1 Col d'Aspin to get over before a charge down the hill to the finish at Lac de Payolle.
Tour de France Stage 7: Friday 8th July, L'Isle-Jourdain to Lac de Payolle 162.5kms
For the first 100kms, this stage is nice and easy as they head south towards the fringes of the Alps. But that all changes with 60kms to go as the riders get their first taste of the Pyrenéen air, rising up and over the Col d'Aspin and on to the finish in Lac de Payolle.
So a better day today, with the saver on Cav definitely worth having as he once again overpowered Kittel to take an incredible third stage win out of 6. Rather incredibly we head in to the Pyrenées with all 198 riders still in the race and most of the top GC candidates on the same time. Only Porte, Contador and Nibali have lost time so far.
The downhill run from the summit of the Aspin could well decide this stage, whether it's from a break or from the group of favourites. A good descender will really go for it on this descent, knowing that a gap of even 10-15" at the bottom could be enough to hold on for the stage win, there's only 1500m left at an easy gradient.
A flat opening 45kms or so as the course follows the valley of the Save river as far as Boulogne sur Gesse, where the road gets a bit more challenging for the next 45kms as they head west over seven lumps and bumps until they reach Chelle-Debat where they head south again and start on the foothills of the Pyrenées.
The road starts to rise again from Tournay as they start on the Cat 4 Cote de Capvern, an easy introduction to the climbing, that although is 7.7kms long, it averages only 3.1%. A plateau for 25kms takes them past the intermediate sprint at Sarrancolin, which comes with just 25kms to go, we might see Peter Sagan popping up to take the points here.
At Arreau, with 19kms to go they start on the Col d'Aspin, a Cat 1 climb which is 12kms long and averages 6.5%, getting steeper towards the latter part of the climb, with parts hitting 7, 8 and 9%. Once over the top there's a very fast and tricky descent for 7kms, before the final kick up to the line for the last 1500m, the first kilometre averages 4.2%, the last 500m is almost flat.
Contenders and Favourites
Do we see the break make it again? Will the peloton take a bit more care this time and not let them get an unassailable lead this time? As this is the first Pyreneen stage I think they'll control it a lot better and the break will be kept on a tight leash. There will be candidates go and as the real climbing doesn't really start until there's more than 140kms gone, it could be more rouleurs rather than climbers who will take on the break.
Guys like Steve Cummings, but I won't be backing him at just 22/1; Voeckler, Geschke, Preidler.. One I like at a big price though is Stef Clement at 20000 with PP - he was moaning on Twitter on Wednesday that he missed the break of the day, "IAM dissappointed about not making it into the break today. Not too many chances will come, so it's a big loss." He might try to make up for it on this stage.
There are three likely scenarios though - the long break, a late attack on the Col d'Aspin (or the descent) or an uphill sprint amongst the favourites. The second scenario of a late attack is a little harder to try to figure out - will it come from a GC man looking to shake it up like Froome or Quintana? I am not so sure, I don't think they'll be looking to show themselves too early, and whatever gain they might make on the ascent, they might lose again on the descent, just waste energy unnecessarily.
Richie Porte could attack as he has a bit of freedom now that he is further down on GC and they might be watching Van Garderen (and Froome might let his old mate go). At +5000 betting odds with Bet365 I thought it was too big (and I missed the 66/1 he was when I started looking at it!), he is only +2500 with PP, which is about right I think.
And Vincenzo Nibali - what if he was just sandbagging and playing games on the Pas de Peyrol and had an attack on a stage like this in mind? A late attack on the climb, a plunge down the other side in his trademark style and punch it up to the finish? It wouldn't surprise me. And if it comes to a GC men's sprint, then they haven't much time to get themselves organised once off the climb - depending on how many team-mates teams have, it could be really strung out going in to the final 1.5km kick to the finish and those with 'leadout' men could be positioned well.
Julian Alaphilippe is too short again I think, the Aspin, if raced hard enough will take the sting out of his legs, he was really struggling on the Peyrol and the GC men were not even going full gas. Alejandro Valverde is the favourite across the board but the question is, will he be working for Quintana again like on Le Lioran and not sprint? It's very possible, it looks like team orders are team orders and with Quintana on the same time as Froome so far they'll go all out to make sure nothing happens to Quintana or that they don't waste energy unnecessarily. I could be very wrong of course and he sprints up that hill, but I'm reluctant to get involved because of that worry.
Dan Martin has been very bullish on Twitter tonight, going on about 'bring on the mountains' and how they were "Gutted we missed out on the win again today but what a start we've had. In the race everyday. Plan to continue the run" I think the finish might be a little too easy for him at only 4% and 500m of flat, but he seems to be sprinting so well he could have a chance. It may even be that he attacks on the final kilometre or so of the Aspin and charges down the descent.
Wilko Kelderman and Warren Barguil could both go on the attack near the finish here, they both have a bit of a devil-may-care attitude and ride freely and may just be given a little bit of freedom if they attack. Kelderman has a strong finishing kick on him too as he showed on the uphill finish of stage 2, he might sneak in to the 4 places with Skybet at +6600, he's only +3300 with Paddy Power.
Really hard to pick who will win this tomorrow, there are so many potential scenarios. I like some longshots for the break, I like some for the late attack but am struggling to find a strong case for one rider over another really of the GC favourites. Froome likes to lay down a marker on the first big mountain stage, but with this stage not finishing on the Aspin, it might be different. It should be a good stage though, could be a very exciting last 10kms or so. Lots of little bets and matchbets scattered around for an interest, some of the betting picks look pretty good to me.
0.2pts each-way on Stef Clement at +20000 at PaddyPower paying 5 places
0.3pts on Richie Porte at +5000 with Skybet paying 4 places
0.3pts each-way on Wilko Kelderman at +6600 with Skybet paying 4 places
0.3pts win on Vincenzo Nibali at +3300 with Skybet paying 4 places
Thomas to beat Contador - 2pts at +100 with Bet365
Costa to beat Pantano - 2pts at -137 with Bet365
Ilnur Zakarin to beat Tom Dumoulin - 3pts at -150 with Paddy Power
Luis Leon Sanchez to beat Thomas Voeckler - 4pts at -162 with Paddy Power